We noted some constructive self-criticism on the part of Thomas Edsall, last week.

He continues to show growth, this week.
Why don’t white working-class voters recognize where their economic interests lie? Somewhat self-righteously, Democrats keep asking themselves that question.

A better question would be: What has the Democratic Party done for these voters lately?

At work and at home, their lives are worse than they were a generation ago. Their real incomes have fallen, their employment opportunities have diminished, their families have crumbled and their ties to society are fraying.

This is how daily life feels, to many in the white working class. Unlike blacks and Hispanics, whites are not the beneficiaries of affirmative action programs designed to open doors to higher education and better jobs for underrepresented minorities; if anything, these programs serve only to limit their horizons.

Liberal victories in the sexual and women’s rights revolutions – victories that have made the lives of many upscale Democrats more productive and satisfying — appear, from the vantage point of the white working class, to have left many women to struggle as single parents, forced to cope with both male defection from paternal responsibility and the fragmentation of a family structure that was crucial to upward mobility in the postwar period.
There are cultural conservative themes of some fifty years in that passage, and more than a little George Wallace populism. But now the social science has caught up with the cultural conservatives:  "do your own thing" works if you have the means to act on your options.
Even as blacks experienced the benefits of the drive toward racial equality, which many whites saw as a form of reverse discrimination, the liberal cultural agenda began to champion “expressive individualist” and “rights oriented” values. Many working-class whites saw these values as destructive of familiar hierarchies in which they were accustomed to hold a privileged position.

In this way, multiple legal, economic and cultural developments began to overlap.

You can see this convergence in another trend [Johns Hopkins professor Andrew] Cherlin describes, the transition, beginning in the 1960s, of younger adults from what he calls a “utilitarian self” to an “expressive self.” The utilitarian self, according to Cherlin, accepts “conformity to external standards — which included doing what your supervisor at work told you to do.” This conformity was essential for industrial work, “which required self-discipline and the suppression of feelings such as alienation and anger.”

The expressive self, in contrast, “emphasizes one’s feelings and emotional satisfaction and the pursuit of a personally fulfilling life.” For the less educated, however, the kind of low-skill, low-wage jobs available to them offered little or no opportunity for self-expression.
The extension of the research to cultural-studies authenticity myths is left to the reader as an exercise.

The column refers to other research that fails to refute Dan Quayle on the importance of fathers.

But Mr Edsall has a few things yet to learn.
Over the last half-century, the Democratic Party has taken up the task of providing new life chances – an emancipation, really — for those whose situations were once seen as hopeless. Those initiatives, which expanded rights across many fronts, have had costs as well as benefits. Too often the party has failed to address tensions that grew out of the good that the party and the progressive movement in general have done.

The linked problems of eroding social cohesion, the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, deteriorating communal ties and weakened social norms, appear to have led to a degree of chaos and disintegration that those accustomed to a secure – and, indeed, a fixed — social order bitterly resent. The central task that the center-left coalition and its political representative, the Democratic Party, now faces is how to make progress in resolving the conflicting needs and values of the vastly different types of people who populate the bottom ranks of the income distribution.
Recognizing tradeoffs: check.

Recognizing that the best thing the national government might do is go away: not yet.

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