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Green or Black: Must Democrats Choose?

While the President’s poll numbers have fallen dramatically since the heyday of Obamamania, African Americans continue to overwhelmingly support the first African-American President. Yet the Democratic coalition contains two elements who tend to not get along very well: urban African American machine politicians and their mostly blue collar constituents on the one hand, and upper middle class, good government, green minded professionals on the other.  In an insightful new piece at NewGeography, Joel Kotkin explores the widening chasm between Obama’s upper-middle class progressivism and minority interests:

From its inception the Obama administration’s focus has been on the largely white information economy, notably boosting universities and the green-industrial complex based in places like Silicon Valley. The Obama team’s decision to surrender working class whites to appeal to what Democratic strategists call the “mass upper middle class” makes political sense but could lead to problems for an American working class that is itself increasingly minority.

An emphasis on green industries and strong across-the-board regulation often works against traditional industries like heavy manufacturing, warehousing and fossil fuel development that historically have employed many minorities. Opposing development of new petrochemical plants and such things as the XL Pipeline — opposed by many greens and their allies in the Obama Administration — could reduce new opportunities for minority workers, many of them unionized, particularly in the heavily African-American, and increasingly Latino, Gulf region.

President Obama has an asset that most national Democratic politicians do not: he can look black even as he governs green.  African American voters will accept policy tradeoffs from one of their own. Future Democratic candidates and presidents will have a tougher time keeping the two crucial pieces of their coalition aligned.

The progressive movement is in the process of splintering into two groups: white-collar professionals, whose passion for environmentalism and other pet causes comes at little or no expense to themselves, and blue-collar laborers and minorities, whose hopes for higher pay and better benefits often rest on heavy industry.  “Green jobs” boondoggles like Solyndra and the floundering push for high-speed rail are attempts to split the difference — and they have largely failed.  The Obama administration pushed these ideas as hard as it did precisely because they offer, at least in theory, ways to link up the demands of greens and blue collar Dems.

President Obama is something of a kiwi Democrat: brown on the outside, green within. His skin color gives him a tie to urban African Americans, but his policy instincts are upper middle class liberal progressive.  He is a technocrat, not a populist: a McGeorge Bundy, not an Al Sharpton. The white working class is the least susceptible segment of the body politic to his charms; they see the upper middle class, big government Harvard technocrat side of him unsoftened by ties of kith and kin.

In the past, when the federal treasury looked like an inexhaustible gold mine, Democrats could soften the antagonisms in the coalition by offering money and jobs to urban machines and their voters. But the money is running low, and upper middle class progressives are concerned about the solvency of programs like Medicare — and they are increasingly worried about the long term trend in federal finance.

The Democratic coalition is going to be harder to keep together when President Obama is no longer the standard bearer. Blacks and greens are pulling the party in different directions; it will take a skilled driver to keep the team from flying apart.

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  • Cunctator

    Can the same label be applied to a person who chooses to vote for someone because of his race as the one who chooses not to do so for that reason?

    African-Americans should reflect on why they support Obama. If it is only because of race, well…

  • Tom Richards

    With rifts also eminently visible between conservatives and libertarians, could the result ultimately be a four party system along the lines of the political compass?

  • Jim.

    @Tom Richards:

    The problem is, there really aren’t enough Libertarians to matter. If there were, their own political party (named, appropriately enough, “The Libertarian Party”) would be a major player.

    Same argument goes for the Greens, really.

  • LarryD

    Re #2:

    The Republicans did a survey of their base a few years back.

    The biggest fraction is both financially and socially conservative.

    The upper middle class is both socially and financially liberal.

    So, where are the potential allies for the libertarians? Any libertarians who have joined the Democrats have eventually given up their financial conservatism.

  • Rhodium Heart

    Excellent summary of why the white working class hate-hate-hates Obama for a reason other than what is presumed in the mainstream media (which is racism). My liberal friends keep telling me the Republican Party is doomed by demographics since the Republican base is shrinking as a percentage of the country and the Democrats will own minorities and their vote (allusion intentional) in perpetuity. They are comfortable with this false sense of inevitability, because they think the Democratic coalition is always on the verge of coming apart, yet they seem to think it never does, despite evidence to the contrary. I’m torn about whether to shake them out of their delusion or just enjoy the show.

  • Richard S

    To what extent is this a product of the green religion preached in the schools from first grade up?

  • Eric

    Slight faux pas…a kiwi, being a flightless bird, is brown on the outside and red on the inside, whereas a kiwifruit is brown on the outside and green on the inside.

    Kiwifruit are actually chinese gooseberries rebranded by the New Zealand growers. What this implies about Mr Obama is a rich and fruity political recipe I hesitate to dip into.

  • Hu Ngu

    The tug of war between Greens and Blacks is a zero sum
    game. Both are vying over the same shrinking pot of
    tax dollars. For every green windmill subsidized in
    perpetuity by tax dollars, a Black public sector worker
    loses her middle class job.

    Furthermore, the Greens are against so many wealth-
    creating activities that would otherwise provide the tax dollars upon which the permanent Black underclass
    depends for sustenance.

    The Green Whites are ransacking the Blue Blacks.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The Blue Model is dying, and its political advocates the Democrats, are going to die right alongside it. We get to watch, help it die, or die with it. I think I’ll help it die quickly, less pain all around.

  • Jim.

    By the way, apparently Obama’s State Department is trying to kill Keystone, still.

    Can we get those clowns replaced, perhaps by the ones doing well in SE Asia, please? The ones against Keystone are no better than the ones who got caught flatfooted by the Arab Spring.

    On the upside, it’s good that we’re starting to be able to recognize who’s doing well there. Hopefully we can build on that.

  • Glen

    For the foreseeable future, Obama represents the only nationally viable presidential Democratic Party candidate.

    Regardless of what happens in 2012, look for Democrats to nominate another Progressive African-American for president in 2016.

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