Thursday, March 3, 2011

Part 1: Do Georgia Democrats have what it takes to Play Ball Again here in the Rural Red?

Now, what does this have to do with the future of the Georgia Democratic Party? Well, my point is simple: if the Democratic Party is to have a future, it must find it in the unifying, post-identity group politics and values of populist rural Georgia. They need to champion conservative social values; wrap themselves without embarrassment in the American flag; slather on a healthy dose of religion; and leaven it all with the traditional liberal concerns about economic justice. In other words, if the Democratic Party wants to flourish in the near-term, it had better seek out the lost Populists among it former coalition partners and invite them back into the big-tent. Otherwise, Republicans will continue to dominate our state politics.

The inability to pick up seats on the local level for state senator & rep going back to 2006 is due to not paying attention to rural white working class voters concerns down state in part to not addressing social and cultural concerns. We ignore those concerns at our peril. At the same time, though, there has been a view that we can override those concerns (up to a point) by appealing to the white working class on the economy. That alone will not enable democrats to begin picking up more support among this reliable voting bloc.

Consequently, it's important to develop an economic agenda that appeals strongly enough to the white working class to be able to pull some of its members into our column. DEMS DON'T HAVE TO WIN THEM ALL, JUST SOME WILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE IN A ELECTION. In developing this agenda, I would argue, dems have to swallow hard and acknowledge a couple of daunting obstacles that stand before them.

For one, policy agenda of economic liberalism -- modest increases in the minimum wage, labor law reform, improvements in education and in job training, financial aid for college students, universal health care is necessary to the economic security of non-college households in general, be they white or minority. But the forms of help that it offers to the white working class aren't large enough and wouldn't flow into their hands quickly enough to persuade them to dems us as an obvious slam-dunk alternative to the Republicans.

For the other: For all the talk about economic populism, Democrats no longer have the ability to make a truly effectively economically populist appeal to the white working class. I'm talking about the ability to do it, not the desire to do it. There are certainly Democrats who lack the desire. But even those who have the desire nevertheless lack the ability.

In order for an appeal to economic populism to win over its audience, it must do more than attack the big guys. Rather, it must address three assertions to its audience. The first: You are the backbone of the state's economy. The second: The big guys are making it hard for you to make a living because they are thwarting your ability to act as the backbone of the economy. The third: In your struggle with the big guys, we're (Democrats) are on YOUR side -- and here's how we're going to help...

But even economic liberals here in the state can no longer make such an appeal. They can't do it because they won't make the first assertion, and thus won't utter the last 12 words of the second assertion. They could say these things in the past. In the agrarian days, they could go before a crowd of farmers and tell them: It is the sweat of your brow that feeds and clothes our nation. In the industrial age, they could say to factory workers: It is your muscle that drive the wheels of our mines and mills. They could echo the words of "Solidarity Forever. "It is you who plow the prairies, build the cities, dig the mines... -- without your brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn. Today, though, if Democrats stand before the white working class, they can't even make a proper beginning: YOU are the backbone.

Democrats can't say it because they don't believe it. What they do believe is something quite different: We now live in the age of human capital. Non-college workers, be they white or people of color, be they union members or otherwise, lack the crucial human capital of a four-year degree. (After all, the gap between college earnings and non-college earnings is much larger than it used to be.) The economy is now a knowledge economy, and higher education is a crucial source of knowledge, and so how can non-college Georgia workers be its backbone?

To go beyond their base and into the white working class, Democrats also have to be willing to go beyond a couple of their assumptions about what belongs in the liberal economic agenda. The first step for Democrats is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

One point on which all Democrats need to agree is that the party needs a red-state strategy, Georgia version of the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council).

Dems have to find candidates that are able to talk to, not at working class voters of this state. The last election, Roy Barnes did try to talk to working class folks, but with the anti-"D" fever so strong & the fact the RGA spent millions in attacking Barnes thwarted any attempt he had in appealing to this bloc of voters.

The time for excuses are no more. Where the Democrats are failing to connect, the tea party is succeeding. That rising conservative movement has been extraordinarily good at tapping into the fury of families not only here in Georgia, but across the nation, who are neither rich nor poor.

Democrats have failed to relate to white working-class voters. Black working-class voters never abandoned the party, but the percentage of working-class whites who identified as Democrats fell over a 10 year span in this state.

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