Blue Collar Liberalism

From Ace of Spades:

The New York Daily News is the liberal-leaning tabloid. More of a blue-collar liberalism (as opposed to the New York Times’ moneyed-set liberalism), but still liberal.

The post has to do with Anthony (Here’s a picture of my) Weiner, but I want to focus on those two sentences.

“Blue-collar liberalism.” I like that phrase.

Ace is 100% correct – there are two distinct forms of liberalism. Bill and Hillary Clinton are blue-collar liberals. Obama and most of his Obot followers are the other kind. Anglachel referred to them as Jacksonians and Stevensonians:

I’m going to return to some of the themes I have written about in past posts. The 2008 campaign has illuminated the class divisions within the Democratic Party in a way we haven’t seen since the early part of the 20th century. Part of that is because the class divisions have been obscured by events – the Great Depression which threatened all but the very upper class, WWII which unified the nation against real threats, the Cold War with its incredible rise in standard of living, the Civil Rights movement which made the party take on race, Vietnam with its focus on the war, and then the Reagan/Bush I years of jingoism, ending the Cold War and agitation over the “culture wars”. I think we can also argue, along the lines of Mark Schmitt, that the Democratic Party has been undergoing an almost century long redefinition of itself away from its Southern roots and into something antithetical to where it began. In the doing, the Democrats have ended up with two major modes of political action and identity, distinct from what the party was before the New Deal realignment, strands I have identified as Truman strand and the Stevenson strand, named after their post-New Deal exemplars. The organization of the party is far more complicated than this, I readily admit, but my goal is to provide ways of thinking about the party and American liberalism that break away from the demonization of the Right. Refinement of the categories will be needed.

The Truman strand is the inheritor of the old Jacksonian tradition in the party, for good and ill. The Stevenson strand is of more recent vintage, owing its origin to the progressives of the early century. The majority of the liberal bloggers (note, not everyone who claims to be liberal is) fall firmly within the Stevensonian strand, myself included. Most of the current party leadership and the “respectable” punditocracy also can be placed there. Whatever fantasies of radicalism the Blogger Boyz may ascribe to themselves, the Stevensonians are technocrats, not radicals. The technocratic mode is the antithesis of radicalism, having its roots in the battle against machine politics and introduction of “clean government” based on abstract and rational principles of governance. Progressivism in its original form was the tool of society matrons and the growing professional middle class to do a variety of social work – enforce laws, make public figures accountable, assimilate the waves of immigrants from Europe, establish sanitary conditions in urban areas, establish social justice and generally protect their position in the socio-economic order. It came out of utilitarianism in great part and embraced a shitload of crackpot “science” along the way.


The progressives were transformed into Stevensonians through the New Deal, when FDR melded the emerging social science academics with a professional bureaucratic cadre to run the new bureaus and departments, and to invent new things for the government to do and for the Democratic Party to run. This is what I mean by institutionalization. This mode of liberal politics has become the most effective developing a rational welfare state because its natural environment (if you will) is modern bureaucracy. We’re talking wonkitude of major proportions. A weakness of this mode, however, which I have also blogged about before, is the aversion to blunt political contestation, resulting in a willingness to relinquish popular politics and electoral battlegrounds in favor of dominating the crafting of policy and legislation and of appeal to the courts. It is a retreat into formal expert knowledge as the proper arbiter of political affairs.

At its best, this mode of politics provides a determined support for rule of law, supports social equality and justice regardless of particularity, and defends against corrupt consolidation of power. At its worst, it devolves into class elitism, condemnation of particularity, and rejection of the equality of the mass of citizens. “Why do we even try to help these people? They don’t know what’s good for them!

The Truman strand is more varied than the Stevenson strand for the simple reason that there are fewer barriers to entry. You do not need to be an intellectual. You don’t need the equivalent of a college education, believe in the scientific method or rationality, or aspire to a white collar professional lifestyle. You can be Rocky. Until Bill Clinton and the final exit of the Dixiecrats, this strand lived in tension between the new “Best and Brightest” faction which rapidly gained dominance in the party, and the old line, revanchist Dixiecrats. Those two factions warred for the support and votes of the Truman strand. While the Dixiecrats were rejected, the current campaign to me indicates that the Stevensonians do not have a lock on this group, either.


The old party machines were porous. They needed numbers to provide votes to maintain power. They needed the younger newcomers to fill posts and heel the wards to keep the votes coming, and that’s how new people entered the system. Harry Truman was a product of the Pendergast machine in Kansas City, Missouri, for example. To maintain power, you couldn’t be too picky about whose votes you collected. They were usually incredibly corrupt and, ironically enough, were usually the target of progressive ire. And then FDR welded them at the hip to the inheritors of the progressives.

That crackpot science she’s talking about includes eugenics and white racial superiority. That’s right, old time progressives were racists, and some of them were even members of the Ku Klux Klan:

Progressivism, like the Klan, came in many flavors: There were east coast reformers who wanted business and government to work as partners and mountain state populists who distrusted such centralized power, white supremacists in the Wilson administration who did so much for segregation and anti-racists in the NAACP who wanted to censor The Birth of a Nation. You could write a book on how much of that the Klan reflected or rejected, but I’ll highlight just a few areas of overlap:

1. Progressivism had roots in the Protestant pietist tradition, and its partisans were frequently interested in reforming individuals as well as institutions. It’s a quick jump from there to the moral authoritarianism described in Charles Alexander’s books. Jane Addams, the Social Gospel activist who played such a big role in passing protective labor regulations and compulsory schooling laws, was also a critic of the “debased form of dramatic art, and a vulgar type of music” that a young person might find in the five-cent theaters, writing that it was “astounding that a city allows thousands of its youth to fill their impressionable minds with these absurdities.” Prohibition, that Klan kause kelebre, reached its height as a cause during the Progressive Era, complete with muckraking exposés of the “whiskey ring” and culminating with the passage of the eighteenth amendment in 1919.

2. Racism also had a foothold among the progressives. It might be tempting to argue that bigots like Woodrow Wilson, who introduced Jim Crow rules to the federal government, were merely progressive in some areas and reactionary in others. But the American eugenics movement was tied closely to the progressives’ drive for “scientific” reform, and its heyday covered both the Progressive Era and the ’20s. Politicians offered eugenic arguments not just for laws that banned miscegenation and allowed authorities to sterilize the allegedly unfit, but for restrictions on immigration from southern and central Europe.

3. The progressives and the Klan shared an interest in mandating public education and eliminating urban political machines. The civic-activist historians tell us that the rank-and-file Klansman’s interest in such reforms was frequently a sincere response to corruption and inadequate schooling, though it’s clear that their urban proposals owed at least something to their fear of immigrants, and that their education proposals were transparantly anti-Catholic. If the Klan’s motives were not purely nativist, then neither were the progressives’ purely benign: Just as the Klansmen sometimes shared the progressives’ hopes, the latter sometimes shared the Klansmen’s fears.

In the south they had Jim Crow segregation. In the north they had redlining and restrictive covenants. “White flight” was a northern phenomenon involving middle and upper-class whites. Many of them called themselves liberals.

Jacksonian/Truman/blue collar liberals are rednecks, ethnic whites and minorities. They are more interested in pocketbook issues and less interested in gun control and environmentalism. It’s not like they don’t care about most or all of the same things as the Stevensonian/snooty elitists, it’s about priorities.

Blue collar liberals don’t believe in a nanny state or telling people to eat their peas. Blue collar liberals aren’t ivory-tower academics who read Foucault and burn American flags. They are the descendants of the people who were killed and beaten on picket lines. The people we honor today.

Happy Labor Day.

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14 Responses to Blue Collar Liberalism

  1. DeniseVB says:

    From a Canadian columnist:

    I love how he refers to the “Media Party” giving us more information about Levi Johnson than BO. Not to mention the good ole days of Billy Carter and Roger Clinton 🙂

    • Angry Not-Really-Black Troll says:

      Blasphemy! Blasphemy!

      Thou shalt not look upon the history of Teh Precious!

      Forgive them Obama, for they have sinned!


    • votermom says:

      Good article.

      Never before has an American president been subjected to so little scrutiny, or had such an empty resume with so many gaps in his life. He truly is the Manchurian president.

      We don’t know about Obama, or his values, or his history, or even his family.

      And the reason we don’t know any of this is because the Media Party doesn’t want us to know.

      They realize this is all too exotic and problematic, and would lead to just too many questions about their candidate. So they dispatched dozens of reporters to Wasilla, Alaska, to scrutinize Palin, but not to Indonesia or Kenya.

      • 1539days says:

        I don’t even begrudge the media not going to Indonesia or Kenya. I save my disdain for the fact they couldn’t even go to Chicago or New York and do some actual investigation. I think the most in-depth thing I read in 2008 was about Reggie Love hanging up the phone on a reporter who managed to identify him, and I’m pretty sure that was a tabloid.

        I’m disgusted by the thinly veiled and open calls of racism in these questions. “Oh, so you think he’s a SECRET MUSLIM?” “Sure, he’s our KENYAN BORN president.” Then there are the loyalty oaths that sacks of crap likeTweety make Republicans swear about Obama being a Christian.

        This is America. If you want to run a stealth campaign and not reveal any of your history, that’s fine. But the American public should have taken that refusal for what it was, Obama in many ways is an incomplete person. Now we have an incomplete president.

      • WMCB says:

        I have no problem with Indonesia or Kenya. But where were the reporters dispatched to Chicago? Where was all the endless sifting of his emails as state rep? Or his correspondence and connections on his various boards?

        They put Palin in an xray machine, did cavity searches, and started picking through her hair for microscopic lice, while waving Obama through the line with pockets bulging with god-knows-what, and with what smelled like a load in his pants. They helpfully sprayed him with cologne on the way through, and told him “go ahead, you’re good!”

  2. 1539days says:

    The progressive era began around 1897 with Republican William McKinley. Before that, Democrat Grover Cleveland was actually one of the most Constitutionally conservative presidents, choosing to veto nearly every thing Congress passed, seeing the legislation as power grabs.

    In many ways, Republicans were more liberal than Democrats in the decades that followed, especially when it came to social issues. Democrats like FDR were nearly socialists. He tried to use the Congress to turn the Supreme Court into his lapdog and took terrible liberties with civil rights under Japanese Internment.

    After WWII, Republicans became the bean counters. They would be willing to pay for social programs with more taxes just to balance the budget. Johnson passed historic civil rights legislation, but Nixon was socially liberal by today’s Republican standards.

    What seems to have happened is that the Nixon wing of the Republican Party was essentially destroyed by the resignation. At the same time, the Southern Democrats who stuck around saw an ally in a religious president Carter. Carter’s liberal social policies and general incompetence seemed to be the last straw. Reagan was able to combine the coalition of Christian Democrats and Kennedy supporters who hated Carter to essentially end the Progressive Era.

    Of course, this new era is marked by more spending, less tax revenue and more wars that aren’t wars.

  3. Most Obots care more about the creative class than the working class. And the creative class doesn’t care about parties that much. They will play both establishment Repubs and establishment Dems to get what they want. Obots are becoming their handmaidens.

  4. DandyTiger says:

    Great post!! Honk, honk!

  5. Eat your peas and STFU. Obama is great and wonderful…. Whoa, who slipped me the kool-aid. Man, don’t drink that crap.

  6. Apropos of nothing in particular, the coming global trade wars will probably be fought (or is currently being fought) with currency exchange rates than with tariffs. Central bankers everywhere are saying one thing to each other about ‘global balancing’ when they meet, and doing something else when they get back home.

  7. Valhalla says:

    Uh oh! I’m a descendant of picket lines (and immigrants), but I’ve also read Foucault. Now what?

    Ok, ok, so I’m a bit of a demographic anomaly. Whatever. One of the problems with the technocratic Stevensonians is that they think all problems can be solved by typing some stats and an analysis on pieces of paper without having to sully their pristine selves by engaging with the real world. I think most of them truly believe that what benefits them and their demographic benefits everyone (and that everyone else, denied their superior credentials, is too stupid to understand them).

    The most recent spate of confession narratives from former ‘bots (most of which are disguised as revisionist, “I always knew Obama wasn’t the one we were waiting for, I just forgot to mention it while I was screaming his name” apologia) is characterized not by a newfound understanding of the profound harm our high unemployment rate represents to real people, but by the realization that the high unemployment rate threatens Obama’s reelection and their spot on the food chain.

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