Political Animal


July 20, 2012 1:19 PM Blue-Collar Blowback?

By Ed Kilgore

Just an idle question I’m curious about: does the rush to bury Barack Obama via vast attention to his alleged disrespect for business owners create a danger that Republicans will accidentally produce some blowback among the non-college educated white voters that are essential to the GOP coalition?

Sure, there are a goodly number of small business owners without college degrees, and yes, it’s possible the endless hammering of Obama for what James Taranto calls his “ressentiment” (using the Nietzschean term that tells us a lot more about Taranto than about Obama) could cut into the incumbent’s popularity with upscale voters. But there remain quite a few actual blue-collar workers who are unhappy with the economy and/or sympathetic to GOP cultural positions, but who are not exactly inclined to look at employers as a class and weep bitter tears of sympathy for the pain they feel when the president suggests they didn’t earn every penny from their own hard work.

In a recent and fascinating analysis of the “white working class” over at The Democratic Strategist which tries to get beyond the usual stereotypes, Andrew Levison talks a lot about the existence of a small but critical group he calls “working class moderates” who are open to Republican arguments, particularly on cultural themes, but don’t much like or trust big business. These are precisely the kind of voters the GOP needs, but aren’t going to attract if they come across as the party of John Galt, demanding not only lower taxes and less regulation, but unconditional respect. American white working-class voters may not be the Horny-Handed Sons of Toil of ancient lefty myth, but they’re also not fond of singing hymns of praise to The Man. Conservatives are in danger of forgetting that in their rush to make out Obama as the eternal enemy of the almighty Job Creators.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • dalloway on July 20, 2012 1:33 PM:

    I think what those voters really can't stand is Mitt's insistence that normal rules don't apply to him, ie. he doesn't have to release complete tax returns, he doesn't have to be transparent about his governorship and he doesn't have to treat his dog humanely. By constantly insisting on his own exceptionalism, if you will, he alienates a good chunk of his base.

  • boatboy_srq on July 20, 2012 1:44 PM:

    This is a lose/lose situation.

    1) The "non-college educated white voters" had trouble relating to Romney to begin with: demonizing Obama isn't going to help much there - dalloway has it right on that point.

    2) For these same voters, though, TABMITWH is reason NOT to vote for Obama in November.

    So the most rational outcome would be the "non-college educated white voters" will simply get turned off the process since they don't like either of their choices - unless putting a white guy in the WH because it's his turn or something actually does sell them on gritting their teeth and checking Multiple Position Mitt on the ballot.

    Captcha: "appointed dinkru." Maybe that is the title Mitt wants.

  • knightphoenix2 on July 20, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Er, boatboy_srq, ... "TABMITWH"?

  • Gandalf on July 20, 2012 1:56 PM:

    It's a never ending source of amazement to me how blue collar whites can even consider voting for republicans. They would be voting against their own self-interest in the extreme.

  • Peter C on July 20, 2012 1:56 PM:

    Hi @knightphoenix2,

    I think I speak "boatboy" sufficiently to translate TABMITWH to mean "There's a Black Man in the White House".

  • Joe Buck on July 20, 2012 2:12 PM:

    The problem is, every time Democrats start trying to appeal to working class whites based on class interests, the neoliberal wonks in the party throw fits. And Democratic politicians spend all their time talking to potential donors, that is, people with money to spare.

  • Ron Byers on July 20, 2012 2:21 PM:

    I might have missed it when I listened to Romney's take on how others had helped businesses suceed, but while he mentioned parents and investment bankers, among others, he didn't mention employees. I guess employees don't count if you are an outsourcing pioneer.

  • exlibra on July 20, 2012 2:26 PM:

    So the most rational outcome would be the "non-college educated white voters" will simply get turned off the process since they don't like either of their choices -- boatboy_srq, @1:44 PM

    Can confirm, anecdotally. I live in south-western, mostly rural Virginia; the county surrounding my blue-leaning "city" (10K population, maybe?) is, supposedly, the reddest in all VA. Was talking to a friendly butcher at Food Lion the other day, and the conversation slipped from discussing various cuts of meat (and which of them might be on sale next week), to the presidential elections. The lady seems to have given the issue a lot of thought. Her considered reaction: "I doan't lahk neether of 'em. But that Ro-whatever is a real joke". So, I guess, here's someone who won't bother to find out where her polling place might have moved to.

  • Mitch on July 20, 2012 2:46 PM:

    I've been hearing this a lot lately from my family and friends in the South. They've always been die-hard theocratic conservatives, but are very wary of Romney mainly because of his business record, off-shore bank accounts and, yes, religion. NONE of them are political junkies, or well-informed citizens by any means. Most of them are Fox News junkies, but have begun to reject the Kool-Aid.

    Every day it seems that more and more of them are commenting on how out of touch Romney is with the common man, and how the GOP as a whole seems dedicated to only helping the richest of the rich and major corporations. More and more of them are noticing that the Dems are at least trying to help your average voter. Many of them have said that only their views on abortion are keeping them from embracing the Dems.

    So, yeah, I think this is already happening. But we won't hear about it because the media sucks.

  • Diane Rodriguez on July 20, 2012 2:53 PM:

    God, it's a real sad day. Unfortunately petty and self serving ignorance prevails in many quarters and just won't be silenced by the Auburn tradegy for even a few minutes.

    Gandalf@1:56 pm Voting against self interest is one the great mysteries I don't get either. It seems so simple

  • T2 on July 20, 2012 3:08 PM:

    I've worked a fair share of blue-collar jobs in my time. Every so often, as most blue-collar guys/gals know, the "big-wigs" will be brought down to the shop or workplace to look in on their minions ( usually for a photo-op). They glad hand a few workers and make the same kind of awkward, corny jokes Romney does in his "appearances". And everyone chuckles. And when the "big-wigs" leave, you hear a lot of " that rich SOB, when are we gonna get a raise? Screw him".
    When the blue-collar guys find out Mitt's been stashing profits in Swiss Accounts and Cayman Island so he doesn't have to pay his fair share of tax it might be enough to make them vote for a black guy......or more probably just say screw them all and not vote.

  • FlipYrWhig on July 20, 2012 4:21 PM:

    The members of my extended family who were the most worked up about the comments were the ones who work on Wall Street. Which isn't small business at all. But they took them as a slam on free enterprise and entrepreneurship as values. And to a large degree even blue-collar people embrace those values, without seeing any contradiction there.

    Someone on another blog once said that the backbone of the Republican party is "one-truck business owners," and I think that's a very useful iconography. The guy who came to fix our air conditioner, and did a great job with it, is a friendly and _committed_ conservative. He's the kind of person who'd be most offended by a suggestion that his small business owes anything to anyone else. And he'd probably, if pushed, admit that, sure, he needs to make use of public resources, but he'd still feel belittled that he was being denied credit for his own initiative.

    It's dishonest of Romney and Fox to jerk that guy around. But that's their target: him, and people who dream of starting their own business the way he did but just haven't been able to yet, probably because of how Obama killed the economy with giveaways and debt, because that's what he's been told happened over the last 3.5 years.

  • T2 on July 20, 2012 4:32 PM:

    @FlipyrWhig.....as for your a/c repairman and the millions like him....at what point do they figure out they are being lied to, that they are being scammed for their vote? At what point does the light bulb go on and they say " Hey, they took Obama's words and mixed them up to trick ME" . Just as Gandalf says above...when will they wake up to what the GOPers are doing? Or will they?

  • FlipYrWhig on July 20, 2012 5:10 PM:

    @T2 : I've been hoping that someone on the progressive side would try an ad barrage based on the idea that Fox and Republicans "treat you like they think you must be stupid," or something less abrasive than that if necessary. That way you could highlight how often they lie and distort without it becoming a meta or process-based argument, which all too often comes across as whining to mommy.

  • Doug on July 20, 2012 7:18 PM:

    T2 and FlipYrWhig, I would think two or three 30-second ads could quickl be put together. The first 10-12 seconds being what Fox, et al SAID President Obama said and the remainder what the President DID say.
    Nothing more.

  • exlibra on July 20, 2012 11:51 PM:

    Doug et al: Something like this, but verbal rather than visual?

  • Rabbler on July 21, 2012 12:41 PM:

    For political bloggers, it seems the game is the thing. Would Ed consider an Obama victory less than valid if the Republicans didn't play their best cards?

  • Doug on July 21, 2012 4:12 PM:

    ex libra, EXACTLY! Noone likes to be taken for a fool - especially, I've noticed, right-wingers. Three or four such ads would, in my opinion, be well worth their cost.
    (sorry about the delay in replying)

  • @TeaPartyCat on July 23, 2012 3:56 PM:

    Here's a satirical take on what you posted:

    Mitt Romney to businesses: "Obama insulted you with YOU DIDN'T BUILD THAT. Your employees worship you and know you deserve ALL the credit."