As soon as veteran political reporter Tom Edsall posted an insightful examination of President Obama’s re-election prospects on Monday, the conservative media swooped in to misrepresent it and to spread a racially inflammatory untruth about the President. Edsall’s post, titled “The Future of the Obama Coalition” in the New York Times, explained that the rising share of non-whites in the electorate and the increasingly Democratic leanings of educated white voters offset Obama’s weakness among less educated whites in 2008. For decades Democrats had struggled to regain the popularity among working-class white voters that they enjoyed before the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Now, writes Edsall, “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 you read Edsall’s item, it is abundantly clear that he is describing shifts in the electoral terrain, not a governing policy. There is no mention of any specific policy changes in the piece. Rather it is all about what states and demographics the Obama campaign will target.
Nonetheless, conservative pundits—who are either incapable of distinguishing between politics and policy or who choose not to when it suits their agenda—have rushed to claim that Obama is abandoning the interests of the white working class. They do not cite an iota of evidence for this assertion, because none exists.
The most egregious example, flagged on Monday by Slate’s Dave Weigel came from Fox Nation. The website’s headline for its link to Edsall’s post? “NYT: Democratic Party Operatives Plan to Abandon White Working Class.” As Weigel notes, they also inserted a photo of Obama grimacing and waving and his wife next to a headless black person with his arms folded.
As Weigel explains, “The funny thing here is that ‘abandoning’ the white working class means ‘continuing to lose voters who have been voting Republican since 1966.’ Obama isn’t switching policies in or out of a playbook because whites won’t vote for him.”
On Tuesday Weigel caught two more items repeating the false abandonment meme. Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson points to Edsall’s piece as evidence that Democrats are no longer looking out for working-class white voters. “The Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey—the party that prided itself on championing the ordinary working American—has utterly vanished,” Robinson concludes. There is, of course, no evidence to support the statement that Democrats no longer champion the interests of working-class voters. More odiously, Robinson conflates whites without a college degree with “the ordinary working American.” Is that because African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos are not “ordinary Americans”? Or is it because Robinson thinks they don’t work for a living?
It’s worth noting that the Democratic Party’s commitment to social insurance and equality applies equally to whites and non-whites. Rich non-whites would go back to paying their Clinton-era tax rates under Obama’s plan. Poor whites receive Medicaid and food stamps. Everyone receives Social Security and Medicare when they turn 65. Indeed, whites living below the poverty line remain more Democratic than middle-class whites, and for good reason. Middle-class whites have plenty of reasons to vote Democratic too, but Republicans have successfully capitalized on their cultural resentments.