Scrutinizing the parties
The GOP has been no friend to the white working class
In the post-mortem analysis of the election, Democratic leaders are focusing on the party losing the white working class vote yet again. Bernie Sanders, my personal choice for president, said, “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.” To Bernie Sanders I say: The move of the white working class to the Republican Party began in earnest in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Equal Opportunity Employment and the integration of schools and labor unions — all of which were supported by the Democrats who were working for an inclusive society where race did not matter. At the same time, the Republican Party initiated what has been 50 years of the “Southern Strategy,” which today could be called the “National Strategy” — scapegoating minorities for, among other things, white working-class job losses. The Democratic Party’s support for civil rights caused a sea change among white working-class Americans who quickly accepted the Republican claims and left the Democratic Party in large numbers.
The same could be said about the Republican Party attack on labor unions as another leading cause of jobs going overseas; it too was a form of scapegoating. Labor unions, now less than 7 percent of the private-sector workforce, are the reason many today have higher pay, safer workplaces, pensions, employer health care, paid vacation, and sick and holiday pay. Jobs went overseas because U.S. companies make more money by using foreign workers who toil for subsistence wages with few or no benefits and because U.S tax laws allow companies to send their U.S. earnings overseas and escape U.S. taxes.
And let’s not forget the Republican attack on higher taxes and unemployment. Here is the reality concerning that matter:
Since Truman, the three presidents with the lowest unemployment rates when they left office were Lyndon Johnson with 3.4 percent, Bill Clinton with 4.2 percent and Barack Obama with 4.9 percent. The presidents with the highest unemployment rates upon leaving officer were: George W. Bush with 7.8 percent, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, each with 7.5 percent, and George H.W. Bush with 7.3 percent. Only one president cut unemployment by more than 2 percentage A man adjusts the U.S. flag on his porch in Portland, a white working-class neighborhood in Louisville, Ky. points from the time he came into office: Barack Obama, who cut it by over 5 points. And only one president increased the unemployment rate by more than 3 percentage points before leaving office: George W. Bush.
Despite President Clinton’s tax increases, he left office with eight years of budgets that netted a $63 billion surplus (first four years with deficits and the last four with surpluses). George W. Bush inherited a surplus but passed two major tax-cut bills, and by the time he left, he gave Mr. Obama a deficit of more than $1 trillion (in large part due to financial collapse) that is estimated to go down to less than $500 billion by 2017.
Ronald Reagan cut taxes drastically but had to raise them in 1982 because the country was moving toward recession and unemployment had soared to 10.8 percent. After that, the unemployment rate lowered to just over 5 percent.
Why have we really lost working-class jobs? Technology. It doesn’t take a hundred workers on an assembly line to put a car together in Detroit anymore. It doesn’t take millions of bank tellers to service customers with ATMs and online banking. It doesn’t take millions of clerks in brick-and-mortar stores when Amazon is a click away, and it doesn’t take millions of secretaries and bookkeepers when we have Microsoft Word, spreadsheets and databases. These jobs and many more like them are in large part gone for good.
The Republican Party offers simplistic answers to complex questions. Global warming? Not happening. Jobs? Reduce taxes and automatically increase jobs (never has worked). Immigration? Build a wall and deport 3 million people. Terrorism? Bomb ISIS, al-Qaeda and Iran; ban Muslims from the U.S.
The white working class needs to ask: Which party has been the Big Business party for 100 years, and which party has worked to help ordinary Americans? Which party has tried to raise the minimum wage to help the working class secure a living wage, and which party has opposed minimum-wage hikes? Which party has tried to secure universal health care coverage for the working class, and which party is going to take it away? Which party wants to strengthen Social Security and Medicare, and which party wants to privatize and voucher it out of existence?