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June 20, 2014 4:22 PM Some Gleanings From a Roundtable on Progressives and the White Working Class

By Ed Kilgore

As I’ve noted a couple of times here, and as you may have seen on the website, The Democratic Strategist (a site with which I am affiliated) put together a roundtable of brief comments from various luminaries on the issues raised by Stan Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira (with John Halpin) in the new issue of the Washington Monthly on what progressives can do to appeal to a white working class that has incongruously become part of the Republican Party’s base.

Here are some samples from just three of the thirteen contributions to this roundtable:

* From Harold Meyerson:

Democrats could propose major investment in the nation’s sagging infrastructure, which would create millions of construction jobs. They could require much more domestic content in governmental procurement, and promote trade policies that discourage offshoring - policies that would boost employment in manufacturing. They could attack Wall Street for its role in promoting offshoring, and limit Wall Street’s clout by resurrecting Glass Steagall. They could propose anti-plutocratic corporate tax reforms - for instance, greatly reducing corporate taxes on those companies with low CEO-pay-to-median-worker-pay ratios, and greatly raising corporate taxes on those companies with high ratios. Polling shows near universal support for policies that revive domestic manufacturing, improve our infrastructure and attack the overpayment of top corporate and bank executives. If Democrats can disenthrall themselves from Wall Street and its contributions, they may win back some of the white working class yet.

* From Theda Skocpol:

Democrats will never appeal to most ordinary working Americans by amping up promises to enact new rights rules, environmental laws, or government programs preferred by this or that sliver of privileged constituents. Calls for straightforward job creation, wage increases, and benefits for working-aged families are the kinds of steps all working Americans can readily understand and support. If Democrats continue to champion these priorities year after year, and enact them in states or at the national level whenever they can, working-class voters, whites as well as minorities, will come to see that it really matters for them if Democrats gain majorities.
Another Clinton in the White House won’t hurt, either. For many working-class Americans, including whites, “the Clintons” signify better economic times for regular people. Whatever happens in 2014, Democrats have real openings in 2016 and beyond, if they make the right appeals to working class whites and manage to deliver for them.

* From Joan Walsh:

[I]t’s important that Democrats make clear they want the votes of the white working class, and don’t talk down to them. I’m wary of using language like the “coalition of the ascendant” or the “rising American electorate,” though I understand their appeal. But such terms seem to be consigning white working class voters to a coalition of decline and irrelevance. Luckily these voters are probably not a demographic that’s tuned into recent Web debates over whether certain radical “people of color” even want white allies. But even sensible liberals can talk about the white working class in condescending, off-putting ways. We should remember that “white” is not a synonym for “Republican,” and make clear we want to not merely consolidate the Obama coalition but expand it.

There’s lots more, from these three and from others. We’ll have more later.

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.

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