Those interested in preserving Medicare and Social Security should become more aware of a huge bloc of swing voters increasingly anxious about the fates of these popular entitlements: Working and middle class whites without college degrees–especially those in the aging baby boomer generation. I discuss this at some length in several sections of my book One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security and America’s Future.
Recognizing, indeed even mentioning, this huge group of voters often makes those on the political left queasy and angry, because they have voted overwhelmingly Republican, especially at the Presidential and Congressional level for many years. There is a temptation to dismiss these “downscale Republicans” as reactionary “Archie Bunkers” (remember that series?) who are racist, sexist and nativist. The popular reasoning is that non-college-educated whites have been attracted to Republicans on the bases of an increasingly right-leaning GOP’s stance on cultural issues: abortion, gun control, gay rights, prayer in schools. Thus, President Obama characterized these voters to a San Francisco fund-raising group as frustrated, bitter Americans who cling to God, guns, and harbor much dislike and fear of immigrants.
Obama’s jeer, however, hints at the very real white working class economic interests that have been badly damaged by the impact of cheap legal and illegal immigrant labor (from Silicon Valley to the fields of California and Texas) and by–another politically-correct time bomb!–by the imposition of racial and ethnic quotas in jobs, contracting and education. Racism and sexism still exists in varying degrees in American society. But “downscale” and relatively powerless whites have borne the brunt of often ham-handed affirmative action and open-borders policies engineered by “upscale” liberal and corporate elites. (Most of the court battlegrounds on hiring and promotion quotas emanate from fire and police departments where clumsily crafted and unfair policies have been imposed by officials or courts; likewise government set-aside for minority contractors almost always injure the chances of white contractors.) Indeed, so alienated are white non-college-degree voters from the Democratic Party that several newspaper reports have suggested that Presidential Obama’s presidential campaign may simply abandon efforts to attract them.
But conservative Republicans’ calls for major reforms or cutbacks of Social Security and Medicare, clearly have non-college-educated whites on edge as discussed in a recent column by one of my favorite political demographers and journalists National Journal’s Ron Brownstein. In “The Budget Wedge” (published Dec 1, updated Dec. 3) Brownstein cites data indicating that elites are far more willing to support cutbacks to Medicare and Social Security than are non-college educated whites. He writes:
“In November, another Congressional Connection Poll asked adults what possible outcome from the super-committee process most concerned them. Nearly one-third of college-educated Republicans feared a deal that would authorize too much spending; roughly a fourth were most worried that it wouldn’t sufficiently cut the deficit. Just one in five said their main concern was a deal cutting too much from Social Security and Medicare. Among Republicans without a college degree, the results were almost inverted. Nearly one-third said they were most concerned that a deal would cut too much from Social Security and Medicare. Just one in five said they were most worried it would authorize too much spending. Only one in seven feared it would not slice the deficit enough.”
This large GOP constituency could be wooed by a Democratic Party strongly committed to preserving Social Security and Medicare. But the Obama administration’s just released guidelines for reviving racial preferences in higher education and openness to what non-college-educated whites see as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants may keep these voters at bay.
The political dance between non-college-educated whites and Democrats is going to be vital to the cause of protecting Social Security and Medicare. Dems are going to have to balance competing political and policy priorities–or they may continue to alienate an important class of swing voters vital to campaigns to protect Medicare and Social Security.
Brief BioFrederick R. Lynch is Associate Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. His newest book is One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security and America’s Future (University of California Press, 2011). His previous books include The Diversity Machine (Transaction Paperbacks, 2001) and Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action (Praeger Paperbacks, 1991). He is the author of dozens of articles and book chapters ranging from “Social Theory and the Progressive Era, Theory and Society (1977) to a 2011 chapter on “Politics of Aging Boomers” in Robert Hudson’s new edition of The New Politics of Old Age Policy. A frequent panelist at professional academic conferences, he has been profiled and interviewed by most major newspapers, television networks National Public Radio, etc. Lynch received in B.A. in Sociology at the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside. His popular CMC courses include: “Inequality, Politics and Public Policy,” (Gov 113), “Organization of Health Care and Public Policy” (Gov 105) and “Juvenile Delinquency and Public Policy” (Gov 109).
One Nation Under AARP
The Diversity MachineNow available at Amazon.com
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Articles and Interviews
Op-Ed Contributor NYTimes: How AARP Can Get Its Groove Back
Examiner.com: Will the real AARP please stand up
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One Nation under AARP- Youtube Clip