Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How the Democrats Lost the "Worker"

In yesterday's piece I talked about the lack of leadership in the Democrat left, and blamed Barack Obama for leaving a big vacuum in the party that he not only couldn't fill, but prevented others from preparing to fill it when his term mercifully expired.

I think a related topic in that piece is relevant.  I spoke to the notion that the Democrats are split into somewhat unrelated constituencies that aren't necessary in any kind of accord.

One of those constituencies was the "worker", typically meaning the blue-collar tradesman, steelworker, or other skilled person who had long ago been likely a union member, working in the same job or for the same employer for a lifetime.  Because the first half of the 20th Century was when the private-sector union arose, it was then that such workers became strongly Democrat, because to be Republican was to side with the businesses which employed them.

But it is certainly relevant that the blue states that broke to Donald Trump in 2018 were the Rust Belt states -- Ohio, of course, but also Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- where a healthy part of the electorate is made up of those same "workers" that were historical Democrat voters.

In 1980, in the Reagan campaign, the commentators referred to "BCECs" -- blue-collar ethnic Catholics -- a term that has disappeared so much that googling "BCEC" gets to about the 44th screen of responses before you get "blue-collar ethnic Catholics", and nothing from under 18 years ago.

By "ethnic", the term was referring to Polish, Irish and Italian immigrants and descendants, along with some other eastern Europeans like Slovaks and Czechs.  The stereotype was that they went to high school and then right into the factory, steel mill or coal mine, joined a union, went to Mass, married and stayed married, had kids, worked for one company all their lives and retired on a pension.

The stereotype was pretty real, and you can add to it that they voted Democrat because they were told to by their union, which then gave lots of money to the party to elect people who would vote in Congress and the states' legislatures the way the unions wanted them to.  Pretty tidy system, and it lasted for a long time.

That was, of course, before Jimmy Carter.

Carter's economic incompetence was so severe that people were confronting 16-18% mortgage rates by 1980.  Plants were closing because of a combination of foreign competition and lack of access to capital -- if you're a business needing to pay 15% for a loan to build a plant or upgrade equipment, and you're already paying high union wages to your people, something is going to break -- workers get laid off, or plants and equipment fall into disrepair, or businesses close and everyone loses their job, union or not.

The "BCECs" weren't stupid.  If voting for Democrats was going to produce the stagflation that cost them jobs or inflated the costs of their groceries, clothing and homes, then maybe Ronald Reagan's platform of tax cuts to stimulate growth was worth giving a vote -- certainly voting for another term of Carter was certain to cause continued problems.

"Trickle-down economics", laughed at by Democrats, actually worked.  The economy boomed and tax revenues, predicted by the doom-and-gloomers on the left, actually soared after the passage of the tax cuts in Reagan's first term.  Of course, Tip O'Neill's Democrat Congress went and spent $1.40 for every additional dollar the heated economy produced in taxes, but "spending" is actually not a metric of tax policy, and government spending is not a measurement of the success of trickle-down economics.

That election, and that presidential term, was the crack in the previous "blue wall."  The "workers", and by that term we are very much talking about BCECs, discovered that it was OK to vote for a Republican, even though they might not be very loud about it, given their unions' reputation for goonery.  But once they could cast a Republican vote voluntarily, it was no longer mandatory that they vote as they were told.

And that is where we are in 2018, as we were in 2016.  The horrific Obama economy, quite certain to lurch equally as badly into a Hillary administration, was as scary in its own way as the Carter economy of 1980.  The "worker" that the Democrats lost in 1980 was lost again in 2016.

That voter was lost because the second "C" stands for "Catholic", and the Democrats' antipathy toward Catholicism, and the left's rigid dogma about social issues like gay marriage and abortion, does not ring well for that voter.  Neither does socialism, and certainly neither does a policy on the borders that invites people to just walk over -- and compete against the BCECs for their livelihood.

Donald Trump, the candidate, was a builder.  It was a significant attribute that Hillary Clinton had never "signed the front of a paycheck" -- run a business and made a payroll -- while Trump had produced tens of thousands of private-sector jobs and dealt with unions all his life.  If you were a BCEC, you couldn't identify with Hillary, who promised to close your mine and kill your job, but you could at least understand where Trump was coming from, even if he were on the other side.

So then bang -- 2016, he gets elected president, cuts taxes and the economy booms.  Even more than Reagan, the now-President Trump takes loud, affirmative steps to bring more jobs to the USA and protect the American worker against unfair foreign tariffs, while the Democrats are opposing immigration enforcement and trying to throw open the borders.

If I am a BCEC voter who just got my full-time job in the factory, mill or mine handed back to me, then whom am I going to credit for that?    If I'm a shop steward who got a $2,000 annual cut in taxes with the new laws, whom am I going to credit for that?  Chuck Schumer?  Nancy Pelosi?  Maxine Waters?  Bovine feces, with a cherry on top.

I don't think the question is whether that voter is going to vote Democrat or Republican in 2018 and 2020.  I think the question is if that voter is ever going to vote for a Democrat again.  The question is when that voter's union is going to realize that its membership is simply not going to support donations to Democrats anymore, and that member will leave the union (if they can in their states) if it keeps donating to them.

The Democrats started losing the worker in 1980.  I'd argue that the worker is gone.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

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