Mike Lux lays down some truth:
In Washington, being a moderate means being for raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for Social Security. In the rest of America, fighting to preserve Social Security is a huge plus for voters. In Washington, being a moderate means being for “free trade” deals. In the rest of America, working class swing voters hate the trade deals that they know are shipping their jobs overseas. In Washington, being a moderate means being for extending all of the Bush tax cuts even those for millionaires. In the rest of America, it is those working class swing voters who don’t like those kinds of tax cuts.
Most of all, being a moderate in Washington means getting along nicely with all those corporate lobbyists who keep coming to see you (and dropping off checks). In the rest of America, swing voters and base voters are completely united that Washington is too controlled by wealthy and powerful special interests, and that their power needs to be rolled back. The polling numbers on strict new lobby reforms, on rolling back the Citizens United decision, on public financing so that candidates aren’t dependent on special interests for campaign cash are incredibly strong.
The classic archetypal swing voter is the autoworker from Macomb County, Michigan who crossed over in 1980 to vote for Ronald Reagan.
The work of Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg is a classic study of Reagan Democrats. Greenberg analyzed white ethnic voters (largely unionized auto workers) in Macomb County, Michigan, just north of Detroit. The county voted 63 percent for John F. Kennedy in 1960, but 66 percent for Reagan in 1980. He concluded that “Reagan Democrats” no longer saw Democrats as champions of their working class aspirations, but instead saw them as working primarily for the benefit of others: the very poor, the unemployed, African Americans, and other groups. In addition, Reagan Democrats enjoyed gains during the period of economic prosperity that coincided with the Reagan administration following the “malaise” of the Carter administration. They also supported Reagan’s strong stance on national security and opposed the 1980s Democratic Party on such issues as pornography, crime, and taxes.
Working class whites with less than average education levels, who are ready to be convinced that the Democrats are giving preferential treatment to blacks and Latinos, and who are conventionally religious. are the key swing voters. That’s not to say that more affluent, better educated, and less religious suburban whites cannot be swayed on the issue of taxes. They are also a key swing constituency.
A black president starts off with an innate disadvantage in convincing working class whites that he is going to treat their interests on a par with the interests of blacks. That’s what all that ACORN and Shirley Sherrod stuff was about. It’s what the Jeremiah Wright stuff was about in the primaries. It’s also what the stealth campaign to call Obama a Muslim is about, and what the whole birth certificate thing is about. It’s all aimed at alienating working class whites from the president and his party. To overcome this, the president must go to some length to visibly stand up for the working class. Some of this can be done by taking the side of the unions that many of these working class voters belong to. They are the most ‘gettable’ in the first place, and they’re very important in states throughout the critical Rust Belt. But it can also be done by taking a strong stand against some of the elite institutions in this country that have screwing the little guy. These groups include banks, investment firms, insurance companies, and colleges charging outrageous tuition. It includes cell phone, cable television, amd utilities corporations.
The president has a good record to run on. By saving Chrysler and General Motors he single-handedly saved the jobs of countless people in Macomb County. For those who were laid off, he’s provided access to health care, with subsidies for those who can’t afford it. He’s taken on the credit card companies in a major way, helping those people who have run up debt during this recession. He completely overhauled the college loan system, making higher education more affordable.
The new law will eliminate fees paid to private banks to act as intermediaries in providing loans to college students and use much of the nearly $68 billion in savings over 11 years to expand Pell grants and make it easier for students to repay outstanding loans after graduating. The law also invests $2 billion in community colleges over the next four years to provide education and career training programs to workers eligible for trade adjustment aid after dislocation in their industries.
The law will increase Pell grants along with inflation in the next few years, which should raise the maximum grant to $5,975 from $5,550 by 2017, according to the White House, and it will also provide 820,000 more grants by 2020.
Students who borrow money starting in July 2014 will be allowed to cap repayments at 10 percent of income above a basic living allowance, instead of 15 percent. Moreover, if they keep up payments, their balances will be forgiven after 20 years instead of 25 years — or after 10 years if they are in public service, like teaching, nursing or serving in the military.
He passed the most sweeping reforms of Wall Street since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, and he created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which will protect people from deceptive mortgages and underhanded forms of usury.
And, in many ways, Obama would have done more for the people of Macomb County if the Republicans (and some conservative Democrats) had not stood in his way. Certainly, the main complaints about the health care and Wall Street reforms would have been alleviated if the president’s proposals had passed in the form that he proposed them.
To go back to Lux’s main point, the moderate in Washington is not likely to appeal to the Macomb County voter. The moderate Democrat in Washington doesn’t support pro-union legislation. They worked to make the health care and Wall Street reforms more palatable to Big Business. They rely on corporate cash to a greater degree than more liberal members. Their only potential appeal is on religious matters, but a voter making a decision mainly on those grounds is likely to go for a Republican because their party is more attuned to their values. For example, given a choice between an anti-choice Democrat and an anti-choice Republican, someone who cares mostly about stopping abortions is going to be wiser to pick the Republican. Provided that being pro-choice isn’t totally disqualifying (as it is in a handful of districts around the country) the Democrat actually puts themselves at a disadvantage by taking an anti-choice position. And, in any case, even if taking the abortion issue off the table can help a Democrat here or there, it isn’t something the national party can compromise on. What we need to do to appeal to the voter in Macomb County is to make a big deal out of how much we’ve helped them over the last two years and how much they (and their children) are going to benefit in the future. If that message isn’t getting through, we need to redouble our efforts. Things are bad but they could be a lot worse. They could be as bad as (or worse than) they were Bush left office. That’s what the Republicans are promising with the calls to repeal all the accomplishments of the past two years and give hundreds of billions of dollars to people who make more than a million dollars a year. We tried that. Look where it got us.