With all the talk of Herman Cain’s fall and Newt Gingrich’s rise, it has been easy to miss reports of the White House’s emerging 2012 strategy this week.
Though the president is down in the polls (he trails former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the latest Rasmussen matchup), only the deluded will count him out. He and his team are shrewd and determined and ready to re-write playbooks to win in November.
For example, tomorrow (Tuesday), Mr. Obama will fly to Kansas to talk about the economy. He will declare that the 2012 election will be a “make or break moment for the middle class and all those working to join it.” According to the White House, he will echo Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” themes and TR’s 1912 bid to regain the presidency. Reading the Washington tea leaves, and despite a great deal of likely bluster to the contrary, the speech will mark the formal launching of a strategy laid out in a New York Times column by Thomas B. Edsall early last week.
As Edsall reported, “preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.”
He continued: “All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.”
If true, the president will jettison the oldest and most defining characteristic of his own party. From Andrew Jackson to Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy to Bill Clinton, Democrats have presented themselves as the party of the workingman and woman, the party of labor and not just unionized labor, to which they degenerated in later years. Now, in the coming election, the Adlai Stevenson, Gary Hart college faculty and yuppy wing will be the seen as the center of the Democratic coalition.
Three questions come to mind:
Who, then, is the middle class about whom the president and his allies speak anyway? Edsall’s list – from professors to therapists – suggests a coalition top heavy with employees of the government, non-profit institutions that depend heavily on government funding, and a mainstream media that cheerleads for big government. It’s a good guess that the White House strategists see the minority voters in this coalition as composed disproportionately of government workers, too. So if Edsall is right, the White House is planning to formalize the long-anticipated alliance of the consumers of wealth (those in the public economy) against the wealth producers (workers in the private economy). In other words, in White House code, the “make or break moment for the middle class” translates not into humming factories and offices supplying global markets but Armageddon for the government class.
What does this change say about the American labor movement? On economic matters, the Obama White House seems unwilling to take a breath without a sign-off from organized labor. Was the shift in strategy Edsall laid out cleared with the top ranks of the union movement? And if so, does it reflect that the unions now see their future in representing government employees more than the movement’s traditional membership in manufacturing, extraction, processing, transportation and old-line retail? If so, the American labor movement is in the process of, effectively, turning against the interests of those it was built to serve.
Is the new Democratic coalition all that new in fact? A close and very shrewd Chicago-based observer of politics on all levels wrote to me last week that Edsall’s description was of Windy City politics writ large — but not the politics of Mayors Daley, senior and junior. Edsall, he said, “has stumbled onto the [former Chicago mayor] Harold Washington coalition.” He continued, “David [Axelrod] knew it [building a Harold Washington-style coalition] was BHO’s [the president’s] only reelection play. As a result, BHO went left in the September 2009 health care speech and has never looked back.” He concluded, “September 2009 was the Rubicon, not a slide-rule analysis of over-sampled cross-tabs six weeks ago.”
To make this strategy work, my inside-Chicago-politics source told me, will require playing “Saul Alinsky’s divide/demonize/destroy” playbook to the hilt, pulling out all the “class, race, gender, status, preference, personal attack” stops. At the same time, he added, it suggests use of election fraud both in who votes (as with moves against any voter ID requirements) and how the votes are counted (as in the 2008 Franken fiasco in Minnesota).
Not a pretty thought.