Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Dead End Coalition

I was struck by this passage in Thomas Edsall's New York Times piece on the "Obama Coalition":

As a practical matter, the Obama campaign and, for the present, the Democratic Party, have laid to rest all consideration of reviving the coalition nurtured and cultivated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The New Deal Coalition — which included unions, city machines, blue-collar workers, farmers, blacks, people on relief, and generally non-affluent progressive intellectuals — had the advantage of economic coherence. It received support across the board from voters of all races and religions in the bottom half of the income distribution, the very coherence the current Democratic coalition lacks.

A top priority of the less affluent wing of today’s left alliance is the strengthening of the safety net, including health care, food stamps, infant nutrition and unemployment compensation. These voters generally take the brunt of recessions and are most in need of government assistance to survive. According to recent data from the Department of Agriculture, 45.8 million people, nearly 15 percent of the population, depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to meet their needs for food.

The better-off wing, in contrast, puts at the top of its political agenda a cluster of rights related to self-expression, the environment, demilitarization, and, importantly, freedom from repressive norms — governing both sexual behavior and women’s role in society — that are promoted by the conservative movement.

This reminds me very much of the 1937 movie "Dead End," in which the urban poor live across the street from the very rich, with nothing in between. This "coalition" combines people who want to kill the golden goose (that is, the productive private sector of the economy) for welfare benefits with those who want to strangle the golden goose to eliminate its carbon footprint.

I'm guessing that the party that supports the aspirations of white working-class people for economic advancement will end up appealing to minority working-class people who want the opportunity to earn their way toward the same aspirational goals. That really does mean that the "Obama Coalition" is a dead end for the Democrats.

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