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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 1/21/16

Who Lost the White Working Class?

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Reprinted from Robert Reich Blog

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey -- little difference
Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey -- little difference
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Why did the white working class abandon the Democrats?

The conventional answer is Republicans skillfully played the race card.

In the wake of the Civil Rights Act, segregationists like Alabama Governor George C. Wallace led southern whites out of the Democratic Party.

Later, Republicans charged Democrats with coddling black "welfare queens," being soft on black crime ("Willie Horton"), and trying to give jobs to less-qualified blacks over more-qualified whites (the battle over affirmative action).

The bigotry now spewing forth from Donald Trump and several of his Republican rivals is an extension of this old race card, now applied to Mexicans and Muslims -- with much the same effect on the white working class voters, who don't trust Democrats to be as "tough."

All true, but this isn't the whole story. Democrats also abandoned the white working class.

Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and in that time scored some important victories for working families -- the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.

But they've done nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that has rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top, and undermined the working class. In some respects, Democrats have been complicit in it.

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements, for example, without providing the millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

They also stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. Clinton and Obama failed to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated them, or enable workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down votes.

I was there. In 1992, Bill Clinton promised such reform but once elected didn't want to spend political capital on it. In 2008, Barack Obama made the same promise (remember the Employee Free Choice Act?) but never acted on it.

Partly as a result, union membership sunk from 22 percent of all workers when Bill Clinton was elected president to fewer than 12 percent today, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy's gains.

In addition, the Obama administration protected Wall Street from the consequences of the Street's gambling addiction through a giant taxpayer-funded bailout, but let millions of underwater homeowners drown.

Both Clinton and Obama also allowed antitrust enforcement to ossify -- with the result that large corporations have grown far larger, and major industries more concentrated.

Finally, they turned their backs on campaign finance reform. In 2008, Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general-election campaigns. And he never followed up on his reelection campaign promise to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning "Citizens United v. FEC," the 2010 Supreme Court opinion opening the floodgates to big money in politics.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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