WHO WILL WIN THE WORKING STIFFS? – AT 9:41 A.M. ET: Even those of us who believe in free enterprise know that it isn't always fair. In hard times the guy at the bottom gets hurt, whereas the guy at the top often manages to survive and do well. That isn't always the case, of course, as bankruptcy records show, but it's the image.
And the guy at the bottom often sees his cultural values disparaged by the gents at the top. Ronald Reagan understood that, and knew how to appeal to the working man or woman who believed that he, or she, was getting a raw deal. As a former union leader, and a man who'd grown up in a challenged household, Reagan had that touch. The result was the Reagan Democrats.
The Reagan Democrats are still out there, and maybe there are even more now than there were in 1980. But neither presidential candidate has yet ignited them. An excellent piece on the Bloomberg site sets the issue skilfully, and is well worth reading:
The U.S. economy’s anemic rebound from the worst recession in six decades is pummeling workers while leaving bosses almost unscathed and neither President Barack Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney is captivating these disaffected voters five months before the national election.
Between 2007 and 2010, working-class people -- those in nonprofessional occupations who lack college degrees -- saw their median earnings fall 4.6 percent, according to a study of U.S. census data prepared for Bloomberg News by Sentier Research of Annapolis, Maryland. Over the same period, earnings for college-educated professionals or managers rose 1.9 percent.
Working-class males were especially hard hit, with median annual earnings falling 6.6 percent, more than three times the 1.9 percent loss suffered by all employees, according to the study, an effort to quantify the recession’s impact on labor.
“These are the sort of guys Bruce Springsteen would sing about,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics Ltd. “These guys have had a bad time.”
The struggles of working-class Americans are having an impact on the presidential election race, shaping discussions on trade with China, immigration policy, and the automobile industry bailout. Republican Mitt Romney is seeking to capitalize on workers’ dissatisfaction in his bid for the White House, while President Barack Obama tries to brand his rival as a financier focused more on profits than people.
In 2008, white, working-class voters went for Arizona Senator John McCain over Obama by a margin of 58 percent to 40 percent.
Yet now, both presidential candidates’ appeals to this group are handicapped by biography and personal style. Harvard- educated Romney, a former private-equity executive who is worth as much as $250 million, has drawn criticism for once saying he likes “to fire people.” Obama, another Harvard graduate with a taste for arugula, is shadowed by his 2008 comment that “bitter” working-class voters “cling to guns or religion.”
“Neither of them is going to resonate very well with the working class,” says Sean Trende, author of “The Lost Majority,” an account of both parties’ electoral challenges.
COMMENT: In the 1930s, FDR referred to the working-class American as "the forgotten man." Well, FDR's party forgot him a long time ago, in favor of Hollywood actors, well-heeled trendies and group-identity hustlers, but the Republicans often fail to capitalize on the forgotten man's plight.
Even though Mitt Romney is leading among working-class whites, he still must make much more of an effort to connect with those Americans who feel left behind. Abstract arguments about free enterprise are not enough. Romney has to show that he understands. Roosevelt had that gift. There is the famous story about the soldier weeping outside the White House on the day Roosevelt died. A reporter asked, "Did you know him?" "No," replied the soldier, "but he knew me." FDR may have faked it, but he connected with people. That is Romney's greatest deficit, and, in a close election, that can be decisive.
June 8, 2012