Why Those White Working Class Votes Still Matter

american worker
Photo by Chris Yarzab/ CC BY 2.0

Joe Biden has reason to be proud; in the last 107 years, only three American presidential nominees have managed to defeat an elected, incumbent president who was seeking a second term. Let history show that the winning trio were all politically gifted leaders who became successful presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

That is fairly awesome company for Regular Joe to be joining. But Democrats already impatiently waiting for "Hail to the Chief" to be played for one of their own would be wise to confront a sobering reality from the Nov. 3 returns: White, working-class men who represent 1 out of 3 presidential voters and who formed the electoral backbone of the winning coalitions that elected FDR, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy preferred Republican Donald Trump, now of Mar-a-Lago, Florida, over Joe Biden, a son of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The first — and the worst — reaction of more than a few Democrats to this unwelcome news is an indifferent shrug followed by some variation of, "What do you expect?" After all, the condescending analysis goes, these guys are the modern-day versions of Archie Bunker, neither racially enlightened nor welcoming to the inevitable march of social progress. The Democrats' obvious problem with blue-collar male voters is as much one of attitude as it is of issues or programs.

Forgotten is the human reality of who these voters are. They are overwhelmingly the Americans who enlist in the Marine Corps and the U.S. armed forces and who fight and, too often, die in the service of our nation. For them and their families, war is not some policy abstraction to be debated in seminars or committee hearing rooms; it is a daily and very personal matter of life and death.

We all honor the 343 New York firefighters who, on Sept. 11, to save the lives of strangers from the doomed Twin Towers, marched bravely into the fires of hell and the jaws of death. Demographically, these heroes, too, were mostly white males without a college degree. Democrats have forgotten their roots; they flourished as a shot-and-a beer party — yes, Joe Six-Pack — not arguing whether the Sauvignon Blanc is sensitive enough.

It is, let us remember, those same white working-class nongraduates who were the economic casualties of globalization. It was their well-paying union jobs, great health care, generous paid vacations and pensions that disappeared along with their hometown factories and left in their wake deserted downtowns and shrinking economic horizons for their children.

The modern Democratic Party was created in the Great Depression, after self-reliance and independence were found wanting to relieve the hunger and poverty that stalked the nation and scarred its families, to guarantee the opportunity for work to those who were able, to guarantee security for the old and the disabled. It was — and remains — a noble mission.

The words of a great American president, not a Democrat, are to be read and heeded by Democrats and all Americans: "Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." Thank you, Abraham Lincoln.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.


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