CNN Host: Democrats Have To Start Accepting That White Working Class Voters Matter

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jul 05, 2017 2:15 PM
CNN Host: Democrats Have To Start Accepting That White Working Class Voters Matter

You may not agree with everything CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says, but his op-ed in The Washington Post about the Democratic Party’s disconnect with roughly half the country is worth your time. For starters, it hits home to what many within political circles, left and right, have been saying concerning what Democrats need to do for survival: reach out to white working class voters and in doing so—reclaim pieces of rural America. For that to occur, Zakaria says the Left, which is dominated by urban elites, needs to recognize that white working class voters matter, they have issues that are of equal importance, and that they have worth in our political discourse [emphasis mine]:

It’s worth considering how much the Democratic Party has changed over the past 25 years. Bill Clinton’s party was careful to come across as moderate on many social issues. It had a middle-of-the-road position on immigration and was cautiously progressive on subjects such as gay rights. The Democrats eventually moved boldly leftward in some of these areas, such as gay rights, out of an admirable sense of principle. On others, such as immigration, they did so largely to court a growing segment of Democratic voters, a process that Peter Beinart nicely explains in the most recent Atlantic issue. But in a broader sense, the Democratic Party moved left because it became a party dominated by urban, college-educated professionals, and its social and cultural views naturally mirrored this reality.

The party’s defense of minorities and celebration of diversity are genuine and praiseworthy, but they have created great distance between itself and a wide swath of Middle America. This is a cultural gulf that cannot be bridged by advocating smarter policies on tax credits, retraining and early-childhood education. The Democrats need to talk about America’s national identity in a way that stresses the common elements that bind, not the particular ones that divide. Policies in these areas do matter. The party should take a position on immigration that is less absolutist and recognizes both the cultural and economic costs of large-scale immigration. On some of the issues surrounding sexual orientation, it can and should affirm its principles without compromise. But perhaps it is possible to show greater understanding for parts of the country that disagree. California recently enacted a travel ban that now prohibits state-funded travel to eight states with laws that — in California’s view — discriminate against LGBT people. Meanwhile, California has no problem paying for employees to travel to such havens of tolerance as China, Qatar and Russia.

The more I study this subject, the more I am convinced that people cast their vote mostly based on an emotional bond with a candidate, a sense that they get each other. Democrats have to recognize this. They should always stay true to their ideals, of course, but yet convey to a broad section of Americans — rural, less-educated, older, whiter — that they understand and respect their lives, their values and their worth. It’s a much harder balancing act than one more push to raise the minimum wage. But this cultural realm is the crossroads of politics today.

All of this is true, though I think an economic message is also essential. Zakaria emphasizes this less since Democratic Party positions on the economy are supposedly popular. I don’t know. It’s not that Americans forget, but they often need to be reminded. In 2016, Americans didn’t associate the Democratic policy positions on health care, taxes, and immigration with Hillary Clinton because she had no message. What message she did deliver to voters drove 42 percent of Obama-Trump voters to back the Republican's presidential candidate because they thought Clinton would favor the wealthy. For a Democrat, that’s a rather disastrous result for a talking point that’s usually driven home rather well, though it’s not accurate in the slightest. Yet, urban-based elites who are calling the shots will probably not allow members of the Democratic Party to see white working class voters as important, let alone deserving of equal attention on the issues facing their communities. Democrats shun white voters, which is ironic since these were the voters that sunk Hillary Clinton. They thought they could win the urban areas without white voters when half the country disliked her, even more so with some members of her party (i.e. the Bernie Bros). Not the best strategy for a win. 

For 2018, the data from the left-leaning Third Way think tank clearly shows that a) there are not enough suburban House districts to flip in order to takeover the lower chamber; and b) “Democrats still would not win the House even if they could get every single 2016 Clinton voter who backed a Republican House candidate to turn out again in 2018 and cross over.” That’s quite the wet blanket, isn’t it? 

Yet, let's not forget that these voters are movable. If you find a Democrat who wants to deport illegal aliens committing crimes, protect manufacturing jobs, secure better trade deals, shore up infrastructure, and beef up pension protections, you might have a winning candidate. These rural voters could shift. They’re not die-hard GOP voters. The problem is the immigration issue might trigger the Democratic base and in this scenario–open this generic Democrat to accusations of racism. Then, the whole clown show of political correctness stumbles in just in time to see the Republican win. I’m okay with that. As far as I’m concerned, we should let Democrats resist  because all their antics are going to yield one thing: a second term for Trump.

Flipping these voters isn’t hard, and the GOP should be wary about this. Democrats can mount a comeback if they just drop their authoritarian cultural ethos grounded in anti-free speech buffoonery, safe spaces, and lectures on microaggressions. But all of this is crack cocaine for the “urban, college-educated professional."