This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
In 1991, at age 17, I fled Bucks County, an overwhelmingly white, working-class region in southeast Pennsylvania where I grew up. I left because the life of the working class was brutal and I wanted no part of it. I cringed at the racism and xenophobia that seemed to rise out of the anxieties of precarious labor. I desperately hoped there was some alternative to coming home each day looking as battered as did so many grown-ups I would catch staring blankly into TV screens or half-empty glasses of beer.
My father was laid off twice in the 1980s, two recessions ago, first from his job at a mustard factory, which packed up and moved south, and later from a company that produced tractor-trailer doors and side-view mirrors. I’ve only seen him cry twice. The first time was during his brother’s funeral; Uncle Jim was killed in a drunk-driving accident. The next time was when he and I had an argument about my skipping a night of work at my first dishwashing job. He demanded I go; I spit back that at least I had a job–cruel words from a 14-year-old with a Mohawk. Recently, the tip of one of his fingers was shorn clear off while working with a shrink-wrap machine with defective safety gear. He didn’t push the issue with the employee compensation folks, though, for fear of creating problems.
My mom has worked in the same factory for more than thirty years. Along with about a hundred others, some immigrants from Southeast Asia, she makes small motors that can be used in dialysis machines, rotating advertising signs or those amusement park games where you maneuver a metal claw hoping to extricate a small fuzzy animal. I’m amazed this type of production still exists in the United States. So is she, especially since a holding company took over from the original family owners and, in turn, sold the firm to a tight-fisted corporation that’s been cutting corners–and jobs.
Statistics tell us that Bucks County–one of those places Nixon’s “Southern strategy” hit hard when, under Ronald Reagan, it moved north in the 1980s–has been undergoing a political sea change. The pressure of the Obama campaign and its well-organized “ground game,” as well as the global economic meltdown and diminished support for the war in Iraq have all had their effect.
For the first time since the 1960s, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county. Since April the Democratic Party has outpaced Republicans in registering voters by a margin of almost two to one. In fact–and this should stun anyone–the total number of new voters who choose “Independent,” “no affiliation,” “the Green Party” or other even smaller third-party options surpassed Republican Party registration in those months. Think of that as just one more small indication of the utter bankruptcy of the Bush years and, of course, of the Grand Old Party.