October 12, 2003


Why Blue Collar Populism Works for the Republicans (Arlie Hochschild, 10/06/03, History News Network)

George W. Bush is sinking in the polls, but a few beats on the war drum could reverse that trend and re-elect him in 2004. Ironically, the sector of American society now poised to keep him in the White House is the one which stands to lose the most from virtually all of his policies -- blue-collar men. A full 49% of them and 38% percent of blue-collar women told a January 2003 Roper poll they would vote for Bush in 2004.

In fact, blue-collar workers were more pro-Bush than professionals and managers among whom only 40% of men and 32% of women, when polled, favor him; that is, people who reported to Roper such occupations as painter, furniture mover, waitress, and sewer repairman were more likely to be for our pro-big business president than people with occupations like doctor, attorney, CPA or property manager. High-school graduates and dropouts were more pro-Bush (41%) than people with graduate degrees (36%). And people with family incomes of $30,000 or less were no more opposed to Bush than those with incomes of $75,000 or more.

We should think about this. The blue-collar vote is huge. Skilled and semi-skilled manual jobs are on the decline, of course, but if we count as blue-collar those workers without a college degree, as Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers do in their book Why the White Working Class Still Matters, then blue-collar voters represent 55% of all voters. They are, the authors note, the real swing vote in America. "Their loyalties shift the most from election to election and in so doing determine the winners in American politics."

This fact has not been lost on Republican strategists who are now targeting right-leaning blue-collar men, or as they call them, "Nascar Dads." These are, reporter Liz Clarke of the Washington Post tells us, "lower or middle-class men who once voted Democratic but who now favor Republicans." Nascar Dads, commentator Bill Decker adds, are likely to be racing-car fans, live in rural areas, and have voted for Bush in 2000. Bush is giving special attention to steelworkers, autoworkers, carpenters and other building-trades workers, according to Richard Dunham and Aaron Bernstein of Business Week, and finding common cause on such issues as placing tariffs on imported steel and offering tax breaks on pensions.

We can certainly understand why Bush wants blue-collar voters. But why would a near majority of blue-collar voters still want Bush? Millionaires, billionaires for Bush, well, sure; he's their man. But why pipe fitters and cafeteria workers? Some are drawn to his pro-marriage, pro-church, pro-gun stands, but could those issues override a voter's economic self-interest?

Perhaps it's no herader to figure out than this: conservatives are trying to preserve the civilization created mostly by white Judeo-Christian men, so such men vote conservative.

-Why the Democrats Need to Embrace Blue Collar Populism (DAVID GREENBERG, History News Network)

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2003 11:29 AM

Nothing is a surer sign that an ideology is dying than the complaint of its enthusiasts that it would be winning if only it's natural supporters were smart enough to recognize their own self-interest.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 12, 2003 12:22 PM

You point to a very, very specific scenario -- a particular complaint "enthusiasts" make about a particular stance held by their "natural supporters" -- and say that "nothing is a surer sign" than this.

On what evidence do you make this assertion? Can you point to past occasions when enthusiasts complained that their natural supporters did not recognize self-interest, and the enthusiasts' ideology subsequently died?

In other words, on what basis have you so confidently concluded that "nothing is a surer sign that an ideology is dying"? I just can't imagine this kind of complaining by enthusiasts to have happened often enough to draw such a confident conclusion.

Posted by: Sam I Was at October 12, 2003 12:49 PM

Women's soccer.

Posted by: OJ at October 12, 2003 1:12 PM

Every redistributive economic and political system of the last 150 years.

Posted by: MG2 at October 12, 2003 3:05 PM

In 1984, Walter Mondale once threw a cigar across a hotel room and shouted "I just can't get at this guy!". He expected that America would rally to his cause (after all, he had been collecting endorsements for over a year), and he expected people to conclude that 'this guy' was an idiot. But even a substantial portion of labor voted for Reagan. There is your example.

For another, consider the Communists in Europe after WWI. They thought they would sweep across the continent and be loved and adored by all (except the aristocracy and upper bourgeoise). Instead, the succeeded in Russia and had footholds in France and Italy (after WWII), but that was about it. Now the dream is over. I suspect even Hobsbawm knows they lost.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 12, 2003 4:44 PM


It's called false consciousness. It is a standard portion of every failed leftist ideology for the last 100 years. See, i.e., here, here and here.

I say that it is a sign of failure because it is, in essence, a recognition that, in the ideologue's opinion, people who should support a particular program don't and that the ideologue is right while the people are wrong. By calling the people's choice "false", that choice is delegitimatized. At the same time, this phrase explains why the various strategies (reeducation camps, gulags, killing fields, cultural revolutions, etc.) used to impose a true consciousness are not, as may otherwise be thought, crimes against humanity but are, rather, enlightened programs undertaken for the people's own goods.

In other words, false consciousness only comes into play after, in the estimation of its adherents, an ideological revolution has failed.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 12, 2003 6:52 PM

So, I can presume that conservatism is a dying ideology? I see posters all the time at Free Republic bemoaning that voters in place X don't know what's good for themselves because they elected liberal senator Y. Heard that kind of thing a lot during the Clinton years too.

I sure hope not. I like conservatism.

I think a lot of "enthusiasts" blame "the people" for not understanding what's in their own best interest. The difference between you and me is that I haven't made the logical jump to seeing it as a "sign" of anything but human nature.

Posted by: Sam I Was at October 12, 2003 7:35 PM

No, the difference with conservatives is that the most far-sighted of them usually believe the worst about humanity and the future. James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers thought the West was doomed against the Soviets. People like Buckley and even George Will were pessimistic, although that changed after Reagan was elected.

Today, without a point-specific threat, conservatives don't have the same focus. Islamofascism is an accurate term, but it also describes a vague enemy. Victory is not achieved through bankrupting your opponent (or even by hemming him in politically), but only through killing him. That makes some conservatives queasy. It shouldn't. But people will always fall back into doubt.

Remember that (wise) conservatives will tell you what is good, not necessarily what is good for you. That is left for the statists.

As for enthusiasm and its consequences, just look at the Arab street. All affect and no (sensible) cause.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 12, 2003 8:24 PM


The essence of conservatism is to believe people too stupid to know what's good for them. Anyone moaning about it is bucking human nature.

Posted by: oj at October 12, 2003 9:35 PM

Electoral success makes conservatives nervous, for reasons of which Schwarzenegger is a perfect examplar.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 12, 2003 10:06 PM

But I think Sam has a point. Not all conservatives are wise or operate on a theory of flawed human nature. Not all leftists are anxious to ram their ideas down people suffering from "false consciousness", although they are generally not prepared to take on those who are. Isn't this a disease afflicting idealogues of all stripes, even if the terminology is different?

Posted by: Peter B at October 13, 2003 6:20 AM

So we can clarify Cohen's original post to read:

Nothing is a surer sign that a leftist ideology is dying than the complaint of its enthusiasts that it would be winning if only it's natural supporters were smart enough to recognize their own self-interest.

This seems to mitigate the sweeping effect a bit, don't ya think?

Posted by: Sam I Was at October 13, 2003 7:35 AM


I don't have any particular problem with limiting my comment to leftist ideologies. False consciousness is itself a leftist theory.

But false consciousness involves more than people not recognizing their own self-interest. Rather, the theory is that part of the mechanism of oppression causes the oppressed to interalize the value system of the oppresser. As a result, the proletariat votes with the capitalist, or the womyn defends the structure of the family, or the African-American serves with distinction in the armed forces.

False consciousness thus has three important components for the left. First, it excuses the constant experience on the left that those for whom they are so nobly toiling don't appreciate their efforts. Second, it elevates the activist, who is, by virtue of her innate "true consciousness", one of the natural leaders of society whose will cannot be thwarted because it is in service to history. Third, it relieves the left of the necessity of convincing society to change through argument while explaining why they can morally extinguish their emotional attachment to bourgeois concepts like democracy and individualism.

So now I would say: Adoption of false consciousness theory is a signal that a leftist ideology has failed to win through argument, and so is abandoning democracy and has decided that its enemies include most of the members of the class for whose benefit it pretends to be concerned.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 13, 2003 8:15 AM


Every conservative thinker of any heft does hold human nature to be a problem. The sole exception on the Right is the Libertarians, who are just as utopian as the Left.

Posted by: oj at October 13, 2003 8:40 AM


The same is also true for ideologies of the Right that are based on false premises--as Libertarianism--and for scientific ideologies--as Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at October 13, 2003 8:58 AM

Another characteristic of false consciousness theory is that it requires a belief that one aspect of life is, in fact, the only interest that matters. Thus, the disbelief, in the article Orrin quotes, that any other interest -- including the interest in people not flying planes into our buildings -- could rationally rival economic self-interest.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 13, 2003 10:36 AM


I'm convinced, particularly by David's point that false consciousness to a leftist stems from organic oppression rather than good, old-fashioned conservative stupidity. Thinkers aside, though, it is striking how many people calling themsleves conservatives will adopt leftist ways of arguing when it suits them.

Posted by: Peter B at October 13, 2003 6:33 PM


You would think that you capitalist running dog.

Posted by: OJ at October 13, 2003 7:20 PM

Maybe it's just I, but False Conciousness sounds an awful lot like the Stockholm Syndrome.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 13, 2003 9:27 PM