I mostly agree with Harold Meyerson’s essay on the Democrats reaping a huge political opportunity by refocusing itself on class-based issues. While I might quibble with a couple of points (not sure FDR’s speechmaking is relevant plus it plays into green laternism), there’s a lot to suggest real political opportunities. Polls and demographics are a big part of this.
This spring, a prominent Democratic pollster sent a memo to party leaders and Democratic elected officials advising them to speak and think differently. The nation’s economy had deteriorated so drastically, he cautioned, that they needed to abandon their references to the “middle class,” substituting for those hallowed words the phrase “working people.” “In today’s harsh economic reality,” he wrote, “many voters no longer identify as middle class.”
How many voters? In 2008, a Pew poll asked Americans to identify themselves by class. Fifty-three percent said they were middle-class; 25 percent said lower-class. When Pew asked the same question this January, it found that the number who’d called themselves middle-class had shrunk to 44 percent, while those who said they were of the lower class had grown from 25 percent to 40 percent.
This is a big deal. It’s not often that Americans don’t identify as middle class. They will again at the first opportunity, with the political conservatism that comes with it. Taking advantage of this moment to build upon class discontent with real policy ideas is a good idea. Even if they can’t pass at the national level, they can in states and cities, and of course we are already seeing this with higher minimum wage legislation.
Then of course there is this:
The new base of the Democratic Party appears primed for such a change. The share of liberals in party ranks has swelled. In 2000, Gallup reports, 44 percent of Democrats identified as moderates, and 29 percent as liberals. Today, the share of moderates has dropped to 36 percent, while that of liberals has increased to 43 percent.
As with Latinos, so with millennials. A Pew survey of those young Americans from March of this year found them to be the only age group in which the number identifying as liberals (31 percent) exceeded the number calling themselves conservative (26 percent). Fifty-three percent of millennials preferred the bigger-government-with-more-services option, and just 38 percent the smaller.
One reason millennials lean left, of course, is that each successively younger cohort of Americans contains a larger share of Latinos (not to mention Asians and secularists). White millennials preferred the smaller government option by 52 percent to 39 percent, but millennials of color supported the bigger-government alternative by a hefty 71 percent to 21 percent margin.
But millennials’ left-leaning politics is also the result of their having borne the brunt of the economy’s dysfunctions. It’s disproportionately the young who have been saddled with a trillion dollars in student-loan debt. It’s millennials who have experienced the highest levels of unemployment. Nor is their employment anything to boast about: In 2012, 44 percent of young college graduates were employed in jobs that didn’t require a college degree.
Of course the Republican minority is doing whatever it can to stop any of this from turning into progressive political change, using gerrymandering, filibustering, and judicial extremism to push their reactionary agenda, all of which leads to the war on organized labor, the most class-based institution in American history. That this is an intentional program for them is obvious, as is the disfranchising of voters of color and the anti-immigrant politics. A plutocratic white supremacist nation is what Republicans want. Democrats need to recognize this for what it is and aggressively organize the vast majority left out of Republicans’ vision. Starting by supporting policies that would take riches from the wealthy, create job programs, and expand the welfare state would move us on that road. Unfortunately, President Obama is a big believer is the centrist economic policies of the late 20th century Democratic Party. Blowing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership is necessary here. Luckily, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi get this, if Obama doesn’t.