Material benefits trumped FDR's terrible civil rights records
I'm only selecting two examples, but I see an emerging pattern:
"The New Deal was Good
On its face it seems like we should believe Mitchell and his constituents about this...FDR’s record on civil rights was not good...But African-Americans voted for him because they liked his economic agenda."
"Many more Hispanic voters say education as a very important issue to them than say that immigration is."
Why is it that (white?) liberals are apparently misreading the priorities of the people of color they are trying to champion? My guess is that white liberals of a certain age have grown up with the message that they are failing to be good allies to POCs, and that they need to "use their privilege" to be outspokenly anti-racist. But are they instead talking over the very people they are trying to speak up for?
How popular is "Defund the police" as a rallying cry among Black Americans compared to white, liberal Americans? I'm open to being wrong here, but I suspect that this slogan, even if it didn't necessarily originate among white liberals, only gained traction because it gave white liberals a chance to show that they weren't afraid of putting their own privilege aside (i.e. a generally positive relationship with the police in their communities), in order to vocally oppose injustice against Black and other POCs. But despite the enthusiasm some prominent Black intellectuals may have for defunding the police, it seems now that is was a misreading of Black priorities with respect to police reform.
When it comes to the legacy of FDR and the New Deal, I think white liberals, in their effort not to romanticize a past steeped in racism, have overstepped the mark and inadvertently misrepresent the concerns of Black Americans of that era.
Does this also suggest a way forward for Democrats trying to stop losing rural and non-college educated voters of all races, regardless of culture wars?
I really like this post and am pretty impressed by how much history you're bringin in, Matt. It's excellent!
Isn't this another case of the American political need to appeal to activists to win primaries and then hold your most ardent supporters?
It's the folks who are facing primary pressure, including presidential candidates, and even then I don't think it's as much to directly appeal to minority groups so much as it's a fight for the for the endorsement of various activist groups.
Given that basically every cabinet article has a major emphasis on the race/sex of all the candidates and their stance on racial issues it seems like we're quite far away from your goal.
It seems like FDR employed a strategy I've heard you argue for before Matt: frame racial issues in more universal values to gain popular support. Like he ended the sharecropping system under the guise of preparing America for war in WWII. The new deal never explicitly targeted African Americans, but helped them implicitly as a way to get America out of the Great Depression. Not to say there weren't a lot of areas that could have been improved, but it seems like he was clearly in a political bind where racial equality issues were going to alienate major portions of his constituency, so he verbally made nods to white southerners which gave him the room to maneuver for better outcomes for African Americans he would never have been able to help if he were more explicit. It's a flip from the current way Democrats do this: talk about everything as a racial justice issue, when those same policies would also benefit the country at large.
I expect we'll later get a post from Matt discussing income inequality. Matt's main point is that African-Americans benefited from the New Deal based on their prior economic position. "When Affirmative Action was White" focuses more on relative gains vs. absolute gains.
***...Trump’s association with generic improved material conditions outweighed both his often-racist behavior and Democrats greatly increased emphasis on centering anti-racism in politics.***
Relatedly, there may be evidence that Trump's positioning of himself as the anti-lockdown candidate (who was fighting Democrats in order return the economy to health) helped his candidacy.
This was a good post, but it's leaving an important element of geography out of the analysis. There is never just one homogenous Black (or anything else) voting community. Black Americans in the '30s are disproportionately in rural agricultural communities in the South, whereas the Black communities in the North are in the urban working class, i.e. industry and service jobs. FDR's New Deal policies tended to provide significantly more benefit to the latter group, which joined the New Deal FDR coalition. The former group, by contrast, gets cut out of a lot of policy (like the exemptions for agricultural workers in the entitlement policies) that is either opposed by or unappealing to the Dixiecrats, whose voting power is partly based on having disfranchised Black voters and, to a lesser but significant degree, working-class Whites.
This is great history and I learned a lot, but I'm not sure I get the relevance. FDR had a huge majority and did a lot for the country which to some extent also benefited Blacks. Obama had a huge majority (made narrower by keeping the filibuster) and did a lot for the country which to some extent also benefited Blacks (e.g., ACA).
Biden will have at best a 50/50 Senate and is not likely to be able to get much passed, certainly not on the scale of Obama or needless to say FDR. So are we just talking about how he talks about issues? Or trying to reframe debates more toward class than ethnicity? Sure, fine, but I don't think that will mean much to the body politic.
The question is how you get to governing majorities without being able to run on a very successful record so you can help people. The country is deeply split, with a slight bias toward Republicans (i.e., Dems have a slight advantage for President, the R's for the Senate, and probably 50/50 with regard to the House). That's just a recipe for paralysis. Not sure what the relevance of FDR or, frankly, Obama is for that situation.
I don't know how to change this dynamic. E.g., Biden was a perfectly-built Democratic candidate to win back those historic Democratic strongholds in, say, smaller cities in Pennsylvania (like Scranton!) which in 2016 for the first time broke solidly R with Trump running. And he did *barely* better than Hillary. If Scranton Joe can't win back Scranton for the Dems, it's not likely to happen. And without that kind of change, I suspect we'll be looking at 50/50 government for a long time.
the fundamental problem with this narrative is that while Harding and Coolidge were good on civil rights, Hoover was a massive and monumental reversal. It was Herbert Hoover that *really* started the racial realignment of the parties.
He heavily backed the Lily White movement, which was a concerted effort to break the power of Black people in the Democratic Party. Unlike both his GOP predecessors, he refused to advocate for civil rights. He even nominated a hardcore segregationist to SCOTUS.
So it wasn't a matter where Black voters abandoned a racially tolerant party for "material interests" (and holy shit, how is anti-racism NOT a material interest of Black people?), it was a matter where Black voters abandoned a party that was getting more racist, for a party that was getting less racist.
The problem with the emphasis of Democrats rhetorical emphasis on "identity" issues is in
framing them (or allowing Republicans to frame them as zero sum. Status is zero sum but freer trade, more immigration (especially high skilled immigration), allowing transgender people to serve in the military, reducing racial, ethnic, religious biases, better access to health insurance materially favors (almost) everyone, not just the the immediate beneficiaries. And to the extent that some boat don't rise with the tide, that's what progressive taxation, especially targeted progressivity like a much higher EITC and Child Tax Credit, is for.
All this good policy discussion and I'm hung up on how ordinary Matts apartment/house/condo looked in the video discussion. Tastefully decorated and neat though.
I wasn't ever aware that Dems had an issue with FDR. Maybe I'm too much of a pragmatist. I have never understood the need to judge historical figures with modern social woke standards.
Matts point about how Latin/Hispanic specialists over emphasize immigration as an issue. Having lived with/worked with Hispanic Americans all my life, I'm always dumbfounded by the issue.
I assumed it was because east coast elites just weren't around Hispanics in any large numbers like those of us from California and the South West. Even my undocumented friends (wife is in Restaurant industry) aren't as concerned about immigration policies as much as my upper middle class progressive brothers and sisters.
The difference between what is a hot topic on social media (usually driven by vocal minority activists) and what is important among real working middle class people is astounding.
This is one area where I think Republicans have an advantage over Democrats.
For instance... Republicans hot issue right now (mandates, opening businesses, Covid stuff)... lots of people care about in daily life.
Whereas things like Student Loan Forgiveness and defunding police just aren't important to most peoples daily lives.
I really am curious as to what will happen if the Democrats win the two Georgia seats. I imagine it could actually hurt the Democrats in a small way. They can paper over internal policy differences when they have the Republican Senate to blame, but if they have a path through the Senate, the moderate vs progressive disagreements really will be magnified.
All I know is sending money to people is always a winning strategy.
Also... the weed episode with Karl Smith is great. First time Ive listed to the weeds podcast.
The point about leftists' view of FDR is also true about Lula. I came of age in Brazil in the Lula years, and I clearly remember that "true" leftists despised the guy as a sellout to neoliberalism and corrupt. That's why I think it's hilarious when today I see progressives both in Brazil and the US idolizing the guy.
Come on Matt, we can't compare Japanese internment camps to what Obama did to Yemen. The human rights violations are not of the same order of magnitude.
On the global stage, FDR was unambiguously a good guy and helped save the world from the Axis. Obama, on the other hand, was bad! And now we have to listen to him complain about how "the system" coerced him into drone striking shepherds.
For anyone looking for additional discussion of the New Deal and related issues around race/class/inequality: https://catalyst-journal.com/vol1/no4/between-obama-and-coates
It seems pretty significant here that Democrats will be unable to deliver meaningful material support unless they win control of the Senate. After all, Trump seems to have received credit for economic policies (stimulus checks/enhanced unemployment) that Democrats advocated.