Why Whites May Still Help Obama Forge an Enduring Democratic Majority

Bill Scher

Over at Real Clear Politics, I responded to the John Judis essay in National Journal, in which he argues that there is an “Emerging Republican Advantage” that could give the GOP total control of Washington in 2016.

While some have argued that demographic changes will usher in an “enduring Democratic majority,” Judis contends that any gains with people of color voters will be undercut by white workers who – despite the economic populism of the blue-collar and the social liberalism of the office-dwelling – have viewed President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act and Recovery Act as too redistributive, an “expansion of government at their expense.”

I take Judis’ point that these groups have had a long-standing suspicion of government, and that they haven’t been bowled over by Obama’s record to date. But perceptions can change.

Demographics alone were never going to create a generational partisan and ideological recalibration of the country. Performance matters. Republicans discredited themselves under Bush, and have yet to prove they’ve learned any lessons from the debacle. Obama was given the opportunity to show Democrats deserve to be trusted by cleaning up the Republican mess and getting the nation back on track. The question for the public is if Obama passed the test, or should both parties be rendered disappointments.

Judis argues that Obama won’t receive the kind of credit for saving the economy from crisis that Franklin D. Roosevelt earned. But I as detailed at RCP, at this point in FDR’s term, a backlash led to a horrible midterm election that gave a bipartisan conservative majority control of Congress.

Knee-jerk punditry might have presumed that FDR’s ambition to move the country leftward was a bust. But things looked very different in 1940. And Harry Truman’s 1948 victory proved that support for the New Deal went beyond one man.

The public won’t fully render its judgment until the Obama presidency is over. Obama still has two years left, and the economic performance of those two years will greatly impact public perception.

Will white workers still hate the stimulus if the economic recovery it helped spur begins to raise wages, as happened last month? Will they still hate Obamacare if it wins the fight against health cost inflation? As Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald notes, “Health care costs, which for decades were subject to near-crippling inflation, are growing at the slowest rate since 1960. Between March 2011 and April 2014, the Congressional budget Office’s projections for health care spending by the federal government through 2021 dropped by $900 billion. The decline is larger than any deficit reduction package advanced by Republicans in Congress.”

Of course, the campaign for the hearts and minds of white workers, and everyone else, won’t be solely fought on the basis of the past. But past credibility matters in assessing plans for the future. Whatever weaknesses may remain in the Obama record will pale in comparison to the disaster left by the Bush Republicans, a disaster for which they have never taken responsibility, explicitly or implicitly.

Enough white workers grasped that point to return Obama to the White House in 2012. Don’t be surprised if they keep doing it, so long as Republicans refuse to change.

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