Last Thursday night, Barack Obama again bet on the polychromatic poor as the Democratic Party’s salvation. Despite his party’s drubbing in the congressional midterms at the hands of white working-class voters, the President has thrown caution to the wind and granted amnesty to 5 million illegal aliens. Like a child who is losing at checkers, Obama turned the board over, and essentially told Congress, “Too bad, it’s my game and my house.” Whether the country or the courts buy into his imperial tantrum remains to be seen.
Obama’s conceit that he is more uniter than divider and there’s no blue or red America now lies in tatters. Rather, what Obama has made abundantly clear is that as long as he is president, the expansion of welfare in the name of equality and diversity will remain the Democrats’ touchstones. And what Congress or a majority of Americans think doesn’t really matter.
Once upon a time Bill Clinton and a bipartisan congressional majority ended welfare as we once knew it. But that was only then. Obama has since brought welfare roaring back.
On his watch, Obamacare became the law of the land, with government-driven health insurance a codified right. But things don’t stop with Obamacare. Along with Obamacare, Medicaid has been expanded by design, and food stamps have grown to record levels.
Tellingly, but not coincidentally, the greatest expansion of Medicaid has occurred in Deep Blue America. New York and California are Medicaid Meccas. More than 30 percent of New Yorkers receive Medicaid, as do more than a quarter of Californians. New York and Los Angeles may be pocked by segregation and income stratification, but they can brag of their taxpayers’ generosity.
On Friday, the stock market hit new highs—even as wages were stagnating. While the President was trumpeting amnesty, The New York Times reported on how manufacturing jobs were paying less and less. According to The Times, most jobs now pay less than $20 per hour, i.e., less than $40,000 annually. Obama once talked about how illegal immigration hurts America’s legal workers. But that was so yesterday, much like his contention that he lacked the power to unilaterally confer amnesty. As Politfact notes, in 2010, Obama declared, “I’m president, I’m not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.” And in 2013 he added, “I’m not the emperor of the United States.”
So, as the Democrats head toward 2016, one open question is whether they can recalibrate their message to working voters, and whether they even care to do so. Based on the midterms, they are at risk if they don’t.
In the Colorado Senate race, white voters without college degrees went Republican by 27 points, and sent incumbent Mark Udall packing. Iowa told a similar story, where working-class voters gave Republican Joni Ernst a 15 percent edge. And in case the Democrats haven’t noticed, neither state was part of the Confederacy. White working class distrust of the Democratic Party has gone nationwide.
True, the Republicans’ win earlier this month does not necessarily foreshadow Democratic defeat in 2016. In 1994 and in 2010 the GOP turned in strong midterm performances, and then saw Clinton and Obama win reelection. But 2016 is going to be a fight over an open seat, and in the last half-century only George H.W. Bush in 1988 managed to win a third term for his party. Oh, and Obama is no Reagan. On November 7, 2016 Americans won’t be pining for a third Obama term.
At the moment, the Democrats are acting as though Election Day never happened. Congressional Democrats kept their respective leadership teams in place. The septuagenarian duo of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will be able to keep their chauffer-driven, taxpayer-funded limos. Over in the Senate, the Democrats blocked a vote on Keystone XL, placing the demands of the party’s donor base gentry over the needs of working Americans.
From the looks of it, the Democrats have yet to take the midterms message seriously—that working and middle-income Americans are disgruntled by the fusion of identity politics and welfare at the expense of all else. Indeed, the Republican triumph may be part of a larger trend. Just last Thursday England’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won a parliamentary election in the south of England, much to the dismay of the established parties. UKIP’s embrace of Queen and Country found a welcome home among England’s working- and middle-class voters.
Ironically, England’s losing Conservative Party had received coaching from Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, who is likely to be part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 War Room. But then again, elites of all stripes have a problem with working- and middle-class voters who dare to flex their political muscles.
To top off the Democrats’ headaches, 2016 frontrunner Hillary Clinton may be getting a primary challenge from Jim Webb, an ex-Marine who served one term as Democratic Senator from Virginia, and as President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy. In his letter announcing the formation of his presidential exploratory committee, the Scots-Irish Webb alluded to the spirit of welfarism that has overtaken the party of FDR: “The Democratic Party used to be the place where people like these could come not for a handout but for an honest handshake… .” Note the words “used to be,” and “not for a handout.”
There’s definitely time for the Democrats to recover, but it is unclear that the party has the will to do so. If the Democrats’ Downton Abbey wing continues to set the party’s agenda as it appears still does, 2016 will be anything but a cakewalk for Clinton Inc. As Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg wrote of the working class—what was once the backbone of the New Deal coalition—the “bad news” is that the “Dems can’t govern without them.”