Democratic candidates for President and many other Democrats are supporting a proposal that would make the government the employer of last resort, at least in the poorest counties. This is not only humane policy; it may be good politics. Guaranteeing a job for blue collar workers that the economy has left behind together with guaranteed health insurance and education combined with an infrastructure program and serious efforts to address climate change gives the Democrats a positive program, that goes well beyond opposition to Donald Trump.
It is no secret that Donald Trump appealed to white male blue collar workers and that appeal was a critical part of his success. The guaranteed jobs proposal is designed to appeal to that group and beyond. But I worry. Almost thirty years ago, Johns Hopkins’ William Connolly argued in his book Identity/Difference that liberal policies (see, e.g., affirmative action, busing, and gun control) and rhetoric in a variety of ways has triggered substantial resentment in working class males. There is substantial evidence that resentment strongly influences voting behavior. This is certainly true of voting influenced by race. UCLA’s David Sears has shown that white racism does not primarily arise from material deprivation, but is rooted in status resentment. It proceeds from a symbolic predisposition to believe that African-Americans have benefited from government programs and have been given a status they have not earned.
When Democrats advance policies in the fall that should appeal to working class males from a material and rhetorical perspective, I wonder how many votes of working class males will be guided by their resentment of liberals. As Connolly observed, when Democrats suggest that professionals and corporate leaders merit their position and women and minorities have been discriminated against, they have implied that unemployed working-class males deserve to be unemployed. Hubert Humphrey maintained that the federal government should be the employer of last resort. It is long past time that the Democratic Party once again recognize the government’s duty to rectify the weaknesses of a capitalistic economy.