Revisiting E.J. Dionne’s Insight

In his brilliant, day-after summation of the “new majority” that made up Barack Obama’s winning re-election vote, E. J. Dionne wrote this paragraph:

“It cannot be forgotten that saving General Motors and Chrysler was the most ‘interventionist’ and ‘intrusive’ economic policy Obama pursued — and it proved to be the most electorally successful of all of his decisions. The auto bailout was key to Obama’s crucial victory in Ohio, where six in 10 voters approved the rescue. Union households in the state voted strongly for the president, and he held his own among working-class whites.”

I’d like to emphasize two key points from that essay that have been mostly overlooked:

  1. Obama’s crucial Ohio win was in major part a “class” victory.
  2. Government intervention in the economy—specifically, the auto industry—not only saved good union jobs and an important industry, it created new good jobs and a better Ohio economy. This was a successful progressive public policy pursued in the face of fierce conservative opposition.

Why re-emphasize these points?

In the first case, while I totally agree that the “rising American electorate” of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, the young, and single women are the future strength of the Democratic Party, it’s critical to remember that blue-collar White votes were necessary to cross the 50% threshold.

Stan Greenberg’s estimate is that the rising American electorate now makes up close to half of the electorate (and growing). This is a happy demography for progressives, but remember—we don’t get all that vote every time; off-year turnout among these base groups still lags presidential-year turnout; and it’s not (yet?) a majority of the vote.

We still need union organizing skills, labor turnout operations, and union voters—or at least union-friendly voters—to win key Midwestern states like Ohio, Iowa & Wisconsin, and to elect great U.S. Senators like Sherrod Brown & Tammy Baldwin.

In the second case, Dionne points out that government intervention—long derided by “free enterprise” propagandists—made a positive difference in the lives of many Ohio working families. Not only that, but government intervention in the economy paid positive political dividends. “Gifts” in the always-eloquent prose of Mitt Romney.

Imagine that. Good public policy also meant good politics.

Progressive office-holders might keep that in mind.

(Learn more at www.wageclasswar.org )

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