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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dionne: Dems Must Focus on Economic Reforms to Benefit ‘Working Middle Class’

In one of his recent Washington Post columns, E. J. Dionne argued that “President Biden and the nation’s Democratic governors want to talk about jobs, incomes, child care, health care and who wields economic power. Republicans, led by many of their own governors, want the fight to be all about a packet of cultural issues connected to race, LGBTQ rights, the schools and religion — “woke fantasies,” in the shorthand of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s response to Biden’s State of the Union address.”Further,

“There is a subtext to this debate: Leading figures in both parties have decided that the future of American politics rests in the hands of working-class voters. With the most affluent voters now largely sorted by ideology, the “working middle class” in the poll-tested phrase popular among politicians, will be getting a lot of love.”

Biden’s bet — and it’s a wager many successful Democratic governors made last year — is that Democrats can win back blue-collar voters. This means not just gaining ground among Whites without college degrees but also winning back Hispanic voters who have drifted toward the GOP, and boosting turnout among the Black working class.

Dionne says “Declining faith in government’s capacity to make a difference in their economic lives has pushed many working-class voters to cast ballots on cultural issues, some closely connected to race….And many Democrats argue that non-economic issues, particularly abortion rights, have been key to the party’s advances among suburban swing voters.”

“Non-economic issues” its a useful term,. especially for abortion rights, which is far more real to most voters than any of the other issues lumped in the sloppy “culture war” basket. It also highlights the importance of economic issues, which remain the Democrats’ best hope for electoral success.

Republicans are masters of the art of political distraction. It is essential for their political survival. They love talking about ‘critical race theory’ and ‘the transsexual agenda’ and making phony claims about duly-certified elections being a conspiracy against everyone who isn’t a self-identified liberal. Republicans hate talking about economic issues because they have nothing to offer in that all-important category, other than the lower taxes, which they end up giving to the already wealthy far more often than the ‘working middle class.’

Dionne makes a convincing case that Democrats should look to their Governors, who think of themselves as “the get-stuff-done caucus,” not without good reason. Republicans hold a House majority and Senate Democrats can’t get any traction anyway, thanks to the idiotic 60-vote requirement for cloture. But there are a very few states, Michigan being exhibit “A,” in which Democrats have the authority to pass popular legislation.

The Senate is paralyzed. Maybe Tim Ryan should be glad he isn’t stuck on that hampster wheel. It’s not a great place right now for Democrats who want to get stuff done. All that could change if Dems take back a House majority in ’24 and somehow hold their Senate majority, against the odds. Until then, it’s Governors, like Whitmer, backed by a Democratic legislative majority, who are in a position to shine.

Dionne quotes NY Governor Kathy Hochul, waxing nostalgically about FDR’s superpower, connecting with working-class voters. FDR was a unique rich guy, who actually cared about working people and it showed. JFK tried to mine that vein, before he was cut down, and LBJ actually delivered some meaningful reforms to help the ‘working middle class,’ before he got bogged down in Vietnam.

But maybe Democrats shouldn’t talk so much about their great leaders of the past, since it highlights their absence in the present. Intelligent voters know that there are no more Lincolns and FDRs, and that today’s situation is very different anyway. What hasn’t changed is the need for political leaders who, rather than get distracted by culture wars, stay focused on economic reforms that can help improve the lives of the ‘working middle-class’ and also support abortion rights. Therein lies the path to Democrats’ future success.

3 comments on “Dionne: Dems Must Focus on Economic Reforms to Benefit ‘Working Middle Class’

  1. Tom chumley on

    Every single item passed by Biden and the Democratic Congress DID help the middle class and lower class regardless of education.

    Relentlessly selling this is what Democrats should do.

    Racism should be called out when it is practiced by the other side.

  2. MartinLawford on

    “Dionne says “Declining faith in government’s capacity to make a difference in their economic lives has pushed many working-class voters to cast ballots on cultural issues, some closely connected to race…”

    Observation: Working class voters believe that government has failed to improve their economic lives. Conclusion: They are racists. Strategy: Don’t reconsider the policies which the working class claims have failed them. Instead, call them racists.


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