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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kahlenberg: Building a Working-Class Coalition Beyond Identity Politics

An excerpt from “Working-Class Politics. How to Get Beyond the Identity Trap to Bring About Big Social Change” by Richard D. Kahlenberg at The Liberal Patriot:

There’s been a lot of talk about Joe Biden’s promulgation of a “blue-collar blueprint” for America. The commitment is a natural for Amtrak Joe, who placed a bust of Bobby Kennedy, one of the last national Democrats to show strong appeal with working-class white voters as well as with black and Hispanic Americans, in the Oval Office.

But if Biden is serious about advancing a blue-collar agenda, he needs to do more than push a series of concrete ideas to improve the material conditions of working-class Americans—important as those programs are for people. He must also distance himself from the race essentialism on the far left that elevates racial disparities over economic inequality and pushes divisive ideas that alienate many working-class voters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

That’s the big takeaway message of a significant new book, No Politics But Class Politics, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Adolph Reed and University of Illinois literary critic Walter Benn Michaels. Michaels and Reed argue that, “Racism is real and anti-racism is both admirable and necessary, but extant racism isn’t what principally produces our inequality and anti-racism won’t eliminate it.”

Reed, who is black, and Michaels, who is white, are leftists who are far more radical than Biden and most Democrats (or me.) But the series of essays and interviews compiled in their book has an important overall message: the fashionable views of highly-educated whites on how to address racial inequality are backfiring, particularly for poor black people.

Kahlenberg has lots more to say about the ideas in “No Politics But Class Politics,” and you can read it here.

2 comments on “Kahlenberg: Building a Working-Class Coalition Beyond Identity Politics

  1. Miles Fidelman on

    Given that Joe Biden is the titular head of the Democratic Party, and POTUS – one might suggest that Democratic Politicians will pay attention. One might also suggest that much of the resurgent Progressive Movement (as led by Bernie Sanders – he calls himself a “Democratic Socialist” a la Eugene Debbs but he’s basically a classic Teddy Roosevelt Progressive) – with it’s focus on unionization – is a sign of significant progress. As is Biden launching his re-election bid in front of a union audience.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    Even if Reed and Michaels’s analysis is correct, it will get little attention from Democratic politicians.

    Kahlenberg did a good job of summarizing their argument but made a minor factual error. Henry Gates was not arrested for breaking into his own house. He was arrested for disorderly conduct, a charge which was dropped.


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