Robert Reich: Why the White Working Class Abandoned the Democratic Party

Yves here. Let me offer two very different sorts of comments on this post. Reich is correct in diagnosing the how the Democratic Party has turned its back on workers, but the origins are earlier than he indicates. It was around the time of the McGovern campaign that a key Democratic party strategist successfully inculcated the notion that the future of the Democratic Party lay in cultivating what was later called the rainbow coalition, and that unions, which were presumed to have nowhere to go, could be neglected.

The second is on Reich himself. As we’ve noted, Reich vigorously promoted Nafta when he was Labor Secretary, claiming it would create over one million jobs. The problem with holding high level political roles is that you regularly have to sell garbage barges, whether or not you opposed them when the policy was being hashed out. But there’s no evidence that, at least until recently, that Reich opposed the “free trade” orthodoxy.

But the flip side is that one of the preconditions for change is splits among the elites. We are seeing them now, with Reich engaged in a vigorous and sustained attack on the Clinton campaign, which means the Democratic Party apparatus, and his clear preference for Sanders. Now admittedly, in this post, Reich makes a cringe-making endorsement of Obamacare, but it is fair to say that Obamacare was a plus for those who benefitted from Medicaid expansion. Nevertheless, he’s pushing the Overton Window to the left by taking positions that are clearly more pro-middle and lower class that the ostensible liberal Paul Krugman, who has historically anchored the left margin of acceptable left-leaning discourse.

So I wonder what it takes for someone who has advanced bad policies to redeem themselves. I gave high marks to Gary Gensler, who appeared to have made a Damascene conversion from being a Rubinite to being a committed reformer, admittedly at a secondary financial regulator, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. But now he’s backslid by joining SS Clinton in a senior role. Jeffrey Sachs is another figure who was deeply involved in implementing labor-crushing neoliberal programs in Bolivia, Poland and the former Soviet Union. He in large measure retreated from his former views, save he is still attached to the idea of budgetary prudence.

In other words, I’m not sure what the litmus test is for viewing a change in position of a current or former policy-maker. I’d be a lot more comfortable with clear renunciations of former positions. Brad DeLong deserves great credit in this regard: he is willing to say flat out that he was wrong and he appears to be genuinely remorseful about it too.

But the flip side is that I may be slipping into the Manichean trap I often call out in readers: that of wanting to see people as all good or all bad. Politics is all about compromise, and sometimes interests you oppose on other issues can be staunch allies on particular cases. And more generally, people who are in a position to have influence are almost of necessity tainted. I’ve previously quoted this passage from a 2001 article by Omer Bartov in a review of a book describing how Bulgaria came to be the one Nazi state that refused to turn its Jews over to Germany for extermination:

But the lesson is not quite so simple or so edifying. For we also learn from such instances that the difference between virtue and vice is far less radical than we would like to believe. Sometimes the most effective kind of goodness – I mean the practical kind, the kind that can actually save lives and not merely alleviate the consciences of the protagonists – is carried out by those who have already compromised themselves with evil, those who are members of the very organizations that set the ball rolling towards the abyss. Hence a strange and frustrating contraction: that absolute goodness is often absolutely ineffective, while compromised, splintered, and ambiguous goodness, one that is touched and stained by evil, is the only kind that may set limits to mass murder. And while absolute evil is indeed defined by its consistent one-dimensionality, this more mundane sort of wickedness, the most prevalent sort, contains within it also seeds of goodness that may be stimulated and encouraged by the example of the few dwellers of these nether regions who have come to recognize their own moral potential. As the great cosmological myth of the Kabbalah has it, the shreds of light that remain from the original divine universe may be collected only from the spheres of evil in which they now reside.

By Robert Reich. Originally published at his website

Why did the white working class abandon the Democrats?

The conventional answer is Republicans skillfully played the race card.

In the wake of the Civil Rights Act, segregationists like Alabama Governor George C. Wallace led southern whites out of the Democratic Party.

Later, Republicans charged Democrats with coddling black “welfare queens,“ being soft on black crime (“Willie Horton”), and trying to give jobs to less-qualified blacks over more-qualified whites (the battle over affirmative action).

The bigotry now spewing forth from Donald Trump and several of his Republican rivals is an extension of this old race card, now applied to Mexicans and Muslims – with much the same effect on the white working class voters, who don’t trust Democrats to be as “tough.”

All true, but this isn’t the whole story. Democrats also abandoned the white working class.

Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and in that time scored some important victories for working families – the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.

But they’ve done nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that has rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top, and undermined the working class. In some respects, Democrats have been complicit in it.

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements, for example, without providing the millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

They also stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. Clinton and Obama failed to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated them, or enable workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down votes.

I was there. In 1992, Bill Clinton promised such reform but once elected didn’t want to spend political capital on it. In 2008, Barack Obama made the same promise (remember the Employee Free Choice Act?) but never acted on it.

Partly as a result, union membership sunk from 22 percent of all workers when Bill Clinton was elected president to fewer than 12 percent today, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy’s gains.

In addition, the Obama administration protected Wall Street from the consequences of the Street’s gambling addiction through a giant taxpayer-funded bailout, but let millions of underwater homeowners drown.

Both Clinton and Obama also allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify – with the result that large corporations have grown farlarger, and major industries more concentrated.

Finally, they turned their backs on campaign finance reform. In 2008, Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general-election campaigns. And he never followed up on his reelection campaign promise to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning “Citizens United v. FEC,” the 2010 Supreme Court opinion opening the floodgates to big money in politics.

What happens when you combine freer trade, shrinking unions, Wall Street bailouts, growing corporate market power, and the abandonment of campaign finance reform?

You shift political and economic power to the wealthy, and you shaft the working class.

Why haven’t Democrats sought to reverse this power shift? True, they faced increasingly hostile Republican congresses. But they controlled both houses of Congress in the first two years of both Clinton’s and Obama’s administrations.

In part, it’s because Democrats bought the snake oil of the “suburban swing voter” – so-called “soccer moms” in the 1990s and affluent politically-independent professionals in the 2000s – who supposedly determine electoral outcomes.

Meanwhile, as early as the 1980s they began drinking from the same campaign funding trough as the Republicans – big corporations, Wall Street, and the very wealthy.

“Business has to deal with us whether they like it or not, because we’re the majority,” crowed Democratic representative Tony Coelho, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s when Democrats assumed they’d continue to run the House for years.

Coelho’s Democrats soon achieved a rough parity with Republicans in contributions from corporate and Wall Street campaign coffers, but the deal proved a Faustian bargain as Democrats become financially dependent on big corporations and the Street.

Nothing in politics is ever final. Democrats could still win back the white working class – putting together a huge coalition of the working class and poor, of whites, blacks, and Latinos, of everyone who has been shafted by the shift in wealth and power to the top.

This would give Democrats the political clout to restructure the economy – rather than merely enact palliatives that papered over the increasing concentration of wealth and power in America.

But to do this Democrats would have to stop obsessing over upper-income suburban swing voters, and end their financial dependence on big corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy.

Will they? That’s one of the biggest political unknowns in 2016 and beyond.

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  1. jgordon

    Interestingly enough I finished reading the Archdruid’s latest post immediately before I read this one. And while the content is essential the same (what a coincidence–really) I much prefer the Archdruids style:

    There’s a further barrier, though, and that’s the response of the salary class across the board—left, right, middle, you name it—to any attempt by the wage class to bring up the issues that matter to it. On the rare occasions when this happens in the public sphere, the spokespeople of the wage class get shouted down with a double helping of the sneering mockery I discussed toward the beginning of this post. The same thing happens on a different scale on those occasions when the same thing happens in private. If you doubt this—and you probably do, if you belong to the salary class—try this experiment: get a bunch of your salary class friends together in some casual context and get them talking about ordinary American working guys. What you’ll hear will range from crude caricatures and one-dimensional stereotypes right on up to bona fide hate speech. People in the wage class are aware of this; they’ve heard it all; they’ve been called stupid, ignorant, etc., ad nauseam for failing to agree with whatever bit of self-serving dogma some representative of the salary class tried to push on them.

    1. Torsten

      That was then. Today’s salaried workers are being driven to work sixty hours per week, and their past perks like pensions and health care have been thrown out to the thieves of Wall Street as 401ks and Obamacare. I think (most of) today’s salaried workers have learned: First they came for the wage earners, but I was not a wage earner . . .

      1. rusti

        I thought JMG’s description of the state of the salaried class was fairly apt from my experiences:

        Outside of a few coastal urban areas currently in the grip of speculative bubbles, people whose income comes mostly from salaries can generally afford to own their homes, buy new cars every few years, leave town for annual vacations, and so on.

        This is a fair description of many of my classmates from undergraduate (I’m in my late twenties) who are starting to move to the suburbs and have kids. They’re feeling the squeeze in terms of things like hours worked, health insurance premiums and other subtle taxes from the rentier class but still have comfortable margin before they experience the indignities of being part of the wage class. And most can certainly feel comfortable in knowing that they have enough of a personal safety net to avoid falling into the welfare class in the foreseeable future.

        But the downward trend is pretty clear, so catering to a shrinking slice of the electoral pie probably isn’t a winning strategy unless you can somehow dream up new wedge issues that still hold meaning with the newly despondent.

      2. tegnost

        The mba’s I see here in san diego have it easy, basically bankers hours (remember those?) plus a couple more yammering away on the phone while driving (need to have those traffic jam hours count for something, the gas guzzling suv ain’t free you know, but it is a nice tax break on mileage). That’s all generally annoying, but what’s irritating is when they get all the holidays off, paid, plus like 6 weeks more paid time off thanks to unions, while at the same time denouncing unions as sacrilegious to the great cause of capitalism. Not exposed to salaried workers who are in the group you refer to, i’m guessing they’re retail/restaurant management?

    2. Marco

      Thanks for the link. Great read. As a former member of the “Salary Class” and sliding towards the “Welfare Class” I think the membrane between the Archdruid’s 4 class strata is more permeable than he suggests.

      1. jgordon

        Permeable it certainly is. I think it’s the great hope of America that the salary class is shedding people left and right–and the resulting smart people with a lot of time on their hands will finally have some motivation to consider alternatives to the status quo.

      2. jrs

        and that very permeability makes it NOT in the salaried class interest to see the impoverishment of the working class. It just means “no net below”. So I think the basic premise of it being in the salaried class interest is wrong.

        Now they may *think* it is in their interests to see the wage class reduced, just like some wage class people might think it is best to rail against welfare queens, but it is not actually in their interest to do so as it just guts the safety net. Any short term gain is more than paid for in more economic insecurity because there’s “no net below” (whether the “net” is the literal social safety net or simply a more favorable job market, so if you lose a salaried job you can at least get a decent wage job).

        And to what extent is a salaried class person comparing themselves favorably to a wage class person simply a psychological defense mechanism? They need to pretend it can’t be them at any time.

        Of course I also think the analysis glosses over the fact that yea sometimes it IS real racism that draws people to Trump, not just economic dissatisfaction or lost of jobs to immigrants, but the real deal.

    3. edmondo

      I found this piece incredibly intelligent, cogent and incisive. Reich is still playing the identity politics we’ve come to expect from the Democratic Party. The Archdruid post sees past that nonsense. It is well worth the read to see where I were are probably going over the next decade.

      1. Dave

        The White Working Class is being ignored by the Democrats and courted by the Republicans with less and less success. What have we gained from the Democrats? Nothing but social and economic betrayal. From the Republicans? Wars and economic betrayal.

        It’s time for a second, independent, political party in this country. Forty five percent of the electorate claiming to be independents cannot be wrong. That’s a big tip off.

  2. Embracing Dao

    If they win these people over, what is stopping someone else from winning them back?

    “Those of ancient times who were adept at the Tao
    Used it not to make people brighter
    But to keep them simple.
    The difficulty in governing people
    Is due their excessive cleverness.
    Therefore, using cleverness to govern the state
    Is being a thief of the state.
    Not using cleverness to govern the state
    Is being a blessing of the state.”

    -Dao De Ching, Chapter 65

  3. mary

    They are all the same working for the same elites and mixed up with cvrime bosses drugs and false flags that any clearly see . Power is all they are interested in and the Fabian fable pf unions is nothing more than extortion to work . They all follow Alinski and he learnt evrything from Al-Capone qgucg he promply passed on to the UNION MOVEMENT who used the same methods which gained them billions in tax free union fees . I mean, you have to love the irony they demand more taxes while paying non themselves . The other side is no better and work hand in glove with the Democrats , hell everyone knows the Clinton gang is run by the Bush gang . and they are all run by the Rockefller , Rothschild gangs and British banksters . The green fraud is to cover the fact that in 1992 they signed the Agenda 21 treaty to de industrialize the west , so they have all been lying all along . Time to wake up . The elections are rigged. always have been .

  4. allan

    And on a related note, a piece from The Week on why white conservatives might also be ready to abandon the establishment GOP and the conservative movement for Trump. At heart, the reasons are not so different.

    1. Wayne Harris

      Recommend this article in its entirety. Here’s the money quote:

      To simplify Francis’ theory: There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.

      1. Minnie Mouse

        Yes global labor arbitrage is global labor arbitrage whether offshore or through the back door, whether high skill, low skill, no skill, whether blue collar, white collar, or no collar. Identity politics serves the cause of lining pockets at the top.

      2. jrs

        Honestly analyzing what Trumps real appeal is may be giving the whole thing way too much credit. I want to quip: noone ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. But there is more to it than that. Remember Reagan also had a lot of mass appeal and maybe that’s who we should liken Trump to, not necessarily because their policies are similar of course, but they both knew how to use the media.

        Maybe mass appeal is not really much about justified anger at all (not that anger isn’t justified mind you) but more about media manipulation. Reagan did it. Trump is on t.v. 24/7. Sanders is hardly on t.v. at all. And we’re supposed to believe Trumps appeal is entirely organic. Geez, but we wouldn’t believe that for Coca Cola, we know that media exposure is part of it. Trump is on t.v. 24/7. Sanders barely gets coverage. And really most of the Republicans don’t get much coverage either, not that a few aren’t perhaps even worse than Trump.

        The left projects whatever narrative it wants on to events. I’m hypothesizing too, about the influence of t.v. but it has to be part of it, to get so much coverage,all the time. But the left wants to see disgruntled people going with the anti-establishment squillionaire (can those really coexist?) when they might just be disgruntled people but disgruntled people going with the only candidate getting any coverage.

    2. Jerry Denim

      Great article, not that I think more ink needs to be spilled on the topic, but it really is the best thing I’ve read explaining Trump’s appeal/success.

      In the year 2000 I was a lot younger (25), dumber and didn’t have the same extreme disdain then, that I do now for Libertarian politics, but I’m not ashamed to admit I voted for Buchanan in 2000 when he ran as a Reform Party candidate. Even my young, ignorant, white, privileged year-2000 self thought Buchanan was a bit too Republican and a closet racist, but he was the ONLY Presidential candidate who was anti-China, anti WTO, anti-Free Trade and anti-globalist so I looked the other way and voted for the guy. I hated the RNC/DNC and regarded them both as two sides of the same establishment machine that served the elites. He was third-party and he was anti-free trade and that was good enough for me back then. I haven’t haven’t listened to anything Trump has said other than the occasional unavoidable soundbite. But attacking elites and the global free-trade economy is a winning platform whose time has come. It’s more than a bit overdue, but no amount of NFL, Fox News, Wal-Mart gizmos and cheap opiates can hide the truth in 2016. I think Bernie would do well to beat the anti-free trade drum a little louder. The TPP is still looming and The TTIP and other trade deals nobody wants are still being negotiated in secret. Sanders certainly shouldn’t let a gas-bag, real estate, jack-ass outdo him on this front.

  5. Pearl

    I have to admit to just plain liking Robert Reich.

    He was one of my daughter’s professors at U.C. Berkeley and even gave the commencement speech at one of her graduation ceremonies some years ago. (He’s a very good and very natural speaker, btw, and relates well and easily to the Millennial Generation.)

    I also have to like him because Professor Reich’s son is one of those in charge of original content at; indeed, Reich seems to well-understand the “pulse” of this newly (yet gradually) empowered Millennial Generation. Indeed, many seem to listen to him and respect him; he has genuine “street cred” with my daughter’s peers.

    I remember hearing him (via a Berkeley podcast almost 10 years ago) tell a story of how he (Professor Reich) had a crush on Hillary in college and how Bill stole her away from him. (Apparently, quite easily, Reich remorsefully and self-deprecatingly related in his lecture.) So his ties go back long, deep, and thick with the Clintons and it says a lot to me that he’s been as hard on them and as critical of them as he’s been for the last few years, despite his personal affection for the couple–I imagine that’s hard to do considering that they are old friends; and I consider that a brave, admirable, and “non-politician-y” trait.

    I also like that Reich actively encourages young progressives into going into politics and policy-making; indeed, he was a major force in triggering my daughter’s choice to land a career in DC–where the Berkeley Millennial alumni group is beginning to have quite a significant presence. Indeed, seeing the new, young, Millennial progressives landing in Washington DC is one of the few things that gives me optimism right now. (And many are landing in places, in positions and for agencies that which one might not view as particularly (historically) progressive. (In many respects, a very tangible “positive” that we got from having President Obama in power when the Millennials began to come into some measure of power of their own.) Indeed, some of these DC departments, agencies, and legislative bodies seem to be actively recruiting those who do question authority–something that Millennials not only seem to do naturally–they seem to just assume that their parents’ generation was fairly clueless and they don’t seem to be at all impressed by many of our Baby Boom/Generation Jones so-called “accomplishments.” (I think it’s one reason that the gender and sexual orientation rights/movement changed so quickly. These (kids) are coming into some actual power and just won’t tolerate that kind of thinking. They didn’t really even seem to think it was an argument worth having–it’s just something they considered to be arcane and they would simply have none of it; it was an “eye-roller” to them. (Things changed for GLBT issues quite quickly once this Generation began to have no qualms about coming out of the closet and voting.)

    Berkeley used to be super affordable–it’s now become quite unaffordable–so I’m also pleased to see that their good Professor Reich really pounds hard wealth disparity onto these kids–it’s something that this particular pool of students and future leaders could easily miss–being that they probably have a lot of GLBT friends, for example, friends of many different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, as well–but unfortunately, probably few friends and peers of socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. (It’s a “blindspot” they could have.)

    All this being said–I haven’t heard Professor Reich weigh in on his role in NAFTA in the Clinton Administration, and I have to wonder what he would have to say about it in hindsight. (He’s probably spoken about it–I just haven’t gone searching for his current reflection on his role in NAFTA.)

    Perhaps someone should press him on it…..

    1. Vatch

      For what it’s worth, here’s a Facebook post by Reich from January, 2014:

      STOP THE TPP. Congress is poised to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (that is, move it through both houses without opportunity for amendment). This massive trade pact with 11 Asian and Latin American nations, whose total population is almost 800 million and comprise 40 percent of the world’s GDP, is a high priority for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its corporate patrons because it would strengthen patent and copyright protections abroad, and encourage American corporations to make even more stuff overseas and ship it here. Americans benefit from cheaper goods from abroad only if Americans have the money to buy them. But this massive deal would further erode the jobs and wages of working and middle-class Americans while delivering its biggest gains to corporate executives and shareholders. Moreover, the deal’s environmental and labor safeguards are woefully inadequate, and it would give global corporations further rights to challenge American health and safety laws.

      I still regret not doing more to strengthen the North American Free Trade Act’s labor and environmental side-agreements when I was labor secretary under Bill Clinton. The TPP is NAFTA on steroids. Make a ruckus.

      (Highlights mine)

      1. Pearl


        Thanks, Vatch!

        That pretty-much clears that up for me.

        I just like the guy.

        And I like that he resonates with Millennials.

      2. Minnie Mouse

        Side-agreements are like taking prescription drug #2 to try to counteract deadly side effects of drug #1 (NAFTA).

    2. Jack Heape

      In 2000 NPR did an interview of Reich for Frontline. He was for free trade and supported NAFTA still then; “Well, personally, I was and still am a free trader. I think that free trade is inevitable and overall it helps everyone. But labor was very against NAFTA. And I remember appearing on so many stages in front of various labor groups and being booed off the stage because I was representing the president, and the president was committed to NAFTA. He was committed to NAFTA in the campaign. He said, during the 1992 campaign, “I am going to sign the North American Free Trade Act.” When asked in 2008 by Wolf Blitzer is NAFTA was a mistake, he said;” I don’t think it was a mistake, but it wasn’t really a tremendous help.” In a Facebook post a year ago Reich said “I used to believe in “free trade” agreements, until I took a hard look at the numbers. NAFTA cost U.S. workers almost 700,000 jobs.” It seems like he regrets his support today, but I cannot find anywhere that he actually states that he regrets supporting NAFTA.

    3. Jerry Denim

      “…seeing the new, young, Millennial progressives landing in Washington DC is one of the few things that gives me optimism right now.”

      Interesting perspective you have, I wish I could share your optimism. You have a great perch to observe how the ideals and principles of these young Millennial progressives hold up after five or ten years in that snake pit of corruption known as Washington DC. Call me a cynic, but I have doubts. I have a cousin who is in his early thirties (Millennial) who is very involved in high level DC politics (Democrat) , he also happens to be gay. We’ve had a few holiday type political conversations and I wasn’t the least bit impressed with his politics or his values, not what people here at Naked Capitalism would consider progressive anyway. He seemed like he was just in it to be close to the power and money and hopefully grab a piece of it for himself one day. Not exactly the type that is going to shake up the status quo. He was the personal assistant to a former Blue Dog Senator and is currently a big HRC supporter. He’s not exactly a twenty-something, Berkley-grad Bernie supporter, but still- young, millennial Dem. Perhaps these idealist, young DC millennials of your daughter’s generation could soar if the right guy was in the White House setting the tone?

  6. Steven D.

    This is why I can’t 100-percent excited about white people acting stupid, like the welfare cowboys or Second Amendment fetishists. Many of them wouldn’t be so upset if the Democrats had spent the last eight years acting like Democrats and worked for a full employment economy. They are right to be angry. They just don’t know who to be angry at.

    1. DJG

      Agreed. I think that it was the blogger Digby, who may seem like an unlikely source, who wrote that what is needed most is meaningful work for many of the people now acting out their anger.

  7. Jim in SC

    I remember hearing Reich on NPR back in 1993. He said, ‘You want to see the benefits of globalization? Go to the mall.’

  8. Ignim Brites

    Pretty superficial and not very self critical. Reich ignores / forgets the way the Brites self identified as opponents and despisers of the George Meany / Lane Kirkland democrats in order to wrest control of the party from the (stupid) white workers. Well, Reich and his class won and the free trade agreements were decisive in cementing their victory. The result? Who really can be surprised.

    1. sierra7

      Can’t forget Lane Kirkland/Ronnie Reagan with their arms raised together in Reagan presidential victory……hard to put down….
      Not shortly thereafter Reagan crucified the air traffic controller union and subsequently proceeded to further carry out Carter’s deregulation of the transportation system (among others).
      Lane Kirkland was also deep in bed with AIFLD (American Aid for Foreign Labor Development) whose bed partner was/were extensive brutal covert policies carried out by our “deep state” in Central and South America including other parts of the “civilized” world.
      The “international” part of American organized labor became the tools to maintain “tranquility” of the rank an file. They were promised a seat at the table of global events and were just stupid and naive to believe the “masters of the universe” types.
      NAFTA put a huge screw into the coffin of organized labor in America.
      Robert Reich is/was part of that.

      There we stand today.

      1. Ed S.


        Reagan crucified the air traffic controller union

        Well, that’s the way it is remembered, but the actual situation is a bit more complicated.

        First, PATCO was a recognized union that negotiated for wage, salary, and conditions. They had an existing contract; it included a “no-strike” clause — fairly typical for public sector employees who are in public safety positions (at least in 1981). Some militant PATCO leaders decided that they had leverage and could extract more from striking than negotiating. Ultimately, they were wrong.

        Second, President Reagan reminded PATCO of the “no-strike” clause in the contract and told the striking controllers that they could return to the bargaining table and to work (and honor the contract) or continue their strike (and be fired). Thinking that they had the power to cripple the economy, they chose the latter. They were wrong.

        Third, and lost in the haze of history is the most important fact: they crossed the line. Brother, you don’t EVER cross the line. So when it was time for solidarity for PATCO, the IAM, ALPA, etc remembered their treason. Had the machinists and pilots honored PATCO’s line, they probably would have won.

        The destruction of the labor movement was long in coming and did start in earnest in the 1980’s and in the air transport industry – but is was the result of “raiders” taking the airlines through bankruptcy to break the contracts. Ugly business.

        But the takeaway is the: don’t cross the line.

  9. aka

    The Democrats could take on the banks and I mean fundamentally by:

    a) advocating Federal Reserve accounts for all and not just the commercial banks and a few institutions.
    b) thereby allowing the abolition of government-provided deposit insurance.
    c) thereby allowing the equal distribution of new fiat to provide the necessary reserves needed for the transfer of at least some of those currently insured deposits to inherently risk-free accounts at the Federal Reserve.

    Who can legitimately object to a) and b)? No one.
    Who won’t want their share of the needed new fiat (aka “reserves”)? Very few indeed.

    The truth will set one free.

  10. Norb

    The problem with the Democratic party is that by turning its back on working people and the poor, destroyed any foundational legitimacy it possessed. The power behind a workers party lies in supporting and fighting for the interests of workers and clearly educating the lower classes as to their plight in the world. More importantly, clearly defining and actualizing policies to bring an end to economic exploitation. The class struggle has never left us. Class relationships have only been re-branded to hide the brutality of a vastly unequal society. The Democratic party has been at the forefront of that evolution and I would suggest that their complicity has been more heinous due to the fact that their actions don’t follow their rhetoric. If you reject physical violence as a means social persuasion, then your only true power lies in the synchronicity of language to action. By betraying the interest of working people, the Democratic party is by definition weak.

    It is one thing to fight and loose. Being defeated while struggling in defense of your principles is honorable and just. Being defeated by betrayal, while having a long history, is not honorable or just. The endless rationalizations of Democratic Party operatives are irrelevant and should be treated that way. Arguments on how to reconstitute or re-brand the Democratic Party demonstrate another level of hubris that working people should reject. Robert Reich needs to retire from public life. That would begin his rehabilitation and demonstrate his sincerity towards building a more equal society.

    The rift that is forming in elite society has been a long time coming. We are rapidly approaching a time when the anger of the “mob” will be turned loose either by design or accident. The elite faction promoting this mayhem is delusional in thinking that this outcome is controllable.

      1. anonymous

        It all comes back to what Yves said about the necessity of selling garbage barges if you are in power. I am getting so sick and tired of all the architects of bad/evil policy who apologize once they are out of power, from Robert McNamara to Lawrence Wilkerson to Robert Reich.

        If these people had fought for the right even when it was unpopular it might have taken them longer to get into power — but they would have been in position to do good once they got there. Sanders is where he his, because he fought consistently for principle and it finally became more fashionable thanks to W and the GFC.

  11. equote

    ” The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the property interests of the country.”
    Geroge F. Baer

    Does the ‘wage class’ buy this crap?

  12. DanB

    Reich writes, “Democrats could still win back the white working class – putting together a huge coalition of the working class and poor, of whites, blacks, and Latinos, of everyone who has been shafted by the shift in wealth and power to the top.” But how is this hoped for paradigm shift by the Dems supposed to happen? I see this argument by Reich as little more than false hope to keep people clinging to faith in the Dem party. Ted Rall wrote a piece a few days ago titled, “Bernie Sanders Could Win. America Could Become Socialist. Are We Witnessing the Failure of Propaganda?” Whereas Reich has left me cynical, Rall leaves me saying, “Now this makes sense.”

    1. pearl


      I decided that I want to emphasize a point to which I only inferred in my earlier comment and was not specific. It regards your very excellent question, “How is this hoped for paradigm shift by Dems supposed to happen?”

      You are probably correct that a whole paradigm shift can’t really happen if we Progressives only have the choice of voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election.

      (I wanted Elizabeth Warren to run for President, and would have very enthusiastically worked and voted for her; but I am very happy with Bernie Sanders; and will definitely vote for him in the primary.)

      Nevertheless, even if the nominee is Hillary Clinton, although I will be far less excited, I will still be an enthusiastic General Election voter, because I think the one thing that a (any) Democratic President is more likely to do is to appoint heads of certain agencies and departments that are more likely to foster more progressive cultures in [said] agencies, departments, etc. And even if we end up with a do-nothing Congress again–at least we’ll have that–Departments and Agencies that are more Progressive in culture, rather than Conservative-leaning, and that will, most-likely, take up more Progressive policies, foster more Progressive cultures within those bodies, administer them in more Progressive manners, and hire more Progressive “talent.” It’s a quieter way of trending Progressive than of having 3 truly Progressive Branches of Government, but at least it’s something. (Perhaps it’s not as exciting–but I have to believe that it’s something.)

      Once again, though, your question, I agree, is definitely a valid one; partially–because we’re just running out of time–we’re desperate for change NOW.

      (Oh, and, speaking of branches of government–let’s not forget the Supreme Court. Yep. I’ll be voting for the Democrat who is running come hell or high water.)


      Btw, only tangentially-related to your comment–I will use this following personal anecdote as an example to my point. (And, in doing so will help to cleanse my own guilt for not having earlier stated this explicitly here at N.C.)

      I support single-payer universal healthcare–and always have. But I, individually, went from being quickly bankrupted by paying a $1,200 per month COBRA health insurance premium (for which I eventually had to stop paying and just sign up for the “keeping my fingers crossed and hoping I wouldn’t become sick plan” for several months while waiting to enroll in Obamacare back in 2014.) My Obamacare premium–for what ended up being better insurance, went from $1,200 per month to $49.50 per month. It was, quite literally, a “life-saver” for me. (My Obamacare monthly premium increased to $150 for 2016, but my co-pays and out-of-pocket maximum decreased, so my yearly out-of pocket will probably be the same as 2015.)

      While Obamacare was not my preferred way of getting to affordable, efficient, healthcare for all–it was “good enough” for me, personally. And I firmly believe that a certain right to affordable, efficient healthcare will never be able to be taken from us again–because of Obamacare’s arguably “smaller” stride than I would have preferred.

      Obamacare addressed my personal healthcare insurance issues–but I will much prefer a day when a better plan builds upon Obamacare and ultimately swoops in to address all of my brothers’ and sisters’ accessibility to affordable healthcare.

      I haven’t read Rall and will do so immediately. Glad for your comment.

      1. Waking Up

        Where are all the “progressive” heads of agencies, departments, etc. appointed by Barack Obama (Democrat)? His appointments are almost without fail those with corporate ties.

        I am really tired of reading comments about how we should keep the Democrats in power, because after all, they are “less evil”. Anyone with half a brain, and certainly regular readers of Naked Capitalism have recognized long ago where the Democratic party allegiance resides. It’s with the 1%. Is that the new definition of “progressive”?

        1. auntienene

          Yeah, I absolutely agree, Waking Up. I’ve only voted third party since 2006. I’ve refused to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt since then. No more lesser evilism.

      2. oh

        When everyone else’s healthcare is paid for thru Medicaid like yours, it still would not get the insurance companies out of the healthcare system. We need to have healthcare for all and that would be universal healthcare without the burden of the insurance companies in between,

    2. Kurt Sperry

      Propaganda is not only less effective today, probably thanks to the decentralization and interactivity of information flows, but there appears to be at the least a growing demographic on which propaganda of the big dollar, big media sort is actually *counterproductive*. It just leaves you saying the same, wrong, counterproductive things *even louder*, further alienating that growing demographic.

  13. Alejandro

    I find the following excerpt from “THE TYRANNY OF WORDS”-Stuart Chase, increasingly relevant:

    “…Indeed the goal of semantics might be stated as “Find the referent.” When people can agree on the thing to which their words refer, minds meet. The communication line is cleared.
    Labels as names for things may be roughly divided into three classes on an ascending scale:
    1. Labels for common objects, such as “dog”, “chair”, “pencil.” Here difficulty is at a minimum.
    2. Labels for clusters and collections of things, such as “mankind”, “consumers’ goods”, “Germany”, “the white race”, “the courts”. These are abstractions of a higher order, and confusion in their use is widespread. There is no entity “white race” in the world outside our heads, but only some millions of individuals with skins of an obvious or dubious whiteness.
    3. Labels for essences and qualities, such as “the sublime”, “freedom”, “individualism”, “truth”. For such terms, there are no discoverable referents in the outside world, and by mistaking them for substantial entities somewhere at large in the environment, we create a fantastic wonderland. This zone is the especial domain of philosophy, politics, and economics…”

  14. Carolinian

    Well of course the working class divorce from the Dems was about race because in America, with our large AA population, race was always a vital tool for elite control of poor whites. Yesterday I linked up this insightful Counterpunch article with respect to Ta-Nehisi Coates, but this passage is relevant to today’s Reich post.

    Democracy, it should be recalled, was the U.S. Founding Fathers’ ultimate nightmare. Their republican-bourgeois ideology and the U.S. Constitution were monuments to the determination of propertied elites to keep the horror of popular sovereignty at bay. One need only peruse the Federalist Papers to see that fundamentally authoritarian, “small r republican” world view in play. Drawn from the elite propertied segments of late British colonial North America, the delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention shared their compatriot John Jay’s view that “the people who own the country ought to govern it.” For the nation’s top owners and architects, the term conferred “unchecked rule by the masses,” which was “sure to bring arbitrary redistribution of property, destroying the very essence of liberty.” And by “masses,” no small point, they meant primarily property-less and property-poor whites. It was a sentiment shared by the nation’s ruling class into and across the 19th century…..

    Why hasn’t the majority white U.S. working class risen up to destroy the socio-pathological profits system and the pitiless capitalist masters who have treated the laboring masses, the common good, and the global environment we all share with murderous contempt? Part of the answer lay in the way that American capitalism has encouraged the white majority of workers to, in Roediger’s words, “define and accept their class position by fashioning identities as ‘not slaves’ and ‘not black,’” By W.E.B. DuBois’ account in 1935, anti-black racism grants lower and working-class whites a perverse kind of “public and psychological wage” – a false and dysfunctional measure of status used to “compensate” for alienating and exploitative class relationships. As Martin Luther King Jr. observed in 1968, racialized U.S. capitalism gave its Caucasian proletarian prey the “satisfaction of…thinking you are somebody big because you are white.”

    Street is saying that MLK understood that racism and white poverty are interconnected which why King sought a socialist economic system where this divide and conquer strategy would be nullified. Coates and the bourgeois, essentially middle class Democrats, on the other hand, are pretending that race appeals or the nativism of people like Trump is just a matter of ignorance or “evil.” It is their own ignorance that is the problem–their economically privileged middle class bubble. So while one hopes someone like Sanders can save us, it’s likely that change will only finally happen when the middle class itself sees itself at threat. Whether this can happen in the context of the Democratic party, as Reich hopes, remains to be seen.

    1. RUKidding

      It’s postulated that the reasons behind MLK’s assassination had much much more to do with his leanings towards a democratic socialism – recognizing class issues as much as race issues – plus his anti-VN War stance.

      History has (cough cough) “white” washed MLK’s image to focus on his, admittedly admirable, efforts on race equality, but mostly conveniently ignores his very strong stands on class and anti-war (the VN war was claiming so many poor black male lives, amongst other issues, such as identifying with the VN people – a huge no-no).

      At any rate, this stands out:

      So while one hopes someone like Sanders can save us, it’s likely that change will only finally happen when the middle class itself sees itself at threat.

      This goes along with commentary, above, about the “salary class” coming to grips with the fact that we are now being treated to the same predatory rip-offs that the “wage class” has experienced for decades. Those in the middle class, no matter what ethnic background, continue to cling and grasp to notions that WE are above the fray of the commoners, and that we should continue to align ourselves with our 1% Masters because they will continue to see our special snowflake value and reward us accordingly.

      I am an aging boomer, who will most likely do “ok” in retirement, but who knows? I’m due for a CalPers pension, and there’s been loads of research here proving how the 1% PE Masters are ripping off that fatted golden calf.

      Unless or until those who remain in the middle class – most of us by the tips of our fingernails – wake up and realize that NEITHER party, at this point, represents our interests, well…

      And the commoners will continue to be entreated to go along with the likes of white supremacists and jabbering dolts like Trump & Palin because, somehow, those sorts of angry, ranting, nonsensical diatribes somehow have been made appealing over the decades of influence of rightwing hate speech, which is available from almost any outlet 24/7/365.

      The D party sold it’s soul a long long time ago. From where I sit, what do they actually DO for any of us??? WHAT? Marginal improvements, at best.

      When have these f****rs done one d*mn thing for women’s rights, for example? Their push back against the recent round (of far too many rounds) of attacks against Planned Parenthood, for example, are the typically tepid almost non-response that I EXPECT from the D-Team, who always want me to give them more money. It’s insane. The D-Team almost instantly voted to defund ACORN, when the craptastic Breitbart crew Gerry-rigged a faked out video… the D-Team folded like a bad poker hand without a whimper. WTF??

      I could go on and on, but I see the D-Team doing almost absolutely NOTHING for any citizen, other than the 1%. Yes, yes, Elizabeth Warren & Bernie Sanders, notwithstanding. But other than a very very very few Pols in the District of criminals, WHAT has the D-Team done for any of us lately? Precious little. It’s a frickin joke.

      Sure, all the GOP does is give it’s base red meat circuses, but at the least, they *appear* to pay attention to their base. The D-Team can’t even be bothered to make an appearance of paying attention what is allegedly their base. I’ll stop my rant now.

      1. jrs

        Blah the middle class, although there are exceptions and they probably post here :), when the middle class sees itself as threatened doesn’t it often turn fac1st?

    2. sierra7

      That’s why we have the Bill of Rights…
      Without that small document we would all be slaves……..
      That was the “rebellion” against the “founding fathers”…..

    3. Min

      “Democracy, it should be recalled, was the U.S. Founding Fathers’ ultimate nightmare.”

      Nope. That’s a misconception. Their nightmare was aristocracy. True, they were not as democratic as we have become, but they were definitely on the road away from aristocracy and towards democracy.

      When they cried, “No taxation without representation,” they were talking about democracy. Do not be deceived by present day opponents of democracy who wish to set up a new landed gentry, of which they are a part.

  15. Greg T

    I don’t agree with Professor Reich’s conclusion that the Democratic Party’s obsession with suburban swing voters forces it rightward. In my opinion, the party elites favor conservative economic policies because they benefit from them. In other words, they’re corrupt. His basic thesis- the Democratic Party has abandoned working class voters- is correct. The cause he gives is an excuse. I like the author a great deal, but he soft-pedals his criticisms because he is too connected to the people he’s criticizing.

    Elite divisions may be a precondition for economic and social change, but by themselves are insufficient. People and organizations at the top of the pecking order will never cede their advantages unless there exists a threat…..either an acute crisis or social movements making competing demands.

  16. Dave

    It’s hard to get whites to vote for you when you promote affirmative action that costs whites jobs.

    When I was a young man our break room had a big poster on the wall, I think from the union. It proclaimed “We hire and promote women and minorities to management positions.” That poster created life-long Republican voters in five people that I know of, starting at age 18, who I still run into now and then.

    All local civil service hiring was minorities and women the entire time our cohort were in our 20’s. At least 90% of my high school class are right wingers on social issues, and that is in Berkeley, California.

    Me? I’m voting for Bernie. The lessor of three evils.

    1. DanB


      In my view, affirmative action should have been class-based to genuinely deal with inequality. Instead, it served to increase the alienation and racism of blue collar whites. Therefore it played role much as you have described. I grew up in a white ethnic area of Detroit and the resentment and sense of betrayal among white ethnics you describe was common. My view was that since affirmative action ignored class it was designed to appear progressive and redistributive when overall it was a mechanism to keep the working and lower classes divided along ethnic lines.

  17. Pakhet

    It was around the time of the McGovern campaign that a key Democratic party strategist successfully inculcated the notion that the future of the Democratic Party lay in cultivating what was later called the rainbow coalition, and that unions, which were presumed to have nowhere to go, could be neglected.

    I’m guessing Yves is talking about the McGovern-Fraser Commission report that recommended restructuring how delegates were chosen. Adoption of the report’s recommendations did provide a way around the unions, but it’s important to remember that the unions were part of the structure keeping people of color, women and the young and other “amateurs” from equal participation in the process.

    After Jackson’s presidential bids the Dem party used identity politics to drive wedges between the groups comprising the Rainbow Coalition and race-bating welfare “reform” to drive a wedge between workers (unions) and communities of color. This made way for the White Dem party elites and their stooges to consolidate their power. Remember, the Clintons ran the Texas campaign for McGovern and their climb to the top was delayed and then threatened by the rise of the Rainbow Coalition.

    It’s true that the party turned its back on workers, but it turned its back on everybody. If inclusive democracy within the party meant that the Clintons and their cohort wouldn’t get their “turns,” then it had to be quashed.

    Reich should know all of this so it’s curious that he chooses to tell the story he tells.

    1. hemeantwell

      but it’s important to remember that the unions were part of the structure keeping people of color, women and the young and other “amateurs” from equal participation in the process.

      Right. A more complete understanding of the breakdown, as mediated by unions, of the alliance between the Dems and the white working class, would have to get specific about the leadership of the AFL-CIO at the time Nixon was putting together his Southern strategy. George Meany, the AFL-CIO prez, was a leader of the building trades, the core of the AFL. He resented and opposed any effort to open up the trades to minority hiring. He was a true union bureaucrat in Jane Mcalavey’s sense of the term, not interested in organizing, quite comfortable with working within the limits of the the capital-labor accord that he had inherited from the militancy of the 30s and 40s without bothering to defend it. Nixon did a decent job of both playing and gratifying Meany — OSHA, for example — after McGovern had threatened the white union bureaucracy and pissed them off over Vietnam.

      And then, when the Dems regained the White House there was Carter, a proto-neoliberal, who was loath to reestablish any favored status for labor. Without the pull of fighting for truly working class issues — there was the Humphrey-Hawkins “full” employment push of the mid-70s, but it failed — the way was open for the brew of national chauvinism and labor elitism that Meany had championed to continue on until Reagan began to more seriously attack unions, which increasingly left the white working class to its own devices, unorganized and weak. Then, with unions weakened, the DLC’s logic of playing to the corporations became that much harder to oppose.

  18. Uahsenaa

    I feel rather mixed about Reich, which I suppose I should considering my politics are well to the left of his re: issues of wealth redistribution.

    And it’s right not to be Manichaean about this, since there are reasons to be hopeful and reasons to doubt in his case. First, I don’t think his support of NAFTA is so clear cut. Yes, he publicly lobbied for it, but at the time, while there was a great deal of speculation pointing to what later would be obvious, when you look at the whole picture of what Reich achieved as Labor secretary, it’s possible that he believed that if there were any negative effects from NAFTA that they could be offset by other government programs, such as job training and free/cheaper education, which he has always believed in and advocated for. Where I think he erred is in believing his fellow Dems had the will to correct for those negative effects, when history has proven that third way, triangulationists don’t give a crap about the effects on the poor and working class.

    And, to round out my ambivalence, I think this reveals a real flaw in his thinking, one that persists. This Salon article from April of last year, just after Hillary announced she was thinking about maybe exploring the possibility of running for president, makes clear that he might still have the same pollyanna-ish view of Dems who have demonstrated time and again they are neoliberal shills. He says of Cilnton:

    The question is not her values and ideals. It’s her willingness to be bold and to fight, at a time when average working people need a president who will fight for them more than they’ve needed such a president in living memory.

    I would argue that, in fact, both her head and her heart are in exactly the wrong place. He may have known her since she was a teenager, but that fact seems to blind him to how her behavior both in office and out has revealed her to be the corporate stooge many now recognize her as. It seems his support of Sanders has more to do with his “willingness to fight,” something, frankly, I admire as well, and less to do with any belief that Sanders’ understanding of the current state of affairs is fundamentally different from Clinton’s.

  19. fresno dan

    “But the flip side is that I may be slipping into the Manichean trap I often call out in readers: that of wanting to see people as all good or all bad. Politics is all about compromise, and sometimes interests you oppose on other issues can be staunch allies on particular cases. And more generally, people who are in a position to have influence are almost of necessity tainted. I’ve previously quoted this passage from a 2001 article by Omer Bartov in a review of a book describing how Bulgaria came to be the one Nazi state that refused to turn its Jews over to Germany for extermination”

    Very wise. Being wrong and being bad are two different things.

  20. Ed Seedhouse

    I think we should remember that at the time these changes were made in the Democratic party they had just lost three straight presidential elections and only two out of the last six. This has an effect on policy makers. They may have drawn the wrong conclusions but in light of what was happening back then it is hardly surprising.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Faye Carr addresses the same issue below. A little matter of consistency and making excuses.

  21. Skippy

    This kinda sums it all up for me…

    The Summers memo was a 1991 memo on trade liberalization that was written by Lant Pritchett and signed by Lawrence Summers who was then Chief Economist of the World Bank. It included a section that both Summers and Pritchett say was sarcastic that suggested dumping toxic waste in third-world countries for perceived economic benefits.[1]

    After the material was leaked by Roberto Smeraldi of Friends of the Earth to Jornal do Brasil on February 2, 1992,[2] Pritchett (who worked under Summers) stated that he had written the memo and Summers had only signed it, and that it was intended to be “sarcastic”. According to Pritchett, the memo as leaked was doctored to remove context and intended irony, and was “a deliberate fraud and forgery to discredit Larry and the World Bank.”[3]

    Daniel Hausman and Michael McPherson have argued that the satirical section might seem to be based in economics as a science, but in fact contains strong moral premises which cannot be removed and still leave the argument intact.[4] Brazilian Secretary of the Environment Jose Lutzenberger argued that it demonstrated “the arrogant ignorance of many conventional ‘economists’ concerning the nature of the world we live in.”[5]
    Text of the Excerpt

    DATE: December 12, 1991

    TO: Distribution
    FR: Lawrence H. Summers
    Subject: GEP

    ‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

    1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

    2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

    3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.
    The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.
    — Lawrence Summers, [6][7]

    Skippy…. file under when everything is a market and the smartest guys in the room are looking for advantage….

  22. Faye Carr

    Reich.. pffft. I just cannot stomach his left/progressive writing during primary season. Which unfailingly turns into “Vote all out for lesser evilism- hooray we can hold their feet to the fire!
    Then slithering into “Give them time” before doing that.

    Then along comes a hearty helping of “half a (mouldy) loaf is better than nothing” boosterism.

    I’ve been active enough in previous political campaigns to write the damn things from memory.
    You can toss Thom Hartman and the rest of progressive media into that pile too.

    Why should we ever expect ‘change’ when it isn’t necessary for Dems to bother, beyond lip service? They lost us because they didn’t need or want us.

    Core Republicans (and Libertarians)are just now figuring this out. That’s been interesting to watch.

    And, yes, I’ll vote. Sigh…. I do like a flag sticker!

  23. Oregoncharles

    This is precisely the main conclusion of “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” by Thomas Frank – about a decade ago.

    It also raises another question: so why are you a Democrat, Prof. Reich?

  24. Ivy

    Working, or non-working, poor were once employable in factories that got off-shored or outsourced via NAFTA and China/Wal-Mart (thank you former board member Hillary, NOT) intrigue in the 1990s. They now face minimum wages to pay for higher premiums and other so-called benefits arising from a few decades of same old, same old politics.

    They don’t trust the Dems or the Reps, and with darn good reason. They feel in their bones that nobody is looking out for their interests.

    They don’t trust the Lügenpresse, including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, NY Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and others, although they probably don’t access any beyond the TV people. The press has been shown to lie, exclude or otherwise suppress stories that do not fit whatever narrative is to be spun.

    For the sourcists among readers, refer to the documentation online about Journolists, Cabalists and similar past scandals that demonstrate repeatedly that transparency is even less in evidence now than over the past decades.

    There are variations of those non-transparency trends playing out in Europe, with their Lügenpresse and variations thereon in England, France, Germany and Italy.

    It should be no surprise that so many have turned to drugs and other self-medications to numb themselves to worsening life prospects, or to end those lives. The only Change that they saw was in a new crop of liars in DC. Their Hope has been declining.

    There are historical epoch-ending events that play out in rough cycles, similar to what happened in 1848 and during WWI. Don’t be surprised at the voice of a restive populace during 2016.

    Here is a link to an interesting Income graph that you’ve probably all seen:

  25. dk

    Reich writes as if ideologies, and/or the betrayals of ideologies, are the driving forces of politics. Which is a bit naive. The driving force of US politics (regardless of party), is the narrow mindset of political consultants. These are people who look at charts of, oh, say, income distribution, and think, well, those people have no money anyway, so they have little or no political awareness (why else would they be poor?), much less any stake in the important outcomes which I create, so they basically don’t vote, so they basically don’t matter. I/we need to tailor our press and media strategies to reach those voters that do matter. This mentality shapes the delivery of messages, and undercuts the depth of commitments that candidates/electeds feel to such conceptually disenfranchised classes. Yes, the “rainbow-coalition” approach stipulates that aggregating some of these (nominally) smaller voting blocs can be decisive in a close race, but press/media points and images are deployed to try to win races without them. And yes, this varies regionally, but the mainstream big-shot consultants, the kinds who work on national presidential races, have little truck with those boondock contests (they price themselves above them).

    So what I’m saying is that ideology of a candidate is not really that relevant, if the candidate hires from among the top-line big dogs, or for that matter anybody aspiring to move into that tier (and who doesn’t want an ambitious go-getter running their show?). They are instead buying into a circle of political connection and formulaic strategy, which promises, among other things, that in terms of political debt, the “people that don’t matter” aren’t owed much, if anything, and the “people that do matter” are.

    Naturally, in practice, this sort of thing is all cloaked in code words, “high-propensity voters”, “base” and “available swing”, etc.

    And I don’t think labels like “neo-liberal” really capture the mechanics at work here, which are much more broadly present than my understanding of that term. One could call the Dem consultants neo-liberal, but the Rep consultants are doing pretty much the same thing, with differently weighted priorities that don’t fit the neo-liberal category. So even relatively liberal politicians (on the US right-tilted scale) end up with the sense that their immediate priorities have to protect their performance for their perceived “base”.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      But, but, but ……. if ideologies aren’t the driving force of politics, then intellectuals can’t be as influential as they repeatedly tell themselves they are. And Robert Reich can’t be as important as he thinks he is …. No, no, no: That just can’t be right!

      Robert Reich is a lawyer teaching as though he were an economist on the faculty of a school of public policy. But he writes books that sell and generate royalties. So he must be very successful

  26. Barry Fay

    I can´t believe I keep seeing “great article” in the comments. I see nothing great about it. The reasons given for the Dems losing the white working class are ridiculous. All of the Dem´s supposed wrong actions are in fact the very things that the Repubs actively support – so the white working class didn´t leave the Dems to go to the Repubs for THOSE reasons. I clicked on this article hoping it would be an intelligent analysis but found instead a shopworn list of standard complaints about the Democratic Party coming from its left wing. This is not needed – everyone knows all about them already. Very disappointing.

  27. Keith

    If only this was just a US issue.

    The Labour party in the UK has had exactly the same experience.

    Podemos and Syriza have been formed due to the old Left wing parties being almost indistinguishable from their Right wing parties.

    All that has been on offer throughout the West are different flavours of the Neo-Liberal agenda.

    In the US you had:

    Neo-liberal (Wall street) in Republican and Democrat flavours

    In the Uk we had:

    Neo-Liberal in Labour, Conservative and Liberal flavours (what a choice).

    The Neo-Liberal nonsense went off the rails in 2008, its time for change.

  28. Alex Cuadros

    For what it’s worth, here’s what Reich said about NAFTA in his latest book, Saving Capitalism (where he is broadly critical of free-trade agreements): “A personal confession: When I was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, I argued against the North American Free Trade Agreement within the confines of the administration but did not air my concerns publicly, believing I could do more good remaining inside than resigning in protest over this and related White House decisions I disagreed with, such as bringing China into the World Trade Organization. In subsequent years I have often wondered whether I made the right choice.”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The problem is that having lost the battle over Nafta, he was obligated to sell it. He said it would generate a million jobs. And he meant in the US.

  29. Rob Lewis

    Without even reading Reich’s piece yet, I have to compliment Yves’ foreword: well said! (As far as high officials having to sell garbage, will anyone ever top poor old Colin Powell?)

    I’m saving your quote from Bartov, but is it possible there’s a typo in it? Shouldn’t “Hence a strange and frustrating contraction:” actually be “Hence a strange and frustrating contradiction:”

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