Political observers are having some fun diagnosing the Democratic Party's problem with working-class voters. For conservatives, it seems to be a confirmation of our longtime insistence that liberals' laughably insular cultural elitism was driving voters away from their candidates.
For the Left, this introspection is more complicated. Should they sacrifice evangelizing for the progressive values many in their party believe are non-negotiable to reconnect with voters in the Heartland?
Josh Barro explained the dilemma in a column for Business Insider on Monday, arguing that liberals' annoying habit of judging people's personal life choices (for instance, the hamburgers they eat — another might be how many children they have) has turned voters off from their policy offerings. Barro walked through how extensively the Left's judgments penetrate a day in the life of an average American. Here's a taste of what he wrote, all of which is well-worth reading:
...this movement has a long list of moral judgments about your ongoing personal behavior.
The SUV you bought because it was easier to install car seats in doesn't get good enough gas mileage. Why don't you have an electric car?
The gender-reveal party you held for your most recent child inaccurately conflated gender with biological sex. ("Cutting into a pink or blue cake seems innocent enough — but honestly, it's not," Marie Claire warned earlier this month.)
You don't ride the subway because you have that gas-guzzling car, but if you did, the way you would sit on it would be sexist.
And Barro goes on. As a voter, "...are you going to entrust the power of government to the side of the debate that's been so annoyingly judgmental about your life choices?" he asks.
In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum argued "hamburgers aren't the problem," conceding that while it may be "true that liberals are annoying," at the end of the day, "they're mostly annoying (a) to other liberals, not (b) to conservatives." That suggests to me that liberals, so fixated on the wealth of annoyances perpetrated by their peers, underestimate how annoying they actually are to conservatives and nonpartisans. Everything is relative.
Nevertheless, Drum doesn't let his side off the hook:
The truth is that when we're talking about college-educated urban lefties vs. working-class rural conservatives, lefties are the ones with the power. We're the ones with the skills the modern world wants. We're the ones with good jobs. We're the ones who are married and computer savvy and live in nice houses. We're a powerful group treating a marginalized group with contempt.
From my perspective, that's largely an agreement with Barro's argument, because those lifestyle distinctions have become salient through the more trivial judgments on food and cars and gender reveal parties he outlined. Who can afford to shop at Whole Foods and purchase Teslas? If you didn't attend an expensive private college, you probably have never even heard of the "gender binary" in the first place.
But here's where Drum wades deeper into troublesome territory. With a seriously-respectable dose of self-awareness, he admits, "I'm not saying I'm free of contempt myself," going further to concede, "I'm not even necessarily saying that contempt is a bad idea."
An that's the key. So long as liberals can justify and rationalize their contempt for cultural conservatives who own guns and worship at evangelical churches and drive pickup trucks and watch lowbrow sitcoms and are uncomfortable with transgenderism, the Democratic Party will not reconnect with those voters.
Ultimately, liberals lack the will to broaden their appeal and reconnect with the working class because their contempt for the decisions Barro outlined is fundamental to their worldview. And that's okay. I prefer they remain honest about it, as Drum did, to half-heartedly pretending they've shelved their elitism and truly care about your average Iowan who likes to hunt and fish.
When you consider Kirsten Gillibrand and Tom Perez's newfound love of curse words, that act is already insulting and unconvincing enough. Liberals must either own their contempt or work to erase it.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.