MSNBC host Chris Matthews and a panel of guests sneered at Appalachian whites last week on Matthews’s “Hardball” show. Speaking to Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, Matthews said, “You had a piece in your paper the other day, about the Scots-Irish down in Southwestern Virginia. They’re white. Weren’t they kind of the people that went to the mountains? When they immigrated to the United States they went right to the rural areas. And they got an attitude!”
No one on Matthew’s panel betrayed the slightest self-consciousness when speaking in condescending tones about the white working class. It’s hard to imagine any of them speaking the same way about blacks with “attitude” living in urban areas.
“There is part of that white community that — they missed — they didn’t get to go to good colleges or college,” Matthews continued. “They feel like the Democrats have been focused on the elites and the minorities and they’ve been missed somehow.”
That’s because they have. Those working class whites Matthews speaks of, commonly known as “bitter clingers,” are making a slow but justifiable exit from the Democratic Party. When Democrats take a stand against coal, when they bring in boatloads of legal and illegal immigrants, when they make it difficult to exercise Second Amendment rights, when they support racial discrimination against whites (“affirmative action”), the message that the white working class hears is “not welcome.” And for good reason.
Liberals, who dominate the party and the media — two institutions that are often difficult to distinguish — have employed an effective pincer maneuver against the American majority. They launch their attack from above and below, appealing to the rich, but also to perpetual wards of the state, or what I call “the non-working class.” Liberals will never admit that such a class exists. Perpetual wards of the state are, in their estimation, still part of the working class … even though they don’t work.
It should be noted here that the white working class is not exclusively rural, Appalachian, or even southern. There are white working class people in all fifty states as well as in urban areas. The dwindling Irish Catholic population of South Boston is a good example of working class whites who are neither rural nor southern, though they have traditionally voted Democratic just the same.
This tight-knight, church-going community, whose sons went off to Vietnam in proportions far exceeding their numbers, were shocked to learn, in 1974, that their community would be torn apart by federally-mandated busing. This intra-Democratic fight pitted working class whites against wealthy liberals. The architects of the plan, if they had any kids at all, sent them to private or suburban schools, thus shielding them from busing. Many of those Southie-born Irish have since fled the city and changed party affiliation. South Boston has never been the same.
The relationship between the Democrats and the white working class is nuanced, to say the least. The Democratic Party is their traditional home and some working class whites continue to vote the ticket, if only because they’re descended from a long line of Democrats. Many liberals, particularly white male liberals, like to brag of their working class background, even if they jettisoned it long ago or it never really existed in the first place. See Bruce Springsteen and Michael Moore.
Even Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses after the Supreme Court invented a right to same-sex marriage, was elected as a Democrat. Davis was falsely tagged as a Republican in a recent New York Times story. The reporters in this instance assumed that she was a Republican because New Yorkers can’t imagine a person like Davis voting Democrat. It’s weird, I know. In Kim Davis’s neck of the woods, “Democrat” is not synonymous with moonbat leftist.
The party apparatus still wants the white working class’s support because a vote’s a vote and a win’s a win. Unfortunately, these working class whites tend to be more moderate, which poses a problem for the urban elite who dominate the modern liberal establishment. They don’t want to tolerate a contingent within the party that might temper its platform.
The Democratic Party is consequently roiled by a quiet civil war that no one wants to acknowledge. Don’t be fooled for a moment, however, into thinking that the war is fought between the liberal elite and the white working class. The white working class doesn’t have enough clout in the party to stand as a belligerent in this conflict. It’s a war between those who still want to make a bid for the white working class vote and those who find them so embarrassing that they’d prefer to send them packing.
Hillary Clinton made a bid for the white working class vote in 2008 and she’s been paying for it ever since. The media are actually quite critical of Mrs. Clinton, treating her almost like a Republican. The Clinton email server saga has not been dismissed as a “phony scandal” as most Democratic scandals are. Why might that be? My theory is that Hillary made the fourth estate very angry in 2008 when she campaigned against their preferred candidate, Barack Obama, and she has not yet earned her way back into their good graces.
The Clinton campaign made an effort to appeal to more traditional Democrats — a category which includes, but is not limited to, the white working class — while the Obama campaign courted the youth vote, minorities, and unabashed progressives. It was a big gamble on Hillary’s part and she lost. There just weren’t enough traditional Democrats in the party in 2008 and there are even fewer today. The party of the Kennedy brothers and Daniel Patrick Moynihan is now the party of Valerie Jarrett and Terrence Bean.
Perhaps Hillary thought she could replicate her husband’s successful campaigns of ’92 and ’96. Now there was a man who could speak to white working class audiences, probably because that’s where his roots lay. Hillary, however, is a Chicago girl from an upper middle class background.
In 2008, Hillary found out that she couldn’t ride to victory with Clintonian overtures to the white working class, either because they weren’t that enthused about her, or because the demographics of the party had shifted. Both factors were probably in play.
Hillary lost more than just the nomination. She lost the adoration of the liberal elite which she still hasn’t won back. They won’t forgive her for pandering to what they perceive to be the worst elements of the party — the Kim Davis wing, the Southie Irish wing, the bitter clingers.
The Democratic Party is suffering from something of an identity crisis. A vestigial constituency group truly embarrasses them to the point that they often can’t hide their disdain when speaking of them, yet they still need their vote. The party is sharply divided as to whether this demographic group, which is already halfway out the door, is worth keeping.
Cross-posted at Patriot Update