You may have seen a recent tweet wherein Bobby Kennedy, Jr. called for a New Deal coalition redux, a familiar and even romantic request sometimes heard from the remaining liberals within the Democratic party. The pleas are typically accompanied by a special invitation to that formerly celebrated cohort of working class voters who used to carry the day when RFK’s father and uncle were running the Party.
Those of us of a certain age understand the call to arms. RFK, Jr. is a traditional liberal. He fondly recalls an industrial era Democratic party that wooed blue collars, especially the hard hats who were paid by the hour and had dirt under their fingernails.
Most were “union first” (and always), first and second generation ethnic Catholics who had lived to see America’s first Catholic President. They bought into the American Dream: that their children and their children’s children would steadily climb the economic ladder, punching their ticket into the middle class along the way.
But that was then. This is now. And now is light years away from putting the old gang together again. In fact, the divide that began during the Reagan years is near complete. Bobby knows this in his head, but for political reasons has to at least make the plea.
Many books will be devoted to the whys and hows of the party’s separation from blue collar America. One hopes that at least some of the treatises will recognize that the Party left the people, not the other way around.
Indeed, the party’s bicoastal hierarchy has left American workers behind in no uncertain terms. It discarded Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of equality in exchange for equity. It rejected the once-celebrated Ellis Island narrative in favor of millions of migrants simply running roughshod over the border. It supported woke teachers’ unions and administrators in asserting their authority, and ignored parents’ authority over the most intimate details of a pre-adolescent child’s life. It required your daughter to undress in front of and compete against biological men in athletic contests. It implemented “defund the police” in our largest cities and in the process crippled emergency response times. It mandated adherence to climate science until such point that the politicized science strays from the approved green narrative wherein it is simply ignored. And it happily censors dissent (and free speech) that contains contrary opinions.
This final point bears repeating. It was Bobby Kennedy, Sr.’s aggressive dissent against LBJ and the Vietnam War that captured the imagination of a generation of young Americans. Those young people celebrated their distrust of government by protesting an unpopular war and by demanding civil rights for all.
The last thing a member of that generation would seek to do would be to censor speech — to outlaw words and phrases on campus — to collude with government agencies to chill free expression – to utilize the state to persecute those with divergent opinions.
RFK, Jr. now finds himself the target of the censorship crowd. It is he who is now dismissed by elite progressives as a dangerous racist. The irony — and idiocy — is difficult to get one’s head around.
But it’s not just the woke silliness that gives one pause. It is the realization that traditional working-class values have little in common with the secular progressivism that dominates the Democratic agenda these days. And therein lies an opportunity.
The lunch bucket crowd liked (and prospered under) America First. Many became fans of the polarizing leader from Queens. It is now up to the GOP to make them permanent members of the Party. Whether it does so will determine the winner in 2024. It’s that simple.
Bob Ehrlich is a former Governor of Maryland, Member of Congress, and State Legislator. He is the author of five books on American politics and opinion pieces that have appeared in America’s leading newspapers and periodicals. He and his wife, Kendel, can be seen and heard on their weekly podcast, “Bottom Line with Bob & Kendel Ehrlich.”
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