A Coalition of the Ascendant

U-Cubed, the IAM’s project to organize the unemployed is one of the more interesting endeavors of the labor movement.  We felt that a recent email from U-Cubed to its supporters deserved wider circulation. Here it is.–Talking Union.

by Rick Sloan

Each of these letters ends with “In Unity – Strength” and that is the philosophy of the Union of Unemployed. So, as I read about a new and incredibly divisive strategy for winning the White House next year, I became angrier and angrier.

Issued by the Center for American Progress, The Path to 270: Demographics versus Economics in the 2012 Elections argues that President Barack Obama should build a “coalition of the ascendant” made up of minorities, Millennials, single women and college-educated whites.

If you’re not in part of that Coalition of the Ascendant, you must be “rooted in the declining sector of whites,” or so says Ray Teixeira and John Halpin, the authors of this 64-page document.

Since when do Democrats discriminate on the basis of race, age, gender and education?

When did the Democrats become the party of the fashionably and upwardly mobile? When did the party adopt a platform so openly dismissive of those forced onto the down escalator of life by hard times? Or field candidates that turned their backs on Americans mired in poverty … retired and living on Social Security … or married with children?

When, exactly, did the Democrats abandon those who decide not to go to college? Who work with their brains and brawn? Who develop their skills as apprentices and then use them as journeymen? Who wait tables, run drop presses, dig coal, weld pipes, stock groceries, paint bridges or empty bed pans?

Apparently I missed the media advisory announcing that the Democrats were striking their big tent and replacing it with an encampment of pup tents – one for each of the demographic groups chosen for the Coalition of the Ascendant.

But it would be hard to miss the divisive and un-Democratic approach taken by The Path to 270. Its exclusivity pits demographic group against demographic group. And its elitism invites traditional Democratic voters to pack up their things, go home and stay home.

For example, The Path to 270 is extremely dismissive of white working-class voters. So much so that, the eminence grise of American political reporters, Tom Edsall, opens his New York Times blog post with this observation:

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.”

The emphasis is mine. But the strategy harms all small “d” democrats. And here’s why:

Teixeira and Halpin argue that the white working class voted for McCain in 2008 by a 17 point margin, then voted for the GOP in 2010 by a 30 point margin and, therefore, have been irretrievably lost to Obama. They blithely overlook the math behind those numbers.

With a 17 percent spread, over 41 percent of the white working class voted for Obama. Take those 41 points off the board and John McCain wins in a walk! Even with a 30 point spread, 35 percent of the white working class voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2010. Shift those 35 points to the GOP and Republicans would now control the United States Senate.

Teixeira and Halpin also argue that demographics trump economics. While conceding high unemployment exists in battleground states and might make winning more problematic, their strategy overlooks the fact that jobless households – what they deem a “declining sector of whites” — also includes Blacks, Latinos, Millennials, the college educated and  single women. In fact, many in their Coalition of the Ascendant experienced far higher rates of joblessness than some in “declining sector.”

Voters from jobless households – defined as having an unemployed person living with them in the last two years – constituted 30 percent of all voters, according to 2010 exit polls. They split 50 to 46 percent nationally. So dismissing up to 40 million voters – half of whom are your voters – seems like the path to a landslide.

Frankly, as important as communities of color are to a Democratic victory, they do not have sufficient voting strength to deliver 270 electoral votes outright. And neither do the other demographic groups singled out for the Coalition of the Ascendant.

For the Coalition of the Ascendant doesn’t just exclude the jobless and the white working class. By inference, the older generations – 30 to 49, 50 to 64 and 65 plus – which Obama won by 9, 11 and 8 points respectively, are also excluded from the in-crowd. Presumably, so are white Catholics (Obama +8), white mainline Protestants (Obama – Even), Some College (Obama +10) and High School or Less (Obama +16).

By being so exclusive and elitist, The Path to 270 could produce a Mondale- or McGovern-sized landslide as the jobless and the others in the declining sector boycott the party that once was their champion.

Teixeira and Halpin must assume that “those rooted in the declining sector” – again their words, not mine – have nowhere else to go. But that is never the case. Those excluded from their Coalition of the Ascendant will always have somewhere else to go, or something else to do, on Election Day.

Here, at the Union of Unemployed, we’d hate for that to happen. In fact, our objective is to unify the jobless and get them out to vote on November 6, 2012.

For we seek an AMERICA that lifts up all of its peoples, a UNITED AMERICA that provides jobs for all who want to work and a UNITED STATES OF AMERICA that is ascendant.

That is only possible if we, as a Nation, see the inherent value of every individual contributing to America’s progress and believe in the power of an entire people pulling in a single direction.

Rick Sloan is the Executive Director of U-cubed,Ur Union of Unemployed, a community service project of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

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