Democrats need to be the factory party again, not the faculty room

Paul Begala, best known as an adviser to Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, recently made waves when he told late-night show host Bill Maher: “The Democrats have gone from the factory party to the staff room party. He joked that the Democrats had two secret labs, “One in Berkeley and one in Brooklyn, where we come up with ideas to completely piss off the working class.” He added: “It works wonderfully.”

Unfortunately, I agree. I represented Illinois’ 3rd District for 16 years in the House of Representatives until I was defeated in a 2020 Democratic primary election, which reflected party change. Although I was a former college professor, my base of support came from factory workers, unions, and other working-class and middle-class voters in my district of Chicagoland. My opponent was backed by the New Progressives: affluent, highly educated suburban voters focused on the issues I heard in faculty lounges, not union halls. If these voices take over and push back the common-sense men and women who built the Democratic Party, it could be electorally disastrous.

To jokingly illustrate how some of his party’s policy proposals are alienating middle-class voters, Begala said that when he recently hung out with members of the Machinists’ Union in Chicago, none of them told him. said, “I really hope you’ll take my tax money to pay off someone’s debt that went to Stanford. I’ve probably spoken to some of those same union members as well as countless others like them. Although the Democratic Party has long been known as the party of “working families,” many complain directly that the party often seems to no longer care about their jobs, their families, and their communities. They still talk about Clinton’s bad trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, as well as the granting of permanent normal trade relations to communist China. Unfortunately, former President Barack Obama continued on this same path with the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 countries, mostly in Southeast Asia, despite being blocked by members of Congress. They saw it as proof that the party was choosing the investor class over the workers.

These voters not only feel alienated by particular economic concerns, but also by a variety of cultural concerns, saying the party seems to have been taken over by the more radical voices in the faculty room. We saw it in the Virginia gubernatorial race last year.

But the area where change within the Democratic Party is best documented is in abortion. While the party has always supported Roe vs. Wade, he was once much more tolerant of other points of view. This was reflected in the 1976 Democratic Party platform, which said, “We fully recognize the religious and ethical nature of the concerns that many Americans have about abortion. That left room for Democratic President Jimmy Carter, who opposed abortion and favored federal restrictions, as well as the 45% of Democrats in the House who represented Southern Catholics and Evangelicals and who voted to support the Hyde Amendment, which banned federal funding for abortion when it was first passed in 1976. Many of these Catholic Democrats were unionized.

Although the party began to take a tougher stance on abortion in the 1990s, it was tempered by the use of Clinton’s slogan that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”. The 1996 platform also explicitly stated that “the Democratic Party is a party of inclusion” and “we respect the individual conscience of every American on this difficult issue, and we invite all of our members to participate at all levels of our party”. In 2000, the party even took credit for a drop in the abortion rate.

But the Democratic Party changed in the 2000s. In 2004, the language of “inclusion” was eliminated from the platform, and in 2008 the claim that abortion should be “rare” was dropped. In 2009, 64 House Democrats voted to add the Hyde Amendment restrictions to Obamacare, but after the final bill passed without that provision and many of those Democrats lost in 2010, the party seemed to lose interest in including anyone who disagreed with the more extreme abortion position.

In 2016, the Democratic Platform called for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment when it was
by 62% of the public, including 44% Democrats. In 2020, abortion rights groups made the elimination of the Hyde Amendment a litmus test for presidential candidates, and all running Democrats complied — even Joe Biden, who has thus relinquished a position he had held for nearly 45 years.

At the convention, the group Democrats for Life tried to change the platform to add “party of inclusion” language and eliminate support for late-term abortion after 20 weeks, which it said , opposed by a majority in 389 of 435 congressional districts. . But those requests for some “big tent” space for the vast number of Democrats who don’t support an extreme pro-abortion stance have been denied.

As polls show more working-class and middle-class voters turning against the Democratic Party, alarm bells are ringing. The decline in Hispanic support is particularly troubling given that the growing strength of that bloc’s votes was expected to provide the party with an “emerging majority.” Until recently, Democrats were propped up by the Republican Party’s lack of interest in supporting workers. But it seems that could to be changing.

So what should Democrats do? The first step party leaders should take is to start listening to common-sense voters like those in union halls, and then they need to demonstrate that their policy priorities aren’t being drowned out by the more radical voices in the professors’ lounges. That is, they should take Begala’s advice and stop embracing ideas that “unnerve the working class.”

Daniel Lipinski served as the Democratic House Representative for Illinois’ 3rd District from 2005 to 2021.