Major parties etching new profiles

January 24, 2012


Since 1932, blue-collar worker have been the bedrock upon which Democratic presidential candidates have built their coalitions. Franklin Roosevelt drew them into his party, and his successors, both winners and losers in the effort to win the White House, have put the votes and interests of blue-collar workers at the center of their campaign calculus and campaign rhetoric.

No more — which is why what happened last week in South Carolina made even the sharpest-eyed political expert squint.

If the political landscape seems out of focus, it is because there has been a fundamental shift in the topography of American civic life. You might even call it a tremor, if not an earthquake, rumbling through the nation as a result of this 21st-century development: More blue-collar workers today identify themselves as Republicans than as Democrats.

“This is a significant change, upending all of history from the Roosevelt years on,” says William Leuchtenburg, the University of North Carolina emeritus historian who, with more than half a dozen books on FDR to his credit, may be the leading expert on the 32nd president.

“The Great Depression was blamed on Republicans, big bankers and industrialists. At the same time, Roosevelt managed through his relief programs to sustain millions of Americans. The combination of those bound workers to the Democrats.”

That’s why the new blue-collar affinity for the Republicans is so jarring, but it’s based on compelling Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey data produced from interviews of 8,000 people, with a margin of error of a tiny 1.09 percent. Its implications are stunning, changing the way we look at the parties and the way the parties shape their messages, the way they recruit congressional and gubernatorial candidates, the way they behave on Capitol Hill.

Perhaps most startling of all: Poll figures show that as many Republicans as Democrats blame Wall Street bankers for the nation’s economic crisis.

All this explains why the Republican candidates, first in New Hampshire and most recently in South Carolina, have undertaken a searing and searching critique of capitalism, transforming all of our established beliefs that led us to assume that the Democrats were the party of blue-collar workers (and labor) and that the Republicans were the party of business (and capital).

The irony of this is that while the move of blue-collar voters toward the Republican Party began with Richard Nixon, who in 1968 cultivated voters who fell under the shorthand of “hard hats,” and accelerated with Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 deliberately sought votes from workers who became known as Reagan Democrats, the real change in the character of the Republican Party may have come during the House speakership of Newt Gingrich.

It was Gingrich who bid the GOP to look beyond its usual patrons on Wall Street and on the Business Roundtable and who tilled new political soil, creating a profile for himself, if not for the GOP, as being anti-government but not pro-business.

With his ties to the information-technology industries, which themselves swept away old assumptions of American commerce, and with a rhetoric of revolution, which was anathema to the stability-seeking zeitgeist of big business, Gingrich plotted a new path for Republicans. Just as the new entrepreneurs showed contempt for the staid, accommodationist world of the old Fortune 500, Gingrich showed contempt for the plodding, go-along attitude of the old GOP, personified by House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois, whom he toppled.

Thus Gingrich, with greater affinity for the National Federation of Independent Business than for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, may be the true engine of change in Washington and in the broader modern political culture.

This change occurred roughly during a period when the Democrats, under the leadership of House Majority Whip Tony Coelho of California in the 1980s and later under Bill Clinton in the 1990s, began a groundbreaking offensive to cultivate business groups (and seek contributions and support from commercial interests). These groups once were firmly in the GOP camp, so much so that White House insiders, and even the president himself, expressed surprise about the influence of the bond market on the Clinton administration.

It was a small leap from Gingrich’s positions in 1995 to his blistering criticism this winter of former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts as a corporate viper who put profits ahead of people, just the sort of phrase that used to tumble effortlessly from the lips of politicians who opposed Gingrich’s party.

Now, Barack Obama is putting together a campaign effort that all but writes off the greatest legacy of a president he reveres, Franklin Roosevelt. It is not so much President Obama’s temperament that veers him away from blue-color voters as his reading of the political landscape — and perhaps his political circumstances.

“We know that blue-collar workers have been especially hard hit and that definitely affects their views,” says Adam Seth Levine, a Cornell political scientist. “Even in divided government, Americans blame the president and his party for the bad economy. That makes them more likely to identify as Republicans.”

As a result, Obama is assembling a coalition that doesn’t depend on the voters that were the mainstays of the presidential coalitions of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and even Clinton — though it is telling that each president in that string was less committed to the old formula than was his predecessor.

Political coalitions change over time, rendering them almost unrecognizable from century to century. The 19th-century Democrats, with strong religious-conservative elements, opposed many of the principles now associated with the party, especially a strong central government and civil rights. The Republicans, with a strong elitist and reformist tint, advocated a strong federal government and openness to rights for newly emancipated slaves.

Now the parties — always changing, more often being led than leading — seem to be etching new profiles.

The old chestnut of Leuchtenburg’s lectures, that you always could count on blue-collar workers to be Democrats, is no longer true, just as the reason for that iron rule of politics — the vast mass of unionized voters in auto plants steel and textile mills — has faded. Parties in and out of office campaign for change, but the biggest change of all sometimes comes within the parties themselves. That’s the biggest story of Campaign 2012 thus far.

— David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His email is dshribman@post-gazette.com


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

The irony is that if elected, despite all of the phony populist rhetoric, all of the Republican candidates would do everything they can to accelerate the redistribution of wealth to the already very wealthy that began in 1980. And if the last three years are any indication, Obama will be better for working people, but only marginally.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Selling Out = isn't it odd corp america invests billions in politicians over new industry?

Why do americans fall over themselves over incumbent political stars and fat cats ?

Have we not learned that these people NEVER make things better they just continue the corporate welfare and watch american jobs go abroad. It really stinks!

STOP sending the same faces back to Washington it is doing none of us any good.

The parties, news media and corporate america decide who OUR candidates should be for local,state or federal level representation. Why do we allow them to decide considering there are billions more of us?

The media has become a large part of the special interest takeover of our process as if they know what is best for all of us.

Voters support this takeover by voting for those candidates who spend the most money and the question is why?

The media loves those big campaign dollars = voters should not worship the big spenders

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Big Businesses Have Enough Extra Cash to Create 19 Million Jobs By Seth Fiegerman


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Wondering where all the jobs are? Just follow the money.

Big businesses and banks currently have enough extra cash lying around to create 19 million jobs between 2012 and 2014 and thus bring unemployment in this country back down to its normal rate of 5%, according to a new report from economists at the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute.

In total, America’s corporations are sitting on an estimated $3.6 trillion in liquid assets and cash reserves, or roughly a quarter of the country’s entire gross domestic product. Some of this is in fact needed to cover companies in the event that their business – or the economy as a whole – takes a turn for the worse. But according to the report, even accounting for a “highly risky economic environment,” these corporations would still have $1.4 trillion in excess liquidity.

To put that in context, that’s nearly twice the amount of money that the federal government set aside for its stimulus package to rescue the economy in 2009. But while the stimulus saved or created some 3 million to 4 million jobs, the economists predict that these private sector funds could do significantly more if invested in the right way.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

There is exactly one job in your mirror, Merrill. In fact, there is one job in everybody's mirror. No need to follow the money. No need to look at someone else's bank account.
Do what you do. Open a store, ply your trade. Hang out a shingle, follow your passion. Create your own job. Be your own boss. Win and be successful beyond your wildest dreams. Or fall flat on your face and learn from your mistakes and try again. Why all this talk about job creators when there is a job creator inside each and every one of us.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 10 months ago

"...the stimulus saved or created some 3 million to 4 million jobs..." Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, tell us another talking point, bub.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Campaigns go too long,spend way too much money and do not necessarily provide the best available. It is up to us to stop the nonsense at the voting booths.

Replace 95% of all elected officials every 4 years for the house and every 6 years for the Senate also known as voter imposed term limits.

Not voting sends the wrong message and changes nothing.

One big problem is there are damn few if any republicans running for office. That's right the traditional fiscal conservative/socially responsible republican is missing not to mention the GOP for Choice.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 10 months ago

Coffe ain't kicked in yet, but thank you for being my reminder. At least you are accomplishing something on this award-winning website.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

"This doesn’t need to be a pipe dream, but the researchers argue it will require the right combination of government policies to coax big businesses to let their cash flow. In particular, the group calls for more government spending and debt relief measures for households in order to shore up consumer demand. This, coupled with greater taxes on business cash reserves, could force companies to start reinvesting again in the economy.

“There is no reason that the U.S. needs to remain stuck in a long-term unemployment crisis,” the researchers write. “Rather, through a combination of policy measures, overall demand can be strengthened and the credit constraint weakened. This will be the combination of measures necessary to start fulfilling the needs of U.S. citizens for decent job opportunities at all levels.”

While the report doesn’t single out specific businesses, MainStreet has previously reported that many well-known companies like General Motors (Stock Quote: GM) and Western Digital are currently sitting on billions in net cash reserves."

Main St

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

Now without Stakeholders aka consumers and taxpayers big business and big banks would be nothing. We Stakeholders are the only source it seems for corp subsides and bailouts without which how can corp america be successful in their effort at mismanagement or fraud.

I say big banks and big business owe we stakeholders big time. They can not live without us so we must exert our influence.

Shop local Mom and Pop's then:

Move Your Money - To local institutions and do your community a large favor.

A database to assist those wishing to move their money out of big banks that took taxpayer money and used it to pay themselves large bonuses:




oldbaldguy 5 years, 10 months ago

We are screwed as far as coherent national policy on the economy. So now the peckerwoods are in the Republican Party. That happened after Nixon's "Southern Strategy." The unions just do not have the influence they use to. Both parties are in thrall to Wall Street.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.