Working class white men were a linchpin of the Democratic Party coalition through the middle years of the last century. The 30 years following World War II were shaped by substantial economic growth and shared prosperity. Middle and lower income Americans were seeing their wealth grow at similar rates to those of the top 1%.
The working class was given an equal shot at pursuing the American Dream – and they took it.
About 40 years ago, that worker/Democratic Party tie started to shift. It was a complex change that was the result of several things. The first shot came in 1971 when, just two months before President Nixon would appoint him to the United States Supreme Court, Lewis Powell laid out a plan of collusion between corporations and the US Chamber of Commerce – all at the expense of the worker. Tragically, not only did America let that attack happen, but Powell then assumed one of the highest levels of power in the nation.
Next, the Roe vs Wade decision in 1973 effectively severed the alliance between the Catholic Church and blue collar men and women. Catholics had been partners in the creation of the New Deal with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and reached a peak in party affiliation in 1960 when 80% of their votes went to John F. Kennedy. After that election, due to shifting populations and new influences, the voting bloc began to break up. But it was the controversial Supreme Court case that catalyzed this break up of Catholic voting coherence.
Unions, the face of the American working class, began to weaken at the same time as the launching of Powell’s memo. In the first decade of this century, big business outspent unions 50 to 1 on political lobbying. And these blows came without the protection once granted by party affiliation.
Attacks on the American worker became part of the national narrative at the same time that the Democratic party was fashioning new priorities. They made the right decision to reach out to new constituents – women and minorities – but failed to bring along its time ally, working Americans.
Patriotic Millionaire Fred Rotondaro has had a varied career that includes journalism, teaching, anti-poverty and civil rights work, and national association management. He was a senior fellow from 2003 to 2015 at the Center for American Progress where he concentrated on poverty and inequality. He has written extensively for academic and popular publications. He holds a PhD in American Studies from New York University, an honorary doctorate from Wheeling College, and is currently Chair of the Board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.