Mark Shields: Democrats really need white blue-collar voters
You’re a white male blue-collar voter, and you think about how your nation’s political and financial establishment has treated you and yours over the past 25 years. All “the best people” — presidents and prize-winning professors and respected editorial writers — told you that American trade deals with Mexico and China would be good for America. What they didn’t say was that for you and your children, there would be 5 million fewer well-paying manufacturing jobs than there were before America made those trade deals. Sure, hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, and that’s good, but you’ve lived through our U.S. median household income’s shrinking in the past 15 years by $4,186.
You lived through the savings and loan scandal, which, because of fraud and greed, ended up costing American taxpayers like you $124 billion for bailouts. But then, at least 1,100 S&L executives paid for what they had done with criminal prosecutions and jail time. We still today do not know the total cost — seriously estimated to be $12.8 trillion because of the loss of families’ homes and housing wealth, jobs, and retirement funds — of the fraud that inflated the housing bubble of 2008 and required American working families to bail out Wall Street billionaires. What ordinary, law-abiding Americans do understand is that no major Wall Street bankers were ever arrested, let alone convicted, for what they did to bring this nation to its knees and to recklessly destroy so many families’ security.
Blue-collar neighborhoods paid the steepest price of all when the president and the nation’s leading newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post among them — told you that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that represented a grave threat to this country and our allies, that we would be welcomed as liberators and that democracy would flourish in the Middle East. That war, which began 13 1/2 years ago, would be fought not by the privileged children of the president or of the important opinion-makers but rather by your sons and your brothers and, yes, your daughters, too.
The country’s leaders, tragically, misled the country. There would not be Cabinet secretaries or any A-listers who are invited to Georgetown dinner parties at the funerals that followed. No, the pain and the tears were the nearly exclusive province and the burden of blue-collar Americans.
White blue-collar voters were the heart and soul of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition. They — not college-educated voters (a majority of whom has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1956) — elected John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. Maybe a coalition of female, millennial, liberal, college-educated, minority and LGBT voters will be enough to defeat Donald Trump in November. But for the Democrats to ever again become the nation’s governing party with working majorities in statehouses and in Congress — and not just a coalition that comes together every four years to elect a president — then white blue-collar voters must be courted and welcomed as an active, indispensable partner in that party.
That effort must begin with the presidential nominee and her campaign’s publicly demonstrating to white blue-collar voters that they and their values are respected and that the Democratic Party is, once again, committed to fighting for their economic and political justice. That would be an important first step toward recognition and reconciliation.