It’s an enduring myth of modern American politics that the white working class is what stands between Democrats and a majority. Even before the character of Archie Bunker became a liberal scapegoat on television, the demise of the FDR coalition was reduced to bubba blowback.
In a sense, “All in the Family” captures decades of Democratic deliberation. The debate between old Archie (Joe Sixpack) and the young, college-educated Michael Stivic (hippie) defined the 1970s sitcom. The Democratic establishment decided that it had to choose between the two archetypes. It bet on Michael. And the Nixon-Reagan coalition dominated American politics for more than four decades.
Way back when I was at Corrente, one of my very first blog posts was about Archie Bunker. I thought he got a bad rap. It’s ironic that he is mentioned in this context because Michael Stivic ultimately dumps Gloria and their young son and runs off to live on a commune.
For his bullheadedness, Stivic was sometimes criticized for being an elitist. He also struggled with assumptions of male superiority. He spoke of believing in female equality, but often tried to control Gloria’s decisions and desires in terms of traditional gender roles.
Sound familiar? Meanwhile Archie mellowed over the years, became more tolerant and eventually rejected bigotry.
But wait! There’s more!
Blue-collar whites are more likely than their upscale white counterparts to live in rural or exurban areas, to hunt, to attend church, experience more familial upheaval in their lives (higher divorce and teen pregnancy rates), suffer the hemorrhaging of blue-collar industrial jobs, and compete with illegal immigrants for low-wage employment.
The Great Recession brought new, and rare, emphasis to the economic side of this world. Blue-collar workers account for seven of every 10 jobs lost in this recession, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Blue-collar men — black, Hispanic, white — account for six in every 10 job losses. White, working-class males account for about four of every 10. This helps explain why only three in 10 working-class whites approve of Obama today.
The Great Recession provided Democrats a chance to reconnect with working and middle-class whites. But this chance was squandered by the end of 2009. Obama focused his first year on the Democratic issue of the age (universal health care) instead of the issue of the time (the dire economy). That mistake, like progressives’ over-reading of Obama’s 2008 victory, continues to distort Democrats’ understanding of the daunting electoral terrain before them.
The Crash and the Fraught Road Around Bunkers
Today’s liberal wonks continue to pin the loss of Obama’s mandate on the economy but ignore how the economy created that mandate. Three years ago, with Obama’s election, the authors of “The Emerging Democratic Majority” argued that their majority had indeed emerged. Teixeira soon doubled-down with a detailed 2009 report titled “New Progressive America.” The next year, Republicans won the largest midterm victory in post-World War II America. Why this chasm between liberal seers and reality?
Progressive analysts habitually omit the keystone fact of the 2008 election: The bulk of Obama’s significant electoral gains came after the mid-September stock market crash. It seems impossible to right this wrongheaded conventional wisdom. (I know, I’ve tried.) The reports by Teixeira, alone, total over 100 pages; yet the stock market crash is ignored throughout. That oversight leads analysts to wrongly use Obama’s electoral gains in 2008 as a base line when they seem more likely to constitute an outlier.
John McCain and Sarah Palin were leading in the polls from September 6, 2008 until the stock market crashed. Barack Obama was the single largest recipient of Wall Street donations in history.