The Boston Phoenix
July 27 - August 3, 2000


Virtual Dems, continued

by Seth Gitell

With both major political parties dominated by big money and taking a pro-business tack, candidates seem to have forgotten what was once a staple of American politics -- playing to the white working class.

Now comes a writing team whose goal is to rekindle interest in that group of voters. Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and Joel Rogers, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, have just published America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters (Basic Books). In a book that has received its share of attention -- the cover of the Atlantic Monthly and praise from such conservative critics as Christopher Caldwell of the Weekly Standard -- the authors trace the importance of the white working class in electoral politics, but then demonstrate how both major political parties are currently shutting this constituency out of the system.

"If one were to believe the bulk of news stories, the typical American voters these days are affluent white mothers (in 1996 they were called `soccer moms') and fathers, living in the suburbs and probably involved in the information economy (as `wired workers')," they write.

For all the talk about the "white working class," the authors hope to encourage cross-racial economic alliances. Teixeira, for example, believes that Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy could speak to a working-class constituency that includes both white and black voters. "I think there are at least some early indications that [Nader] could pick up some support from this group," he said in an interview with the Phoenix. "Whether it goes beyond self-identified liberals is not clear to me."

Teixeira says he is encouraged by the fact that Steve Cobble, who favors class-based coalitions across racial lines, is working with Nader. Cobble, an informal Nader adviser and former Jesse Jackson strategist, is among those who studied the book in manuscript form. "I think there is a certain wind of change that rustles your hair that suggests we're in a transitional period right now," Teixeira says.

If this is a time of transition, the Republicans' "double oil tycoon" ticket of Bush and Cheney doesn't exactly represent a step forward into the new age. But perhaps someone or something else will emerge to speak to America's forgotten majority.

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Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]

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