Not just the "working-class", but the "white" working-class. This is an important distinction, because in our politically and racially divided environment (with code words, dog whistles and euphemisms), one former Senator is specifying what many people have neglected to point out. While we usually think of the poor as being minorities living in impoverished inner city neighborhoods (or residing in rural areas), many once-middle class "white" Americans have also fallen into poverty.
Poverty Skyrockets in the Suburbs: A study from Stanford University shows that back in 1970, 65 percent of America’s families lived in 'middle-income' situations. By 2008, only 43 percent of U.S. families lived in middle-income neighborhoods. The poverty rate for white Americans is currently 9.6 percent—substantially below the rate for Latinos (23.5 percent) and black Americans (27.2 percent). Still, whites now account for nearly half of all of America’s poor—and 56 percent of the country’s poverty-level wage earners are white.
And now these white folks have been asking our Democratic leaders in Washington: "What have you done for me lately?"
I do think that right now there are a lot of white working-class voters who haven't seen enough progress economically in their own lives, and despite the work that we've done to try to strengthen the economy and address issues like child care or minimum wage or increasing manufacturing, that's not what they read about or hear about in the newspapers. They hear about an immigration debate or they hear about, you know, debate surrounding Ferguson, and they think, "I'm being left out. Nobody seems to be thinking about how tough it is for me right now," or, "I've been downscaled, I've lost my job," etc. You know, part of my responsibility then is to communicate directly to those voters. And part of the Democratic Party's job is to communicate directly to those voters and say to them, "You know what? We're fighting for you ... There's a burden on Democrats to need to make very clear to a broad swath of working-class and middle-class voters that we are, in fact, fighting for them.
There has been a lot of criticism that the Democrats have been more the party for minorities—and that it was a big reason why they lost the last mid-term elections, because they were abandoned by the white working-class. Now former Virginia Senator Jim Webb is thinking about running for President — and not just as a Democratic President for the historically oppressed, but for all economically oppressed people (of all color, including the white working-class).
The Washington Post article had gone on to say, "In his very overt focus on working-class white men, Webb is doing something other politicians from both parties have only done in code ... Rarely has any politician with national ambitions talked about white cultures and poor and working-class white people in this way." (Meaning, Jim Webb wasn't ignoring or sugar-coating the obvious.)
In another article at Yahoo News, Is Jim Webb for real?, they write, "Webb has the beginnings of a two-pronged progressive critique. On economic policy, Webb will say the party — personified by the Clintons — has been too much in the grasp of big financial institutions and too little beholden to wage earners. He’s a little like Elizabeth Warren this way."
Webb tells Yahoo News, "I think this is where Democrats screw up, you know? I think that they have kind of unwittingly used this group, white working males, as a whipping post for a lot of their policies. And then when they react, they say they’re being racist.”
In an article at Slate, A White Man’s Democrat, they say the Virginia Senator wants to speak for the white working poor, and that Democrats should listen to what he has to say. "Webb thinks Democrats have focused too much on the interests of blacks, Latinos, and other groups to the exclusion of poor and working-class whites, who—like the others—face deep disadvantage and dwindling opportunities. Instead, Webb argues, the Democratic Party should devote itself to a program of economic uplift that lends a helping hand to all Americans and that, specifically, can improve the fortunes of poor and working-class whites."
But even Slate, a left-leaning publication that is known (and sometimes criticized) for adopting contrarian positions, writes: "There’s a tinge of white identity politics to Webb’s argument, which might make it off-putting to the liberals, including blacks, who are critical to winning a Democratic presidential primary. Which is to say that even if Webb is serious about running for president he doesn’t have a chance. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grapple with his message, which — even with the rough parts — contains a lot of insight ... Still, while Webb is wrong about the party’s approach to racial minorities, he’s right about its approach to economic policy."
But is Webb really "wrong" about the party's approach?
If you read the interview at Yahoo News, they also say "Liberals like him now, but wait until they hear what’s on his mind ... The last thing liberals want to hear right now (and especially after the recent uproar over police brutality) is that they’re too focused on racial equality and aren’t being solicitous enough to rural white men." (* Maybe this a reference to Southern States, but poor white men are also trying to survive in the big cities of Blue States too.)
But later the Yahoo article goes on to say, "But that doesn’t mean he won’t have an impact, and it doesn’t mean, if you’re Hillary Clinton, that you shouldn’t be paying close attention. Clinton’s allies in Washington have been trying for months to sell her — and the rest of us — on the idea that she won’t be seriously challenged for the nomination if she runs. This has never seemed very plausible to me, and it’s going to seem even less plausible once Webb starts running around the country picking apart her Wall Street connections and military adventurism. At that point, other, more cautious potential rivals — like, say, [Elizabeth] Warren or a governor like Martin O’Malley — are probably going to see that there is, in fact, a market for a progressive alternative."
In my opinion, to say that there is going to be a market for a "progressive alternative" is a huge understatement. (See my post: Dividing and Conquering the Left & Right for more clarity.) Below is from an update to an earlier post of mine: Why do White People Vote Against their Own Best Interests?
From Mother Jones: Here's Why the White Working Class Hates Democrats -- "There’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class....The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece."
Meaning, taking up causes like Elizabeth Warren's — things that matter, not just to the poor, but to the white working class as well — such as wages, trade agreements that offshore jobs and Social Security. The article goes on to ask: "Why does the white working class continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare."
Then the article goes on to give reasons why this perception is wrong: The white working class believing that the government is taking their hard-earned money to give to the undeserving poor, while doing very little for them.
As an aside on the state of the current economy: Here’s what Senator Mitch McConnell recently said on the floor:
“After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope. The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama Administration’s long tenure in Washington — the expectation of a new Republican Congress.”
It was like the GOP finding a parade, running up to the front, and then pretending to lead it. When things are bad, the Republicans blame the Democrats. But when things are good, the Republicans say that it's in spite of anything that the Democrats might or might not have done. Big heads, they win. Tall tales, you lose. It's not just the economy that's rigged.