Monday, November 23, 2015

Alec MacGillis has a piece in the New York Times about why the poor seem to vote Republican.

This is a nice analysis. But it's critically flawed in places. First of all, the very poor have RARELY voted in American history -- contrary to what MacGillis says. While he's correct in pointing out the role that labor unions once played in helping improve turnout, he misses the fact that labor union members were middle-class and working-class -- NOT the very poor that MacGillis is analyzing. Only during the great days of the political machines like Tammany Hall in New York City or the Pendergast Machine in Kansas City or the Byrd Organization in Virginia did the very poor turn out in huge numbers. Today, the work of those political machines would be called bribery -- rewards for voting. Who wants that?

Second, MacGillis trots out the tired old bugbear of "fraud, waste, and abuse". He seems to be arguing that F-W-A is so rampant that it's driving the disaffection among the working poor. The problem is that F-W-A is minimal to begin with, so it cannot be the driver MacGillis assumes. (Yes, he assumes. He provides no analysis or facts to support his claim that F-W-A is a factor.) MacGillis himself points out that F-W-A is already incredibly rare. So trying to root it out even more is a fairly useless idea.

Third, MacGillis trots out the over-beaten dead horse about "workfare". Workfare was the darling of conservative Democrats like Bill Clinton in the 1980s and 1990s. The idea was that welfare and the dole actually create dependency among the very poor. Make the poor work for their money -- by volunteering their time at nonprofits, or helping with cleaning up city parks, or whatever -- and you'd break the cycle of dependency. Workfare, however, failed miserably. Few jobs existed for welfare recipients, and most recipients had immense problems that meant they could not participate in workfare (e.g., physical or addiction problems, lack of job skills, dependent young children, etc.).

I just don't think MacGillis understands the real dynamic at work here: Working-poor voters have been the focus of the GOP myth-makers. They're told that "anyone can make it rich in America!" -- when, in fact, the economic system is rigged against mobility. They're told that "the poor and blacks" are holding back the American Dream -- when, in fact, it's income inequality and racism that's doing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment