Why Democrats Need the White Working Class
Ruy Teixeira October 24, 2012 | 12:00 am
What’s the Matter with White People?: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was
by Joan Walsh
Wiley, 278 pp., $25.95
WHAT’S THE MATTER with White People is really about what’s the matter with the white working class—more specifically, with the way they vote. Joan Walsh’s concern is with how the white working class has strayed from the New Deal coalition and from the Democrats. She explains and examines this thesis using her own experience: the political evolution of her New York working-class Irish Catholic family, most of whom followed the classic path from New-Deal-lunch-pail Democrats to Nixon-and-Reagan devotees.
Walsh is a more-or-less unreconstructed New Deal liberal who believes economic universalism is the glue that can and should hold the Democratic coalition together. …
This brings us to the third and most distinctive part of Walsh’s argument: the role that Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, have played in alienating the white working class. In her view, the retreat of the white working class became an excuse for liberal Democrats to vilify this group, magnifying their shortcomings into a cartoon portrait of hopelessly racist and mean-spirited enemies of progress. This accelerated the white working class’s bitter departure from the Democrats. It also ensured that identity politics displaced class politics within the Democratic Party. As Walsh puts it: “I watched one area of common ground emerge on the left: more and more observers seemed to believe that so-called people of color … shared more interests with one another than with any white Americans.”
… Electoral weakness among the white working class can be finessed in some elections (2008, perhaps 2012), but it deprives the Democrats of the stable majority support they need around the country and within Congress to implement activist programs the country desperately needs. And if a Democratic administration runs into trouble, the potential for blowback from an unfriendly white working class is always present (as was seen in 2010).