A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

As clumsy GOP woos workers, Dems take us for granted

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., July 4, 5 or 6

“Working class” isn’t just people who carry lunch buckets to jobs. This week – 81 years since the National Labor Relations Act was signed – it’s more likely defined by income, not whether you shower before or after work. Regardless, there seems to be a lack of respect for the working class by the Republican or Democratic parties.

The GOP seems to think so little of us that they assume we’re easy to manipulate; Dems’ speeches acknowledge us but they take us for granted.

Apart from party leaders, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Donald Trump (billionaire) appealed to people who feel ignored by the political establishment, Trump blames trade deals (and immigration) for jobs vanishing only for the same work to be done overseas. Sanders also criticizes one-sided trade pacts but doesn’t scapegoat minorities.

Republicans since the 1980s have wooed workers not with economic ideas but through divisive social issues, and the GOP is again targeting working-class voters, drawing on the appeal Ronald Reagan tried.

“Those Reagan Democrats – at least not as we usually think of them[, as] urban, Rust Belt laborers — didn’t last much beyond Reagan,” Neal Gabler wrote for “They were a temporary blip. Trump Democrats might be something of a myth, too.”

Indeed, Trump’s support is less working class than assumed. Census data and polls show the median household income for Trump’s backers is $72,000, compared to the national median of $55,000.

Andrew Levison’s “The White Working Class Today” says that the Republican Party now believes working Americans mostly worry about the labor market, are skeptical of Wall Street and big banks, and feel that poor people have hard lives because government benefits are inadequate. So some conservatives advocate changing rhetoric to concede such concerns. However, other conservatives have doubled-down, criticizing workers or the jobless for their plight, citing broken families, moral flaws and even substance abuse.

“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die,” wrote Kevin Williamson in the conservative National Review magazine. “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”

And the Democrats? Working people – once a vital part of the Democratic Party – are now almost ignored by party leaders. Democrats “stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class,” said author and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “Clinton and Obama failed to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated them, or enable workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down vote.”

There are exceptions. A few voices in Congress are strong advocates, from dozens of members of the House Progressive Caucus (including U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Jan Schakowsky) to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders.

“I am the son of working-class people,” Sanders has said. “It is incomprehensible to me that you have working-class people vote for a Donald Trump. Why?

“The answer is not so much what the Republicans are doing,” he continued. “The answer is what the Democrats are NOT doing. They have not convinced the working class of this country that they are prepared to stand up and fight for them.”

Rather than recognize the importance of the working class, some Democratic leaders or surrogates dismiss workers as racist, but Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America, said, “People are much more frightened than they are bigoted.”

A Democratic strategy has been to abandon a class orientation to instead organize by ethnicity, age or gender.

Democrats’ ultimate “trump card” (so to speak) is that there’s little choice for working people.

“Democrats often use the fact that Republicans have gone off the deep end to ignore their left flank, on the grounds that those liberals have nowhere else to go politically,” wrote David Fayen in The Fiscal Times. “Democrats put on the cloak of populism when they need to be bailed out of trouble during elections, but when they actually get into power, they shake off those slogans and advance the interests of the elites.”

In Rolling Stone magazine, Matt Taibbi wrote, “The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.”

America needs a President who takes a lunch bucket to the Oval Office.

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