Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Jacobin Puts Down a Class Marker

I've always had a soft spot for Jacobin; they're pretty far to my left but they publish a lot of good stuff that shows they're thinking and not just regurgitating left platitudes. Their coverage of the European and world left, as well as left history, is generally very useful and difficult to find in other outlets.
They also have not been intimidated by the current fashion on the left with downplaying class and buying into woke pseudo-radicalism that is more performative than serious politics. So I approvingly note two articles in their new issue ("Biden Our Time"). The first if by Dustin Guastella on the Democrats' singular lack of working class appeal:
"Yet many of [Sanders'] most outspoken disciples fail to embody his unique appeal. Instead of the single-minded focus on working-class issues, they often embrace the liberal culture war while peppering in some of Bernie’s popular programs. So, if Bernie is the progressive exception, then what is the rule?
Consider Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, which even the ultraliberal magazine the Atlantic chided for its “Excessive Wokeness.” Warren combined a popular economic agenda with an often awkward attempt at courting Teen Vogue–reading radicals. This approach was admired among activists, media commentators, and some professional-class voters, but almost no one else — especially not the oppressed groups she aimed to attract. Warren came in fourth among black voters in her home state.
Warren is far from unique, though, and the brand of politics she championed is certainly not dead — in deep blue districts, it might even be the norm. The members of the Squad — long thought to be the successors to the Sanders mantle — have welded Bernie’s economic agenda to activist demands like “defund the police” and political appeals that, whatever their merits, seem best at attracting the hyperliberal and highly literate.
Progressives and socialists are now pairing ambitious and urgently necessary proposals like Medicare for All with wildly unpopular and sometimes counterproductive policy positions. Further, progressives have embraced a racialized worldview that reduces whole populations to their skin color. “Woke” ideology has prevented many on the Left from grasping the possibility that a Mexican American may care more about health care than immigration, that a woman might be more motivated by economic promises than electing a first female president, or that Trump might be able to improve his vote share among working-class black voters.
Even the political style of the Left seems designed to turn away potential new recruits. Far from signaling a commitment to vital social causes, being “woke” has become synonymous with an embrace of niche cultural attitudes found only in highly educated urban districts and among Twitter users — 80 percent of whom are affluent millennials. The Sanders campaign attempted a break with the new online consensus when it rejected the fringe term “Latinx” in its historically successful efforts to court Latino voters. And while Sanders failed to win over infrequent, rural, and small-town voters, he recognized how important it was to craft a majoritarian message that could appeal to them.
It’s unlikely that younger progressive leaders will do the same. Standout representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib sit in districts teeming with young, liberal voters (each seat boasts a Democratic advantage of at least 29 percentage points). For urban progressive insurgents — who are cash poor and enthusiasm rich — the incentives are clear: “woke” messaging helps mobilize an activist volunteer base that allows these candidates to overcome their financial weaknesses vis-à-vis established incumbents, and since these districts are so uniformly Democratic, they need not worry about appealing to a broader group in a general election. But even as these progressives have marooned themselves on isolated blue urban islands, they insist more than ever on defining the terms of national debate. And thanks to their unusually strong access to media, they’ve been quite successful at this.
The political problem here is not the moral motivation behind the “Great Awokening” — there is no doubt that progressive Democrats have the best of intentions. The problem is the way in which that moral conviction is expressed, and by whom. Party insurgents today reflect the sensibilities and interests of a constituency that looks and sounds nothing like the kinds of voters the Left desperately needs to win.
After all, professional-class progressives only make up about 13 percent of the electorate, and they almost never vote for anyone other than Democrats. Alternatively, as Peter Hall and Georgina Evans show, about 22 percent of voters dislike cosmopolitan and increasingly out-of-touch liberal cultural appeals but believe in a progressive economic agenda — and these voters are largely working class. Winning the loyalty of the majority of working people in this country will require breaking out of the existing liberal fortresses and appealing to workers across our massive continental democracy. But pairing a popular economic program with alienating rhetoric, chic activist demands, and identity-based group appeals only weakens the possibility of doing so."
Exactly--and good for Guastella for having the guts to point out how ill-conceived and politically unproductive this brand of leftism is.
Stern words are also offered by Matt Karp in a lengthy essay on "The Politics of a Second Gilded Age" Among other things, he takes aim at the Democrats' ebbing working class support and those who, against all evidence, deny it:
"The most influential version of denial acknowledges that Democrats have lost enormous support from white workers since 2012: the numbers here are simply too large to ignore. But by touting the loyalty of black and Latino voters, liberal pundits can still cast a narrative that flaunts Democrats as the party of a multiracial working class. They’re not wrong, exactly — no more than Gilded Age Republicans were wrong to claim that their support from Mississippi sharecroppers and Vermont dairymen made them the party of a multiracial working class. But it’s not a very convincing way to describe a party that is less and less competitive with over half the blue-collar workers in America.
If the denialist narrative of 2020 — call it the “Stacey Abrams saved us!” theory — makes sense as partisan hoopla, it is baffling as electoral analysis. There is no doubt that Abrams, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and other influential black Democrats deserve credit for Biden’s historic victory in Georgia, their party’s first since 1992. But examinations of county and precinct data paint the same picture: the decisive swing toward Biden and Kamala Harris came not from working-class black Georgians, whose Democratic turnout probably did not rise as much as other groups, but from voters in Atlanta’s prosperous suburbs.
The Georgia precincts that broke hardest for Biden, the New York Times found, were those with median incomes over $100,000 a year. If Stacey Abrams saved the Democrats, it was not primarily because she turned out new voters in the hardscrabble black neighborhoods of southwest Atlanta, where Biden performed about as well as Hillary Clinton and a bit worse than Obama. It was because Abrams helped engineer truly massive gains in the upscale precincts of Sandy Springs, where the Democratic vote soared almost 40 percent from 2016.
At the national level, the denialist narrative is even harder to sustain, since Trump’s gains in 2020 extended not just to working-class whites, but to working-class Latinos and African Americans, too. The massive shift among Hispanic voters in South Texas and Florida cannot be attributed strictly to conservative Tejano oil workers or older Cuban émigrés with long-standing GOP loyalties. The overwhelmingly Latino voters of Sweetwater, Florida, a working-class Miami suburb, voted for Obama twice and gave Clinton a 17-point victory in 2016. This year, they also voted for Florida’s $15 minimum wage amendment by a landslide margin of 33 points. But these same voters broke strongly for Trump, who carried Sweetwater by 16 points.
A similar if less dramatic pattern played out all across the nation, with Trump improving his margins in seventy-eight of America’s one hundred Latino-majority counties. A closer look at this phenomenon, which extended from Dominican-American communities in Massachusetts mill towns to Mexican immigrants on the California border, underlines the working-class character of this year’s Latino shift away from the Democrats.
Trump improved his margins with black voters, too, though his gains were much smaller. The real story here is the same as in 2016: working-class African Americans aren’t voting Republican en masse, but they are showing up to vote Democratic at lower rates than the rest of the party’s coalition. Some of this is visible in national and state data, but as usual, it is even more vivid at the local level.
Trump’s hapless legal effort to overturn the election results in Michigan made much of Biden’s large margin in Wayne County, but, as many liberal commentators noted, the city of Detroit itself was one of the few places in the state where the Democratic vote actually shrank, in absolute terms, since 2016. In the highest-turnout presidential election in over a century — where Michigan’s turnout climbed from 62 percent to more than 73 percent — Detroit’s largely black, working-class residents voted at roughly the same rate they had four years ago.
In the black-majority wards of northern Flint, Michigan — whose contaminated drinking water has been a national scandal for six years — Biden ran behind Hillary Clinton, both in total votes and in share of the vote. Although 2020 turnout spiked all across Michigan and Genesee County, it actually declined in black working-class Flint. Results from rural black-majority counties in Alabama and Mississippi, and precinct-level returns in largely black districts like Chicago’s South Side, West Philadelphia, North St. Louis, East Cleveland, and central Akron, show a similar pattern compared to 2016: small but consistent shifts toward Trump, alongside flat or declining turnout rates.
Nationally, of course, African Americans remain the most steadfast voters in the Democratic coalition — and in some places, like the thriving, diverse Atlanta suburbs, black turnout may well have jumped in 2020. But in poor and working-class black communities, especially, where “economic anxiety” has been a problem for decades, Biden and Harris again struggled to turn out voters.
At this point, the scale and specificity of the evidence — across almost every racial group — is too large for all but the most committed denialist to ignore."
So there you have it: a fearless and empirically informed defense of the overriding importance of class and a refusal to recite today's standard woke catechisms. As I say, these gentlemen are pretty far to my left but I do feel like I can have a comradely chat with them about politics that is based on data, logic and evidence. On the left these days, that is most welcome.

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