Black Man Wins Back Reagan Democrats

Stan Greenberg has noted something we here in MI have been quietly smiling about since last Tuesday: Obama won Macomb County, MI by 8 points, with 53.4% of the vote. This is the county, remember, which Greenberg dubbed the home of the Reagan Democrat after Ronnie won those white, working class, previously loyal Democratic voters with 66% of the vote. Here’s how Greenberg described the phenomenon earlier this year.

In 1960, Macomb was the most Democratic suburban county in the country as John F. Kennedy won handily there, garnering 63 percent of the vote. Four years later, Lyndon Johnson increased the Democratic vote share even further, winning 75 percent of Macomb voters. But over the next 20 years, these voters turned on the Democrats, culminating with Ronald Reagan taking 66 percent of the vote in 1984.

What’s most remarkable about Obama’s win is that he outperformed Clinton in 1992, Gore, and Kerry in the county. This, among voters who, when they first turned against the Democratic Party, named race as one of the reasons.

But this is not 1985 when Macomb voters also shared a deep middle class consciousness, but focused on minorities and government aid for blacks, Welfare and above all and affirmative action as major grievances and part of the squeeze. As Greenberg noted in Middle Class Dreams, the Democratic defectors of 1985 “expressed a profound distaste for black America, a sentiment that pervaded almost everything they thought about government and politics. Blacks constituted the explanation for their vulnerability and for almost everything that had gone wrong in their lives.”

But this is a very different Macomb and these are very different times. Welfare, crime, reverse discrimination, blacks and Detroit were never mentioned in the discussion of why the country and state are off track, except for some asides about Detroit’s pathetic mayor. That was not what they were angry about or felt had much impact on their lives. Sometimes it is as important to pay attention to what is not said, as to what is.

When we give Macomb voters a choice to explain the current plight of the middle class, over half focus their resentment on global trade, CEOs who “care more about their companies than their country,” and politicians who “support trade agreements backed by corporate special interests,” while fewer than 30 percent focus on “affirmative action for minorities who don’t take responsibility for their lives” and illegal immigrants “getting free government benefits.” They have a clear theory on who is responsible and blacks and other minorities are barely in the line of fire.

How refreshing to see that CEOs are now the scapegoat for economic malaise rather than undocumented workers or African-Americans.

Now, Greenberg has declared that he’s over his fascination with Macomb–that it has become too ordinary–and has turned his focus to Oakland County next door to track that much wealthier county’s increasing cultural tolerance.

So, good riddance, my Macomb barometer. Four years from now, I trust we will see the candidates rush from their conventions to Oakland County, to see the new America.

Me, I’d prefer Greenberg kept at least one eye on Macomb County. That’s not to measure attitudes toward race, but to measure attitudes toward government. The original defection from the Democratic party was just as much due to cynicism about government’s ability to solve real problems as it was about race and those attitudes, unlike attitudes torward race, seem to remain to a degree. And this is where I think Obama has the biggest ability to fail or succeed–in his ability to reverse decades of Republican propaganda about the evils of government. 

Obama has convinced a lot of voters that he is better suited to fix the problems of our country. But can he–and Democrats in Congress–convince voters that government can be part of the solution, rather than the problem itself?

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16 replies
  1. TobyWollin says:

    Well, Marcy – I feel that we need to see government actually performing in a competent way. People have been acutely aware of hapless the feds have been ever since Katrina.

  2. Minnesotachuck says:

    Adam Nossiter of the Gray Lady had a piece the day before yesterday about another barometer, this one about the divide emerging in the formerly Solid South and what it means for that area’s heretofore dominance of American politics:

    What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama — supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush — voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say. . . The region’s absence from Mr. Obama’s winning formula means it “is becoming distinctly less important,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics.”

    The major factor in this divide, as one might expect, is the discriminatory racial attitudes that solidly defined the south for so long are diminishing in the Atlantic seaboard states that have experienced the most influx of people from elsewhere in the country.

  3. Palli says:

    I hope that Historically Black Colleges, primarily sited in these southern states, will gain new potential for funding and increased visability despite this political isolation. HBC Education Departments, for example, were essential elements of the War on Poverty in the late sixties. There are large populations of Americans who have been neglected by state governments throughout these states and HBCs, with increasing Hispanic enrollment, would be a significant way to serve these citizens with teacher training and research programs.

  4. scribe says:

    I’ve long thought that the working-class so-called Reagan Democrats were driven by their cynicism about goverment, for which race and racial preferences were merely a shorthand.

    One should look back to the mid-70s when the cynicism that fueled the Reagan Dems’ move to the Repugs got its start. The big issues?

    Busing, effecting integration. Remember the riots in Boston’s Southie (inter alia) over busing? Why did busing set off such angst? Not just b/c your kids and The Other would have to mix at school, but also b/c people feared their property values would sink. No small echo, then, the attempted use of the Community Reinvestment Act as a cudgel to blame the darker folks for the financial industry melting down.
    Welfare and the rise – in the media – of ghetto culture. When that culture is being projected into your living room circa 1975 (much as NWA, similar acts and backward baseball caps were used to terrorize working/middle-class whites in the late 80s-early 90s), you’re only too willing to go along with blaming Them for your ills.

    But both of these (and I could go on) were merely covers for the same issue which was driving the angst of the mid-70s that came to flower as the Reagan Dems – rising energy prices (and the first shock of furriners wielding their whip of owning the source) and financial-industry chicanery combining to lead directly to a decline in the standard of living.

    In the 70s, that decline was merely the first break in the rising standards we’d enjoyed from ‘45 to ‘73. No one then recognized ‘73 as the major sea change it turned out to be. The chicanery then was mostly of the sort that wanted to keep things going with the status quo ante, notwithstanding that most of the industrial plant then extant had been built during or shortly after WWII, was reaching the end of its useful life, and the countries we’d bombed to rubble thirty years before had newer, better and more efficient industrial plants. Corporate executives of the 70s were more concerned with continuing the flow of profit and dividend and, to the extent that cut into the budget for innovation, updating and reinvestment, they were willing to kick those problems down the road.

    And, as Republicans are wont to do, they stoked and stroked the anger of the working-class to get them to overlook (or deliberately go against) their best interests and vote for the same people who were poisoning the system in the first place. Republicans.

    Enough, already. Y’all get the point….

  5. freepatriot says:

    with all the hoopla about prop 8 here in Cali, you’d probably be surprised to know that I’m represented by a gay city council person

    and I live in the heart of redneck california

    when it came down to a person whose lifestyle is different, and a person who fucks up everything he touches, my neighbors managed to overcome their fears and vote for the competent candidate

    hate is basically a luxury item around here

    we couldn’t afford it anymore

  6. ThreadTheorist says:

    Usually I refrain from calling public figures “crazy”, but Sarah Palin is really making such restraint very difficult. In her CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer she has said

    Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Wednesday she would be honored to help out President-elect Barack Obama in his new administration, even if he did hang around with an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.”

    The CNN headline asks the question of whether Palin will have a role in an Obama administration. A more pertinent headline would be “Is Palin insane?”

  7. Adie says:

    Let us light a candle for rover and all his high-falutin’ theoretical dubblecross-schtickin’. *waving bye bye to the deflated little twerp*

    apologies. i seem to have lost my manners. ah well. all that ends…. thusly. ;->

    Thanks Marcy & all.

  8. ThingsComeUndone says:

    In 1960, Macomb was the most Democratic suburban county in the country as John F. Kennedy won handily there, garnering 63 percent of the vote. Four years later, Lyndon Johnson increased the Democratic vote share even further, winning 75 percent of Macomb voters. But over the next 20 years, these voters turned on the Democrats, culminating with Ronald Reagan taking 66 percent of the vote in 1984.

    Notice the correlation JFK, Reagan, Obama Popular Presidents Dem and GOP Macomb going big for a President suggests a populist Popular President who good or evil will have a mandate to change things.
    Middle class hardworking people trying to move up but what else? Forget predicting Reagen Democrats they predict Change but why?

  9. ThingsComeUndone says:

    while fewer than 30 percent focus on “affirmative action for minorities who don’t take responsibility for their lives” and illegal immigrants “getting free government benefits.” They have a clear theory on who is responsible and blacks and other minorities are barely in the line of fire.

    30% the same number as Bush’s support was its lower now. But that would mean that CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Glen Beck never mind Rush, Malkin, Hannity etc are not swaying voters/creating reality by reporting the News/Propaganda.
    If Macomb forecasts national change then the GOP MSM failed to convince people that minorities were to blame.
    The Reagen Playbook failed.

  10. pluege says:

    What’s most remarkable about Obama’s win is that he outperformed Clinton in 1992, Gore, and Kerry in the county.

    Comparing Obama’s victory to any other Democrat including FDR in 1932 is complete bullshit. This year is such an extraordinary time not seen in 75 years, not seen ever in America. Obama was running against the most reviled president in the history of the US. To make any grand sweeping conclusions explicit or implicit about Obama greatness from this election is self-delusional foolishness. Any Democrat, alive or dead should have been able to win this year. No such situation will exist in 2012 or anytime again soon (hopefully).

    What all Americans who supported Obama should be doing is thanking:

    * the millions of Iraqis and the thousands of US troops dead, maimed, and suffering
    * the billions of humans suffering and that will yet suffer as a result of the lost opportunity cost of AT LEAST $1 trillion squandered
    * the who knows how many torture victims and hundreds indefinitely detained and denied basic human rights
    * the dead and still suffering of New Orleans
    * the millions of Americans who have lost their homes, jobs, and/or savings to the greed and malfeasance of the wealthy ruling class
    * the victims of hate crimes and profiling from the intentional fanning of fear and intolerance
    * the victims that have, and will arise from undermining and constraining science
    * the millions of Americans pushed further into poverty and living without decent healthcare or one illness away from financial ruin
    * and untold others’ suffering from the massive destruction and open criminality they paid, continue to pay, and will pay as the price for enough Americans to finally reject and stop the damage and disaster of the bush administration and all bush represents – it all should never have happened, and once started should have been ended a hell of a lot sooner.

    America owes humanity a gigantic goddamn apology for subjecting the world to bush for so long… not the usual Narcissist self-congratulations.

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