Bunker mentality

Democrats Dare Not “Abandon” the White Working Class

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.


This entry was posted in 2012 Elections, Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Economy, Financial Meltdown, Politics, Sarah Palin, Wall Street Banks and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Bunker mentality

  1. votermom says:

    I never saw the show, but Michael Stivic sounds like a condescending entitled know-it-all. In my book, if you live in your in-laws’ house, you shut up about your disapproval of their ways.

    But Hollywood is a window into the elite worldview, so it’s not surprising that he should be the “ethical” one.

    The bulk of Obama’s significant electoral gains came after the mid-September stock market crash.

    I wouldn’t put it past them to engineer another crisis to win 2012.

    • dorkle says:

      I wouldn’t put it past them to engineer another crisis to win 2012.

      I wouldn’t either, but would it work again? Obama, to date, has a incredibly weak economic record. If it does work a magic spell… holy crap. Stick a fork in me, I’m done with politics forever.

      • Lola-at-Large says:

        It wouldn’t have to be a late crisis. Remember Bush 41 went into Iraq partly to accomplish this for his 1992 re-election bid. It didn’t work, partly because he pulled out too soon.

        I’ve been watching all this Iran action and wondering if that’s gonna be it. I’ve been waiting for them to invade for over a decade. Big Business wants it and has for a while. All they need is the proper dupe in the wrong circumstances. Sounds just like Obama to me.

    • DandyTiger says:

      If that engineered crisis is, say, a war in Iran, it probably would work. People really don’t like to change horses in mid-stream of a new war. See for example, GWB in 2004.

  2. DeniseVB says:

    Loved that show, Archie was always so over-the-top prejudiced but always seemed to learn a lesson. The shows are on youtube……

  3. elliesmom says:

    When Norman Lear created “All in the Family”. I’m not sure he was planning on Archie’s becoming the loveable curmudgeon he turned into. As time passed, he grew fond of his African American neighbors, grudgingly accepted that women were playing a larger role outside the home, and even learned how to change his grandson’s diaper. At the same time “Meathead” continued to espouse liberal values while leaving the care of his wife and child to his father-in-law. Sometimes characters in books and theater don’t do what their creators intended at the`start. The show was a favorite at our house when I was growing up because it was always a real conversation starter.

    And I suspect that we’re going to see a “crisis” in September or October, too. Hopefully, the Republican candidate will be able to present himself as the candidate most able to handle it so it will backfire. Because that shit has got to stop.

    • DandyTiger says:

      From what I understand, that is what Lear planned. Archie was the character stuck in his ways, but positioned to learn and change. The others were there to facilitate that. “Meathead” had some good ideas, but was an idiot and was missing some seasoning. The women, and as mentioned in the post, both women, were subservient to their men (even if “meathead” made noises of equality). Lear made some hay of that double standard hypocrisy too.

      I suspect though Lear was very liberal, as an older guy, he was kind of skeptical of the new wave of liberal men as well. Then again, maybe I’m remembering the later shows where that was happening. Perhaps in the earlier shows, the son in law was meant to be more correct and not as much of an idiot hypocrite.

  4. yttik says:

    All in the Family is a really good analogy for what’s going on today. It also gives you an idea of how long this debate within the Dem party has been brewing. 30-40 years ago we were being encouraged to reject the Archie Bunkers of the world in favor of the Michael Stivics. Michael is young, idealistic, hopey-changey, and knows everything. Anything Archie says should be rejected because he’s just a bigot.

  5. 1539days says:

    I looked at your original post at Corrente, which seems to have an OWS banner on all the pages now. I was amused by the commenter who took pains to point out Bunker was a Republican. Norman Lear made him a Republican, but Archie had a lot of the same social attitudes of a 1971 union employee Democrat. Reagan was a New Deal Democrat at one time.

    Today, Archie might be a Tea Partier, but Meathead would be an occupier for sure. One wins elections and the other abandons their normal obligations to hang out with like-minded people.

    • elliesmom says:

      My dad was a lot like Archie Bunker, but about five years ahead of Archie on the learning curve. Dad was chairman of the town Democratic Committee. He was a real yeller dog Dem and the only “crisis of faith” he had was when he cast his vote against Eisenhower, a man he truly respected from serving in WWII. He always said that Lear got it wrong.

      • myiq2xu says:


        Norman Lear originally intended that Bunker be strongly disliked by audiences. Lear was shocked when Bunker quietly became a beloved figure to much of middle America. Lear thought that Bunker’s opinions on race, sex, marriage, and religion were so wrong as to represent a parody of right wing bigotry. Sammy Davis, Jr., who was both black and Jewish, genuinely liked the character. He felt that Bunker’s “bigotry” was based on his rough, working-class life experiences, and that Bunker was honest and forthright in his opinions, showing an openness to changing his views if an individual treated him right. Davis in fact appeared on All in the Family to tell the Bunker character this.

        Archie’s racism had strongly subsided by the time Archie Bunker’s Place began in 1979. During that program’s second season, he hired a black nanny, Ellen Canby, for Stephanie and became fond of her. In one episode, Archie punched a man for making a remark about her and was thrown out for good from the lodge (the Kings of Queens) he had attended since the early days of All in the Family.

        • DandyTiger says:

          I stand corrected in my earlier comment. I assumed Lear was smart enough to have seen that obvious path of character development. There I go again, assuming too much.

        • elliesmom says:

          Things happened to my dad to make him change, too. A black family moved into the neighborhood and came over to our farm to help my dad get things back to rights after a fire took down our barn and wouldn’t take anything but his “Thank you” for their help. His daughter wanted to go to engineering school when she grew up. He found out that not all women worked “outside the home” for “pin money”. His favorite nephew came out that he was gay. Every one of his prejudices was challenged by something positive happening in his life. Eventually, he just shook up his hands and gave in. Sounds corny, but that’s the way it happened. He even wrote a letter to the company that made the licorice candy shaped like children to ask them to make them in a different shape because he couldn’t figure out what he should call them anymore, and he really liked the candy. He was Santa Claus in the town Christmas parade and coached baseball in the spring. When he changed, he changed others, and Archie did, too. But not because Lear got it right – it was because Lear got it wrong.

        • Ugsome says:

          I think this evolution is more widespread than we think. An ex-boyfriend’s father, who in his younger years, a participant in the panicked white flight in the 50s and 60s, by the 90s was calmly describing his no-longer all-white neighborhood as a ‘rainbow.’

  6. DeniseVB says:

    Wonder what Archie would have thought about Obama?

  7. timothy2010 says:

    Can’t find anything online pertinent to it but i was taught in college that in addition to being modeled after a British sitcom Lear also borrowed from a comic strip called Mr Bigot which ran during WW II. Put out by a Jewish group in an attempt to show the absurdity of racism. If I recall correctly the effort backfired as those exhibiting racist thoughts did not identify with the character but several different derogatory terms were introduced across America

    • DandyTiger says:

      There’s a lesson there about trying to push social or political change (i.e., re-education efforts) through works like this. That can be the germ of a story idea, but you have to let the characters take over. And characters changing is what a good story is always about. And if you start with characters way down in the gutter, they tend to work their way out, whether you like it or not. 🙂

      • votermom says:

        Reminds me of Angel & Spike again.

      • timothy2010 says:

        I was a second semester freshman at Purdue and I had to give a lecture in front of five hundred students about why stereotypes exist in sitcoms. you only have a half an hour so dumb blonde idiot jock is something you have to rely on. Spinster aunt. Cold father and blah blah blah. In 1986 we had no access to tv product. So I had to go by a few tapes and transcripts. I was 19 but i remember using Mr Bigot and All in the Family as examples of the media trying to design the world.
        I have tried every imaginable search for Mr Bigot cartoon and i come up dry. It exists I wrote a paper on it and delivered a lecture inspired by.
        Find it offensive that the Hollywood/NYC/DC tribe feels they can educate the rest of us morons. I liked Glee for about a season and then I noticed the show was beating me over the head with a gay agenda. Became very bored and very irritated. i am gay and i think the show is a bit too much

  8. foxyladi14 says:

    love that show.got all episodes on tape 🙂

  9. DandyTiger says:

    Curios bit in that article:

    It worked for Clinton. But he had a booming economy at his back, a middling Republican opponent, and a third-party candidate who siphoned more votes from the right than the left. Yet Clinton still failed to win a majority of the vote or a majority of white women.

    I’m assuming he means the ’96 election. If not, then the booming economy at his back is crazy talk. Sounds like the repub. meme, later copied and reused by the Obama campaign that Clinton made no difference in the economy, but that it was set it monition and he just rode the wave. Um, if the economy was so good, GHWB would have won idiots.

    But if he meant ’96 as I assume, then come on, Bill got 49.24% of the vote. That’s within the margin of error of 50%. Jeebus people. That’s not much of a “minority” of the vote.

    But the curios thing here is that in the ’96 election, Bill did get a majority of of white women. He got 43% (lost 46%) of whites, close, and he got 63% of women (pretty much across all subgroups). So it sounds like he is talking about the ’92 election. I think the author has his meme’s for various political reasons jumbled up in his head. At best.

    By the way, I have Obots tell me the old Clinton did nothing for the economy pretty much every day. So nice.

  10. timothy2010 says:

    On the topic of sitcoms I confess did not want to like Modern Family
    But hot damn that show is funny and every other character has a little Archie Bunker in him and it never gets too cute

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