In a bizarre turn of events, it has now become a source of controversy within the Democratic Party to advocate for using a message of economic populism to reach out to the white working class. Some argue that doing so must necessarily involve retreating from strong progressive positions on racial, gender, and LGBT equality (an odd claim, since the champions of these causes throughout American history have been almost uniformly economic progressives). Still others worry that the purity of the Democratic Party’s essence will be tainted if too many white people are included in the Democratic coalition, leading to reduced influence by people of color. This segment of the party has become quite a bit smaller, but as a result louder, since it became clear that we cannot take demographically-induced victory as a given. Yet others claim (despite the example of Barack Obama) that no inroads can be made into the white working class beyond Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance without relying on racist, sexist, and nativist appeals.
What I find strange about these claim is that the people making them are mainly devoted Hillary Clinton supporters who had not a single bad word to say about her efforts throughout the campaign to court white Republican voters. With the negative ads about Trump’s treatment of women, she cast her net widely, aiming to flip conservative women as well as liberal. The weeks she spent hyping her endorsements by such Republican deplorables as foreign policy neocons and corporate titans were aimed at a white, Republican-friendly, wealthy demographic.
So here’s the rule: if you can’t show me your record of denouncing that outreach to actual Republicans as an unacceptable dismissal of the interests of workers and people overseas and other common Republican targets; and if you can’t show me your insistence that we dare not risk having our pure wine watered by the presence of those voters, then I don’t want to hear your argument about why an actually-progressive outreach strategy like a message of left-populism is a betrayal.
If you only start howling about outreach across the aisle when it targets people down the income scale, but were comfortable with much more conservative appeals aimed at a wealthier, no less white demographic, I am going to conclude that your problem is with economic progressivism itself. Because it sure isn’t outreach to white swing-voters per se.