Ron Klain lays out a re-election strategy for President Obama in his column, “Six Ways To Keep Working-Class Voters On Obama’s Side:”
In 1980, I was working on the campaign of Senator Birch Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who was being challenged by an upstart conservative congressman from northwest Indiana named Dan Quayle.
One day, I traveled with Bayh to the Chrysler manufacturing plant in New Castle, Indiana. It was supposed to be fertile ground: Bayh had been the Senate sponsor of the previous year’s bailout bill for the carmaker, and Quayle had voted against the measure in the House.
Some workers at the plant were indeed enthusiastic to see Bayh, but some seemed diffident — and a few were outright hostile. The hostile ones formed a small group near the senator, and started yelling at him, “You sold out Taiwan, you sold out Taiwan” — a reference to his support for legislation to normalize relations with what was then known as mainland China.
Finally, the usually jovial Bayh pivoted on the hecklers, saying: “You (expletive)s wouldn’t have jobs if my opponent had gotten his way, and you’re yelling at me about an island that is 7,000 miles away!” On election night, Bayh’s vote from the working-class neighborhoods around the plant was far lower than expected, and he lost to Quayle.
This experience was very much on my mind last week when President Barack Obama gave a feisty, powerful speech at a United Auto Workers meeting in Washington. The union gave him a hero’s welcome, and why not? Thanks to the president’s smart and strategic action in rescuing the car industry, UAW members have jobs — and if the president’s opponents had their way, they probably wouldn’t. So isn’t it a no-brainer that auto workers — and for that matter, most working-class Americans — will vote their pocketbooks and support the president this fall?
In a word: maybe.