I am a man. I am from "Middletown". "Middletown" is my home.
For four years now, I've always had people ask me where "Middletown" is. But the truth is that more than what "Middletown" is what Muncie, Indiana was. The quintessential American town.
Chevy on 8th Street. Borg Warner out on Kilgore. Westinghouse on the south side. And Ball Brothers, which gave the town's public university its name. The union made us strong, and the working class stood proud and strong.
The deprecation, denigration, and contempt for the working class that the Lynds found when they came to the city 40 years before was gradually disappearing. The children of the working class were able to attend the local state university, and go on to become the college-educated middle class.
Now 40 years on from the peak of manufacturing in Muncie, we find ourselves back where we started. The vast middle class that formed the backbone of this city broken, and the GM gypsies set loose to try to move on to another plant until it's time comes to. The utter devastation of the thing came home to me watching them bring down the old Chevy smokestack on Youtube while I was away getting my master's degree.
Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he come home from World War Two
Now the yard's just scrap and rubble
He said "Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do."
These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country's wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we're wondering what they were dyin' for...
From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story's always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
For most Americans the benefits brought to them by the post war social contract, and the battles fought by working men and women to get where we are have been forgotten. Excised from the history textbooks, so that Homestead, Ludlow, The Battle of the Overpass have no meaning for so many of the people who benefit from them. The educated upper middle class has become rich enough to forget their name, and identify more with social liberalism than the economic populism of the men and women who fought to make what they have possible.
Of course that's now the way that they see it. America's educated upper middle class, the folks who live in the type of suburban house that you have to get a "super jumbo" loan to buy are for the most part enthusiastic subscribers to what our friend David Sirota calls the Education Myth.
Regular readers know my frustration with what I previously deemed The Great Education Myth in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle. This myth, omnipotent in our media and political debate, states that America's problem with stagnating wages, job loss and benefits cuts is a problem of education. If only workers were better educated, the myth goes, their economic problems would be over.
This myth, which is a lobbyist creation designed to divert political pressure away from reforming labor, trade and economic policies, was most recently vomited up by a top editor and "expert" at one of the largest magazines in America - and then obliterated by government data and at least one leading presidential candidate.
That's right, the latest regurgitation of the myth comes from none other than U.S. News & World Report's chief financial reporter, James Pethokoukis. In the midst of an article asserting that "income inequality may actually be a good sign," this brave defender of royalism flippantly claimed "It really is all about education."
And that. That, my friends is what we need to keep in mind when we talk about election 2008 and the odd electoral strategy that Senator Obama has convinced himself is going to win him the White House. There's been a spate of articles recently about how Senator Obama's written off the working class, but I think that the "winner" is James Zogby's bit in the Huffington Post today. Like his internet polling, Zogby has been able to take boilerplate wrap it up in some fancy sounding bullshit and sell it as revealed truth. The truth Zogby tells us is that the real divide in today's America is about Equinox voters:
The Spring-Aheads are the economic winners in America today, who largely reside in regions that have turned themselves around. They are the reason that southern New Hampshire, central and southwestern North Carolina, southern Florida, Colorado, parts of New Mexico -- even growing parts of Wyoming and Montana -- may be considered in play this election cycle. These are areas growing in diversity, in the population of the "creative class," and, for the Democrats, these are the areas that are the antidote to the areas mired in economic decline.
Those are the areas populated by many Fall Backers who have suffered at the hands of the changes in the U.S. economy over the past 15 years. They have not been able to recover from the movement from a manufacturing to an information economy. They are working for less money than they made a decade ago, and include those with uncertain futures and those who are concerned about maintaining a middle-class status. Those who fit this bill, historically, are less open to diversity. They are concerned about minorities because they represent a challenge in the workplace and elsewhere.
So let's review. The reason the those working class Democrats are angry is because the are uneducated losers, and they should resign themselves to being governed by their social betters. It's all about the education, and of course that's the antidote. Because its only ignorant, bigoted hicks working on the assembly line that are suffering, and if they get an education they'll do just fine. They are suffering because they are uneducated, and we shouldn't feel any obligation to oblige their political desires.
Screw them, we've got our's. Such is the battle cry of the Obama Nation willing to abandon the working class, thinking that they can make common cause with the "creative class" in places like Virginia and Colorado. And that's going to change the electoral map.
Obama doesn't need to worry about working class voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, because he's going to win Colorado and Virginia. And that's going to put him in the White House.
Yet, for all the education of the "creative class" simple math would not appear to be one of their strengths. Let me explain.
This is 2004. John Kerry took 251 electoral votes to George Bush's 281. And with that George Bush won reelection.
Now the Obama Nation think that their man is going to get what Kerry got. Plus take Iowa, New Mexico, and Ohio. Which Kerry came close in. And the map changers? Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana.
So 331 Obama, 207 McCain. A landslide victory, and the start of a new electoral coalition that forms the backbone of the Democratic party. And the Democratic party can screw over the working class as much as they want, because they aren't part of the new coalition. And of course, the "creative class" the college educated people who work in IT and other "new economy" fields like web design don't have to worry about having their jobs outsourced. It's not like the jobs most at risk of being sent abroad are those that require a college degree. I mean these people are "educated" and that sort of thing only happens to the "deserving" poor.
Now supposing that working class voters don't take it when they're asked to head for the back of the bus. Obama still wins, because everybody wants Change. So Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania all go for McCain. Why? Because these are all states that have been severely harmed by "free trade."
And the bottom line. Obama 262, McCain 276.
And if Obama can't carry North Carolina because the growth of the "creative class" their in the Triangle cities is met by a large number of manufacturing job losses in the state.
Then Obama gets only 247 electoral votes to McCain's 291. And the Democratic party has a big hole to dig itself out of in 2012.
The most ironic thing is that for the most part the Obama Nation thinks that the Democratic sweep of the House in 2006 was validation for this strategy, because they believe that demographic block that moved was educated, suburban voters. the irony is it's precisely the opposite. 2006 was decided by the rural vote:
The rural vote has shifted in favor of Democratic congressional candidates in the last month, indicating Republicans are losing ground with a key constituency, according to the Center for Rural Strategies Poll.
The poll of rural voters in 41 contested congressional districts found that likely voters preferred Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives by a margin of 13 points, 52 percent to 39 percent. In mid-September, the same population of voters was evenly split between the two parties at 45 percent each.
The view that 2008 should be an easy sweep for Democrats is in large part based upon the belief that 2006 was a prelude to the success that a message of Change brings to the table.
The reality is that most rural voters are far more concerned about how to put food on the kitchen table. The latest Rural Tracker Poll shows that that Democratic advantage has disappeared as rural voters have returned to the Republican party:
Republican John McCain leads Democrat Barack Obama by 9 points among rural voters in battleground states, according to a poll released today (Sunday, May 18, 2008)by the Center for Rural Strategies on behalf of the National Rural Assembly.
Among likely voters in rural parts of 13 swing states, 50 percent favored McCain while 41 percent supported Obama, who leads in Democratic primary delegates. In a matchup between Hillary Clinton and McCain, likely rural voters split evenly, each with 46 percent.
And it only gets worse. Rural voters are hit hardest by high gas prices, and Senator McCain has a huge wedge issue in pushing for offshore drilling. The strategy of the Obama Nation is to write off the white working class, and in particular the rural folks that they think are below them because they aren't as likely to have a college degree.
They think that they're rich enough to forget about the people who keep this country running. But in a country where the working class has the right to vote, denigration based on education is a sure fire way to lose an election. And that that's why this strategy that the Obama Nation's fallen in love with is a great big loser.