How not to speak to The Others: In this post, Kevin Drum gets peevish (his term) with young liberal writer Sean McElwee.
First, a bit of background. If we have the right McElwee (and we think we do), he’s in his second year out of college. It looks like he started as a libertarian in his teen years, then became a liberal.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Not yet! Give us time!
Drum got peevish about this piece at the American Prospect. McElwee wants to build a political movement around the environment.
That would be a good thing to do. Toward that end, McElwee starts like this:
MCELWEE (3/10/14): For decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics. Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this strategy. It needs to fundamentally re-align Americans around an issue with a deep and latent importance: the environment.Presumably, he means the white working class.
Drum is peevish for two reasons, peckish even. First, he says the working class often votes against its own economic interests for a fairly sensible reason. It’s because the Democratic Party has done nothing much for them.
After that, he explains that it would be extremely hard to build a political movement around the environment.
We strongly agree with the second point, not so much with the first. But here’s another possible reason why white working class voters don’t vote for Democrats as much as liberals might prefer:
Right there in his opening paragraph, McElwee starts by R-bombing the voters in question. After that, he imagines building a movement in which those same people come around to his views about the environment.
Can you see why that might not work?
You really can’t build a political movement by holding potential voters in contempt—by thinking of them in the most negative way possible.
Yesterday, we mentioned how hard it can be for the liberal world to spread information across tribal lines. McElwee’s piece helps us see one possible source of this problem.
How does a person speak to The Others? Perhaps by training himself not to think that The Others are bad, extremely bad, nowhere near as lofty and fine as he is.
Can young liberals sidestep this inclination? We recommend Dr. King’s early portrait of the Montgomery city commissioners, in which he pities these men for the way they were raised.