That’s what American Prospect’s Mark Schmitt is thinking about in his article “Left Without Labour:”
The new progressive coalition follows the lines of the “emerging Democratic majority” that Ruy Teixeira and John Judis predicted in their 2002 book of that name: minority, professional, and younger voters, with help from a large gender gap. This is a coalition that can win without a majority of white working-class voters, whether union members or not. (Those who were union members were always solid Democrats.) In many ways, that’s good because it helps to bring an end to the culture wars that limited the party’s ability to speak clearly about matters of fundamental rights and justice.
But it’s also dangerous. A political coalition that doesn’t need Joe the — fake — Plumber (John McCain’s mascot of the white working class) can also afford to ignore the real Joes, Josés, and Josephines of the working middle class, the ones who earn $16 an hour, not $250,000 a year. It can afford to be unconcerned about the collapse of manufacturing jobs, casually reassuring us that more education is the answer to all economic woes. A party of professionals and young voters risks becoming a party that overlooks the core economic crisis–not the recession but the 40-year crisis–that is wiping out the American dream for millions of workers and communities that are never going to become meccas for foodies and Web designers.
It is dangerous, and it illustrates the basic problem with American liberalism: it’s elitist, and as a consequence out of touch with the reality that people face.
An American left which decouples its message from economic inequity–or the class struggle, as those of a Marxist bent refer to it as–has a serious legitimacy problem. And, as this country’s ability to “defy gravity” with its prosperity gets lost with receding dollar hegemony, contracting credit and an expanding government, those inequities will work their way up people’s consciousness.
Part of the problem is with the trade unions themselves. They sell themselves as the authentic representatives of America’s working class, but in reality they’re focused on their own people with many years of service. And they can be racist when they take the notion to be that way.
When–not if–the left finds it convenient to completely divorce itself from its proletarian support base, whoever has the wit to mobilise it–with or without the trade unions–will be a powerful force in American life. But that’s going to take a political realignment beyond what the current players can envision.
Schmitt shows he too can be myopic about working people. He speaks of those who earn US$16/hour as being the “the real Joes, Josés, and Josephines of the working middle class.” He ought to start with those who can’t even get out of the single digits on an hourly basis.