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Democrats Divided: How Did They Lose The White Middle Class?

Politics Tribune News Service

Democrats Divided: How Did They Lose The White Middle Class?


By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Democratic Party is a mess.

One group of party leaders sees 2014 as simply a bad year, requiring just some tweaks. Others regard 2014 as a disaster and want an overhaul, and fast.

Leading the tear-it-up side are liberals, the party’s most loyal constituency. They’re angry because they saw no clear economic message pledging to help people with middle- and lower-class incomes.

“The first thing the party has to do is stand for something,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal activist group.

Elected officials offer similar warnings. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, last month criticized his party for revamping the health care system in 2009 and 2010 instead of focusing on helping people get and keep jobs.

Then there’s the South, where Democrats were crushed last month. Getting even a quarter of the white vote was a struggle in most state races.

“The national Democratic Party is just too liberal for us,” explained Richard Harpootlian, a Columbia, S.C., attorney and former South Carolina Democratic chairman.

When the Democratic Party hierarchy met and strategized at a Florida resort last week, the split over how much is wrong was apparent.

“This happens to both parties at various times,” Connecticut Chairman Nancy DiNardo said of the 2014 defeats.

Not like this, said others. “We’ve alienated the white middle class,” protested Jeanne Buell, Idaho vice chairman.

Democrats lost control of the Senate last month. Republicans gained seats as well in the House of Representatives, where they will hold their biggest majority since the 1940s. The GOP now has 31 of the nations’ 50 governorships, the most for either party in 16 years.

Officially, the Democratic intelligentsia is concerned and has authorized a task force to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of what can be done. Insiders and outsiders comprise the panel, and preliminary findings are due at the party’s February meeting.

Like-minded Democrats noted the party still holds the White House, and in 2014 were victims of an unusually Republican-friendly Senate map — among the Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate, seven were in states that had voted against Obama in 2012. In the House, they said, Democrats were often victims of Republican gerrymandering.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, told the party meetings to look at Democratic successes, including governors who won tight New England races.

“Voters agree with us on major issues that are important to them,” she said.

She got public praise from officials, but in private meetings and outside the room serious qualms surfaced. At one closed-door meeting, at least three officials stood up and urged the party to be more sensitive to white middle-class concerns. “There was some applause,” said Buell of Idaho.

The ultra-concerned saw the party making two tactical errors this year. It assumed that since economic numbers were pointing up, voters would give its candidates credit. And it was too intent on targeting specific groups loyal to the party, notably single women and African-Americans, instead of reaching out to middle-class whites.

Instead, candidates often ignored a telling statistic: Throughout the year, roughly two-thirds of Americans saw the country as moving in the wrong direction. They’re worried about their futures.

How, voters asked, would Democrats help? At one closed-door seminar for state chairs at the meeting, consultants found Democrats had offered about a dozen different campaign messages. Republicans made it simpler, saying that by cutting taxes and spending, people would wind up with more money to spend as they wished.

“It’s clear we need to hone our message and give people something to vote for,” said Iowa Chairman Scott Brennan. Republican Joni Ernst beat Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat, for Iowa’s Senate seat, a seat Democrat Tom Harkin had won five times since 1984.

Too often, chairmen said, Democrats seemed engaged in implementing strategy rather than discussing substance. “How many times can you knock on someone’s door?” asked Washington Chairman Jaxon Ravens. “It’s not so much how often you talk to them, but what you say.”

In West Virginia, for instance, Democrats have warned voters for at least 30 years that Republicans are out to take away Social Security while busting unions. Social Security survives, and union problems can’t be tied exclusively to Republican policies.

“So people just tune out,” said Belinda Biafore, the West Virginia Democratic vice chairwoman.

They might tune in if they saw party regulars in their neighborhoods. That’s why, in South Carolina, Democrats plan a workshop this spring to help people with job search skills such as resume writing and interviewing techniques.

“This is how we show our values,” explained South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison.

Even with a streamlined message, Democrats still have systemic hurdles that could take years to overcome.

Foremost is what Harpootlian called “the re-segregation of the South.” Democrats have long fought for majority-minority congressional districts to boost African-American representation. But that often means packing reliable Democratic votes into one district, making it easier for white Republicans to win surrounding areas.

About one-fourth of South Carolina’s voting population this year was black, but the state’s lone majority-minority district is the only one represented by a Democrat. Other Southern states have similar patterns.

Democrats want to maintain support from black and Latino voters, who have been giving them huge majorities. Winning bigger numbers among Southern whites, though, is proving difficult.

One solution, said former South Carolina Gov. James Hodges, a Democrat, is for candidates to establish their own identities apart from the national party.

“Outsiders win,” he said.

Another tactic: Demonize Republicans. Democratic regulars predicted that as Republicans get stronger, fissures between diehard conservatives and the center-right become more apparent.

That tilt toward Tea Party Republicans helped elect Democrats two years ago. This year, Republican regulars turned back those challenges and did well.

No one knows whether Democrats’ woes are cyclical or structural. That’s why “everything should be on the table,” said Alan Clendenin, the Florida vice chairman.

At the moment, it’s not clear what that might mean. “Too often the inclination after a night like we had on Election Day is to throw everything out and start over,” said Wasserman Schultz, “but to do that would be to ignore the incremental but significant progress that we did achieve over the last two years.”

Photo: studio08denver via Flickr



  1. TMZ1928 December 10, 2014

    How did they lose the white middle class? Support for the Illegal invasion of our borders, a health care plan that took from the middle class and gave to the poor, a stagnant economy which is only producing part-time jobs, and the LIES!

    1. Frank KIng December 10, 2014

      Bush 1 and 2 and Reagan did nothing about “illegal invasion of our borders” and Bush2 called for “amnesty” The other stuff you included in your litle diatribe were the results of right wing incompetence and mismanagement the last time they controlled the government and our lives to create a mess at home and abroad. It has been difficult to rectify the economic-fiscal-financial disaster the right wing created and will not be corrected in the short run or even long term. So quit blaming others for right wing mistakes.

    2. browninghipower December 10, 2014

      Then continue to vote for the TeaBagging goopers. They obviously have all the answers. Moron.

      1. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

        Today’s democrat party is a 100% marxist, 100% racist, 100% anti-white political party.

        There’s no reason for any white person to vote for a political party that is openly anti-white.

        1. browninghipower December 11, 2014

          You are a 100% idiot.

          1. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

            It’s obvious that today’s democrat party is a 100% marxist, 100% racist, 100% anti-white political party.

            Did you not think that white people were going to notice?

    3. Joe T December 11, 2014

      Everything you posted and the LIES and LIES…. the incessant lying to the citizens/voters of USA shows no Integrity in Dem Party.
      the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
      honesty probity rectitude honor good character principle(s) ethics morals righteousness morality virtue decency
      fairness scrupulousness sincerity truthfulness trustworthiness.

    4. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

      Today’s democrat party is a 100% marxist, 100% racist, 100% anti-white political party. We might as well be honest about it.

      1. Wedge Shot December 11, 2014

        We heard you the first time but we know that moron’s repeat themselves endlessly.

        1. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

          I speak the truth.

  2. browninghipower December 10, 2014

    Seriously..ignoring TMZ’s idiotic post below…the Dems need to do a few things and do them quickly and well. [Though I doubt they will]
    1. Clean out the present DCCC Leadership. They all have too many cobwebs in their brains. They are too isolated and reside in their own dangerous Bubble. Just read Debbie’s comments. They have no insight and are scared rationalizations meaning nothing will change.
    2. Read the Southern Chairs’ comments…they are Blue Dogs, god bless ’em. They need to be convinced that their way is a disaster..look at 2014 Elections.
    3. Democrats need to be Democrats again. Stand for SOMETHING! Welcome the hatred of the goopers and their plutocrats and their Media Wurlizter.
    4. Pick 4 or 5 issues: Economic – Wages- Jobs-Unions-
    Healthcare, etc AND STICK TO THEM.
    7. Find out what matters to the Middle Class…don’t pander to their irrational fears..pander to their real fears.
    8. IGNORE CLOWNS LIKE TMZ [below] and go out of your DC bubble and talk to real families…LISTEN TO THEM!!! Like you used to.
    You know, Empathy, compassion and understanding used to go a long way in getting to know your constituents. You Dems have spent too much time throwing your base under the bus and cowering to the bullies on the right. You’ve sucked up to Wall Street too much. You’ve tolerated assholes like Joe Manchin, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Harry Reid, Jim Himes, Steny Hoyer, and all those who in the name of bipartisanship continually give away the store and sacrifice the Middle Class to the monsters of the gop.
    Fine your soul and stand for something…just once.

    1. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

      Let’s be honest – today’s democrat party is a 100% marxist, 100% racist, 100% anti-white political party.

      We can all see it.

      1. browninghipower December 11, 2014

        Because you and Goebbels continue to repeat a lie and a myth, doesn’t make it so…100% moron.

        1. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

          It’s pretty obvious, at least to anyone who is paying attention, that today’s democrat party is a 100% marxist, 100% racist, 100% anti-white political party.

          We might as well be honest about it.

      2. Wedge Shot December 11, 2014

        And you are 100% moron.

  3. Shamuz Alonzo December 11, 2014

    Today’s liberalism is little more than communism without the manifesto.

    1. Joe T December 11, 2014

      You are right Shamuz…

      February 17, 2008, reprint – Psychiatrist Confirms: Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder

      As a clinical and forensic psychiatrist, Lyle Rossiter has treated over 1,500 patients and examined over 2,700 civil and criminal cases. Turning his hand to political psychopathology, the author of The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness, has diagnosed an alarming percentage of the population as suffering from the grotesque form of mental derangement known by some as moonbattery

      The Liberal Mind is the first in-depth examination of the major political madness of our time: The radical left’s efforts to regulate the people from cradle to grave. To rescue us from our troubled lives, the liberal agenda recommends denial of personal responsibility, encourages self-pity and other-pity, fosters government dependency, promotes sexual indulgence, rationalizes violence, excuses financial obligation, justifies theft, ignores rudeness, prescribes complaining and blaming, denigrates marriage and the family, legalizes all abortion, defies religious and social tradition, declares inequality unjust, and rebels against the duties of citizenship. Through multiple entitlements to unearned goods, services and social status, the liberal politician promises to ensure everyone’s material welfare, provide for everyone’s healthcare, protect everyone’s self-esteem, correct everyone’s social and political disadvantage, educate every citizen, and eliminate all class distinctions. Radical liberalism thus assaults the foundations of civilized freedom. Given its irrational goals, coercive methods and historical failures, and given its perverse effects on character development, there can be no question of the radical agenda’s madness. Only an irrational agenda would advocate a systematic destruction of the foundations on which ordered liberty depends. Only an irrational man would want the state to run his life for him rather than create secure conditions in which he can run his own life. Only an irrational agenda would deliberately undermine the citizen’s growth to competence by having the state adopt him. Only irrational thinking would trade individual liberty for government coercion, sacrificing the pride of self-reliance for welfare dependency. Only a madman would look at a community of free people cooperating by choice and see a society of victims exploited by villains. [From The Liberal Mind; The Psychological Causes of Political Madness by Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr., MD]

    2. Wedge Shot December 14, 2014

      And you are little more than a fucking idiot but without even a single cell of brain material.
      I would call you inert but that would make sludge look bad.

      1. Professor Brand December 14, 2014

        I think we can all agree that today’s democrat party is a 100% racist, 100% marxist, 100% anti-white political party.

  4. Wedge Shot December 11, 2014

    The Democrats let the Republicans dictate the conversation. The Democrats need to go after the the Republicans on the torture tactics they used during the Bush administration and demand a special hearing and investigation. The Democrats need to grab onto this and fight to get those people in the Bush administration indicted for crimes against our country’s values and possible crimes against humanity.
    Go after them like they have done with Benghazi. Then I would insist that a special committee investigate all of the terrorists attacks that occurred in and around our embassy’s while Bush was president. I would demonstrate how bad things were for our country when a Republican administration runs things.
    Bush left such a disaster that it is a wonder that we have recovered as much as we have.
    Lastly, support the president and all that he has accomplished. You deserved to lose the last election because you adapted the Republican philosophy instead of fighting for the Democratic’s way of doing things.

    1. bckrd1 December 11, 2014

      That and so much more but the saddest part is the fact that the American people even have to be reminded. The attention spans of dead gnats. We are a stupid, lazy, impatient, selfish and irresponsibly contrary people. We cry Exceptional-ism but vote twice into office, (the architect of the peoples current misery), G W Bush. The army of Republicans in Congress are the same ones who were there under Bush…. With the same proven to tank the economy agenda and now they will implement it to completion. The very people who caused and deliberately made worse by obstructing everything for 6 six years are now in the drivers seat because 37% of the people voted.

      The bills the GOP are already passing decimating and dismantling every protection agency there is,
      Look it up. People in the agencies that care about doing their job to protect us from harm are getting fired because the polluter calls the guys supervisor and complains about him not “cooperating” and they start putting “complaints” in their files and then they are gone with no reason, no severance pay. Just pack up and go and they have security usher you out. They are putting their own people who will turn a blind eye to horribly dangerous things. Two guys in Texas lost their jobs. Google it and read it. It will open your eyes.

      Same thing with the Dan River spill by Duke. Corruption to the highest levels and the media says nothing. That was a disaster and the same toadies letting the corporations run things and making the agency nothing but permit pushers with little to no oversight or regulatory enforcement.

      We are in danger everywhere. If an oil company wants to go there that is where they will go. We get to “live” with the results while they take what they want and leave it to someone else to “clean” up. We little people can’t clean it up. We are forced to live in it. But not to worry, most people will be too sick to work. We are turning into China except now, right now, China is spending money billions to make it better while we are giving money to make it worse.

      Congress is the biggest threat to us and we should have a right to arrest the entire lot for sedition.

  5. Gilbert West December 11, 2014

    People get caught up in words, i.e, “liberalism, “conservatism,” as if adopting either as a means of describing oneself actually means anything to anyone who has got common sense. Did the democrats alienate the White middle-class? Probably, but guess what??? Democrats also alienated the Black middle-class, as well a the Hispanic middle-class, and the Asian middle-class… I short order, the democrats alienated their entire base! Where are the damn jobs??? The real jobs? Not the hamburger-stand jobs. Who can pay a mortgage or repair a roof on what they pay at McDonalds??? Our highways and bridges are rotting out from underneath us… 70,000 bridges, from coast to coast, are on the brink of collapse… but a few thousand low-wage jobs flipping burgers was the best that could be done to stimulate the economy. In order to bring about change, you have to have the balls to give it your best shot. Democrats, in many instances, have fallen short on this metric. Compromise doesn’t mean that you stick your tail between your legs and slink into the shadows, cowardly muffling your voice. Compromise means that you didn’t explain your position well enough the first time…otherwise the fool sitting across the table from you would have seen how his constituents would benefit by implementing your basic proposal and would return to tell them the good news of what he/she was able to negotiate on their behalf. Obviously that wasn’t done… So the 3 million or 4 million new construction jobs that would have fed, clothed, and housed 16 million to 20 million American family members never materialized. Yet the Democrats wonder why they lost the election!!!
    And now some mis-guided souls imagine that a republican majority somewhere, is somehow, a panacea for what ails our economy. These ignorant fools will lustfully squander countless $$$trillions on wars they had to lie to us about, yet they will not even consider passing a jobs bill a la Dwight D. Eisenhower…. While legions of starving, mal-nourished denizens of Appalachia continue to swallow the party line, “hook,” “line, and sinker!” against their own best interests… so long as someone can con them into thinking that one day, if they continue to be obedient and do as they are told, that they will be granted a seat at the table where their patrons eat… Imagine that!!!


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