Why Did White Workers Leave the Democratic Party? | Jacobin

Why Did White Workers Leave the Democratic Party? | Jacobin – Suddenly, however, some liberal pundits weren’t so sure about those legacies. The stubborn old socialist was looking back on the past through rose-colored lenses, they said. And hearing him champion the populist economic reforms of the good old days was enough to make them rethink the foundations of the Democratic Party’s most impressive legislative accomplishment: the New Deal. Why would elite liberals become so ambivalent about the reforms that, with one brief interruption, helped hand their favored party control of Congress for sixty years? The same set of policies they long touted as the kind of “responsible” and “pragmatic” reforms that radicals could learn from? The answer: racism. Only white supremacy, these chastened liberals argued, marshaling the work of some recent historians, made both the New Deal and the golden age of organized labor possible. Just as Scandinavian social democracy was purportedly built on a foundation of ethnic homogeneity, so too did the New Deal prosper because of racial exclusion. And when black Americans began to demand their rights, the New Deal — and organized labor — imploded as racist white workers fled the Democratic Party for Ronald Reagan. In its outlines, this story draws on a powerful left-wing critique of the New Deal — an unsparing exposure of social democracy’s contradictions that radicals from Leon Trotsky to Martin Luther King would have understood. In the hands of today’s liberal intelligentsia, however, it functions somewhat differently. For them, the arc of twentieth-century politics shows that the Democratic Party’s turn away from economic populism is not the fault of its affluent elite, but of the still-unvanquished racism of reactionary white workers.

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