Kotkin: Obama coalition now about urban professionals, not blue collar workers

Joel Kotkin writes about the shift in the Democratic coalition under President Obama away from blue collar workers and toward urban professionals:

The gentrification of the Democratic Party has gone too far to be reversed in this election. After decades of fighting to win over white working- and middle-class families, Democrats under Obama have set them aside in favor of a new top-bottom coalition dominated by urban professionals—notably academics and members of the media—single women, and childless couples, along with ethnic minorities.

Rather than representing, as Chris Christie and others on the right suggest, the old, corrupt Chicago machine, Obama in fact epitomizes the city’s new political culture, as described by the University of Chicago’s Terry Nichols Clark, that greatly deemphasizes white, largely Catholic working-class voters, the self-employed, and people involved in blue-collar industries…

The traditional machine provided him with critical backing early in his political career, but Obama owes his success to new groups that have taken center stage in the increasingly liberal post-Clinton Democratic party: the urban “creative class” made up mostly of highly-educated professionals, academics, gays, single people, and childless couples. It’s a group Clark once called “the slimmer family.” Such people were barely acknowledged and even mistreated by the old machine; now they are primary players in the “the post-materialistic” party. The only holdovers from the old coalition are ethnic minorities and government workers…

Focused on the “upstairs” part of the new political culture, the administration—confident in minority support—has done very little materially to improve the long-term prospects of those “downstairs.” Minorities, in fact, have done far worse under this administration than virtually any in recent history, including that of the hapless George W. Bush. In 2012, African-American unemployment stands at the highest level in decades; 12 percent of the nation’s population, blacks account for 21 percent of the nation’s jobless. The picture is particularly dire Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where black unemployment is nearly 20%, and Detroit, where’s it’s over 25 percent.

Fascinating. If correct, this could be a boon for the powerful in big cities, people interested in big ideas and big projects and big returns, but not necessarily for those in the struggling neighborhoods. It’s too bad Kotkin doesn’t link this approach to specific policies Obama and the new Democrats have pursued – what exactly does this look like? Have the first four years provided concrete evidence that these Democrats are opposed to the suburbs, as conservatives suggest? On the other hand, we might look at the lack of policies directly aimed at the urban working and lower classes and draw conclusions from that.

I’ve suggested before that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a pragmatic kind of Democrat in the mold of Bill Clinton, liberal but clearly pro-business and interested in things like public-private partnerships. If Obama is more interested in the “upstairs” of the Democratic Party, does he approve of Emanuel’s moves and kinds of actions?

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