Endangered Species: White, Working Class Democrats

When Democrats took over Congress in 2006, they largely did so because candidates like the much-heralded Senators from Virginia (Jim Webb), Montana (Jon Tester), and Pennsylvania (Bob Casey) could appeal to blue collar, white, working class voters and give off the image that Democrats were a big tent party.

Nearly six years later, on July 5, when President Barack Obama begins a two-day bus tour in Western Pennsylvania, Democrats and Obama are struggling with working class voters, and the image of Democrats six years ago as a “big tent” party seems to have been nothing but an illusion. 

Webb, the pro-gun and anti-affirmative action Scots-Irish Virginian, is not running for reelection. 

Tester, who is against the DREAM Act, is not going to the Democratic National Convention (DNC), distancing himself from a president who is unpopular among the working class, salt-of-the-earth Montanans Tester represents. 

And Casey, whose reelection is no longer a lock, has said he is likely to attend the DNC but has been careful in keeping Obama at arms length, perhaps mindful of Obama’s problems in Pennsylvania

In 1992, many political analysts saw the election of Bill Clinton, a Democrat from the South, as the beginning of an era in which Democrats would win back the Reagan Democrats — the socially conservative, America first, blue collar voters that decide elections. The event that was more of a harbinger that year, though, was pro-life Senator Robert Casey, the father of Pennsylvania’s current Senator and the named defendant in the Planned Parenthood v Casey case in which abortion rights were expanded, being denied a speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention because of his pro-life views. 

Since 1992, Democrats who do not kowtow to the pro-abortion, anti-gun, global warming, and multicultural and gender politics lobbies have not seen a place for them in the party. 

Of course, just two years after the 2006 elections, none other than Obama dismissed the types of working class Democrats found in Western Pennsylvania as those who just cling to their guns and religion and had trouble, in the 2008 primary, winning over working class Democrats who distrusted a candidate who represented the worst of Chicago-style politics and ivory tower intellectualism. 

Webb, Casey, and Tester have been more liberal than they advertised in the Senate, especially the purportedly pro-life Casey who had to give in to the pro-abortion lobby when he voted against the defunding of Planned Parenthood. But all three, though, have taken stances on issues that are anathema to key liberal interest groups that dominate the party.  

Take Webb on affirmative action.

In a discussion-setting op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in 2010, Webb wrote that “the injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed,” but “the extrapolation of this logic to all ‘people of color’–especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.–moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites.”

“Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs,” Webb wrote. “The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.”

Webb argued that “nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white,” and “our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.”

Consider Tester on the DREAM Act. 

Before voting against the federal DREAM Act in the Senate in 2010, Tester said, “Illegal immigration is a critical problem facing our country, but amnesty is not the solution.  I do not support legislation that provides a path to citizenship for anyone in this country illegally.”

And in 2012, Casey, careful to not swing too far to the pro-abortion side of the political spectrum, voted against the birth control mandates by voting for an amendment sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would have rolled back a Department of Health and Human Services rule “that requires all employers, including religiously affiliated organizations, to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health care plan.” That amendment was narrowly defeated.

Obama and Democrats, because of their liberal, interest-group driven agenda that is often intolerant in the name of faux-tolerance, will continue to have trouble with working class white voters, as the party will continue to lurch to the left. Obama’s immigration directive is just the most recent example.

As Obama begins his bus tour to meet the “bitter clingers,” it will be interesting to see how, in the weeks and months ahead, he is received by Casey in Pennsylvania.

If Casey’s reelection bid seems more vulnerable, Casey may decide he may have to spend more time campaigning instead of attending the convention (of course, the real reason would be that he needs to distance himself from Obama on the top of the ticket). 

And if that happens, it would be ironic because the son of a Democrat who was denied a speaking spot at the convention for being pro-life would be voluntarily distancing himself from his party’s convention and standard bearer. But more importantly, it would be symbolic of how rapidly the working class Reagan Democrats are leaving Obama’s Democratic party they no longer see as representing their values and interests. 


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