Despite what it says on the sidebar, I do not read Robert Reich every day. For one thing, he only posts about twice a week. But for another, I find his optimism inspiring but exhausting. Among my friends, I am considered the optimist. This is faint praise. Still, I think of myself as vaguely optimistic. I really do think that things will get better. Sometimes; I mean on good days; when I’m drunk. No, no, no! I’m more optimistic than that. But I consider myself a realist, and Reich’s optimism at least borders on the unreal.
Let us look at his article yesterday, Why The Republican’s Old Divide-and-Conquer Strategy—Setting Working Class Against the Poor—Is Backfiring. His argument is that the Republicans were very effective at portraying the poor who used SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid as just those “shiftless blacks” driving around in their government paid-for Cadillacs. That wasn’t even true then: the poor have always been primarily white. But what was true is that if you had a job, it was good enough that you didn’t have to be on SNAP and Medicaid. Now most of the poor who qualify for these programs are people who are working—many of them working multiple jobs! His conclusion: it is going to be hard for the Republicans to get middle class whites to vote against their own interests in the name of “getting” those “shiftless” poor.
The article is a good one and it lays out what I think is an even bigger problem: insecurity in the middle class. It used to be that if you had a decent middle-management job at some corporation, you knew that as long as you did your job well, you were set for life. That’s no longer the case. Pretty much the conservatives have gotten what they always wished for: a nation of contractors—at least as far as the middle class goes. This isn’t a situation that anyone except the very wealthy like. But unlike the poor, the politicians do listen (a little) to the middle class.
Where I think that Reich gets a bit too optimistic is in saying that the Republican divide-and-conquer strategy is backfiring. He’s right that it is hard to use this particular strategy of convincing workers that people on welfare are the enemy. But the Republicans have been very inventive in coming up with different ways to divide and conquer. After all, their think tanks don’t spend their time coming up with policy. They can use 100% of their resources on coming up with ways to set different sets of people against each other.
Now, it is true that the great conservative propagandist Frank Luntz seems to have given up the project. According to him, there are no longer magic words that can convince people to support policies that go directly against their interests. But give the Republicans time. I certainly think that cracks have appeared on what was always an unstable dam. Their evil geniuses are working on the problem, however. And right now, they have real power in Washington. And even if they lose that, the courts will be conservative for many years to come.