Today’s installment of our continuing series, People With Whom I Empathize But Do Not Understand, comes to us from the small town of Mexico, in Maine, courtesy of The Portland Press-Herald. …
Leo Grassette gave 41 years to the Rumford mill. He’s 80 now and still works part time at the Mexico Trading Post. He doesn’t have a career to worry about. If the mill closes and takes with it all the jobs, it won’t affect him. His pension is safe. But Grassette and his wife of 57 years have children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. In the 15 presidential elections held since he began voting, Grassette had never voted for a Republican. That changed last week. Like many, he felt Clinton was dishonest but it was more than that. She talked more about why Trump was bad than about why she was good. “Democrats used to be for the working class,” Grassette said. “I don’t feel that anymore.”
There is one party that wants to privatize Leo’s Social Security and one that does not. There is one party that wants to hand him a worthless voucher and call it Medicare and one that does not. There is one party that at least tepidly supports organized labor through which Leo got his pension, and there is one party that does not. There is one party that wants to keep Leo’s pension out of the hands of hedge fund cowboys and Wall Street thieves, and one that wants to hijack Leo’s pension into the casino economy.
How, I wonder, are the Democrats no longer “for the working class,” and why doesn’t Leo feel that anymore?
Because most non-college-educated voters don’t know that Republicans plan to privatize Social Security. Most don’t know that Republicans want to privatize Medicare. Most don’t understand what how the loss of organized labor has hurt all working people.
And that’s because nobody bleeping tells them.
Indeed, if you were to walk up to a standard red state voter and tell him that Republicans are planning to gut Medicare and Social Security, they probably wouldn’t believe you. Republicans like to tell voters that they are the ones who are going to protect Social Security and Medicare from those goofy liberals. However, somehow, they’ve got it in their heads that the Democrats are the party in thrall to Wall Street and the Republicans aren’t. Having Hillary Clinton as the party’s standard bearer didn’t exactly correct that misunderstanding.
For at least 30 years the U.S. has needed an ideologically progressive, left-wing party to counter the Republicans, which have become an ideologically conservative, right-wing party. We’ve needed a party that would champion progressive economic populism and working people, and which would get blue-collar folks enthusiastic about progressive policy proposals instead of allowing right-wing hegemony to go unchallenged in all but urban and liberal coastal circles. We also needed a party that appreciated how much our younger people are being exploited instead of encouraged by the system.
And we needed a party that knows how to take the fight to the Right. We need a party that won’t negotiate with itself out of fear of what the Right will do. That approach doesn’t work.
Maybe now, if we can move the centrist/neoliberal/Clintonite/DLC crew out of the way, we’ve got a chance at building that party.