My name is Fritz, and I’m a coastal elitist.
I’m a white-collar high-tech worker, a liberal arts history major and lifelong Democrat. I was born in Portland, Oregon, and later lived in Boston and Silicon Valley. I don’t think of myself as a coastal elitist, but by definition, I’m your guy.
I lost touch with the heartland, I’m told. We coastal elites don’t understand how middle America is suffering economically. Middle-class folks can’t scrape together the cash for dinner at Pizza Hut while we big-city liberals sneer and gobble Whole Foods organic raspberries at $6.99 per biodegradable carton.
Well, I believe working-class folks in the heartland are struggling and I believe they do have a right to be angry about it. It ain’t right.
But you’ll excuse me if I reject, with exasperation, the accusation that I don’t care about the health, welfare and success of Americans in the heartland. Indeed, I’ve been voting for their health, welfare and success in election after election my whole life. The problem, it seems to me, is that the heartland has been voting against me every step of the way.
You want to talk about voting for the heartland? Let’s look back at the elections of my lifetime.
Start with 1968. (I myself wasn’t voting yet: I was seven.) My guy was Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota — the co-founder of a party literally called the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party.
Given a chance to vote for this friend to farmers and the working man, who did the heartland go for? California lawyer Richard Nixon. Overwhelmingly! The George Wallace south aside, Nixon won every heartland state except for Minnesota and Michigan.
How about 1972? My Democratic candidate was George McGovern, born in the tiny heartland farming town of Avon, South Dakota. As a child his family “lived on the edge of the poverty line for much of the 1920s and 1930s,” says Wikipedia. Who could understand the working man better? McGovern was a strong liberal, a great friend to workers, and just as an aside, a war hero bomber pilot who flew 35 combat missions in World War II.
Yet the heartland (even his home state of South Dakota!) rejected him for Richard Nixon in what became the greatest electoral landslide of all time. (Nixon didn’t turn out so hot, by the way.)
How about 1980, the first election where I could actually vote? The Democrat was incumbent Jimmy Carter, a religious man from small-town Georgia. A guy who, after his father died, left his career with the U.S. Navy to literally run the family farm.
But the heartland preferred Ronald Reagan. Yes, the same Ronald Reagan who was a professional actor from Hollywood, home to despised coastal elitists. Reagan won handily. I was 19, and Jimmy Carter was my first very first losing vote for a Democratic friend to the working man. But he wouldn’t be my last.
In 1984, the heartland chose Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale, another proud and sensible liberal from flyover country, and another member of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In his very first year in office, Reagan had busted a major labor union, the air traffic controllers, not only firing 11,000 workers but actually banning them from ever being rehired. But the heartland and its blue-collar workers still loved him. It was another historic landslide: Mondale won only Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
In 1988, I voted for Mike Dukakis over George Bush. OK, I’ll give you that one: Dukakis was a li’l guy with a Greek name who had been governor of terrible old coastal elitist Massachusetts.
So naturally the heartland preferred… George Bush of Connecticut, the wealthy son of a former senator who went to private school at Greenwich Country Day School, Phillips Academy, then Yale, where he was inducted into Skull and Bones, the most elite fraternity in the land. (Hey, at least Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota went for Dukakis!)
Arkansas native Bill Clinton broke the streak, thank heavens, with a lot of help from the heartland. (My first winner!) So after Clinton balanced the budget and cut unemployment and raised taxes on the rich elites (just a little) and the economy boomed, the heartland rewarded Democrats by voting for Al Gore in 2000, right?
Not quite. Five heartland states did: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. (Count New Mexico if you like.) The rest went for George W. Bush, who proceeded to drive the country and the economy into a ditch.
Those same five states, plus Ohio and Colorado, went for Obama in 2008; the rest of the heartland went for John McCain. Obama was my second presidential win, and all he did in the next 8 years was pull America out of the George W. Bush depression, save 100,000 Midwest auto manufacturing jobs, bring unemployment down to 5% and bring in health care for 20 million more Americans.
Alas, he and the Democrats were blocked from doing the nationwide infrastructure work that could have created hundreds of thousands more jobs for heartland Americans. Who was doing the blocking? Heartland favorite Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), heartland favorite John Boehner (Ohio) and heartland favorite Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), that’s who.
So now it’s 2016, and the heartland, angry and frazzled, is expressing its rage by voting for… Donald Trump? The billionaire New York City mogul who has gone bankrupt four times while openly stiffing the working people who built his empire? And on top of that… well, I don’t need to go on. You know the Donald Trump story.
Look, I know that there are other things people vote for besides jobs and the economy. There’s foreign policy, social issues, character, likability and the rest. If Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are who the heartland wants, congratulations to them: they got ’em.
And if the heartland now feels like it’s two out in the ninth inning and the only thing to do is to shut their eyes and swing for the fences with Donald Trump, then that’s what we’ll have. But Trump’s batting average is not great. And frankly, neither is the presidential batting average of the heartland. If the last 50 years are any indication, their choice is going to end badly (again) for those hard-working folks.
I’m sorry about that, I really am. I wish we all were in a different spot.
But if anyone spends 50 years NOT electing the people who are friends to the working man, they shouldn’t be surprised when things turn out badly for the working man. And if for decades the heartland rejects outspoken pro-labor liberals like George McGovern and Walter Mondale, they shouldn’t be THAT surprised if a lot of Democratic candidates stop being outspoken pro-labor liberals and start drifting the other way.
It’s one thing for my party to battle the pro-business, anti-labor Republican Party for decades. That’s just politics. But it’s quite another to have the working heartland vote FOR the pro-business, anti-labor Republican Party for decades… and then turn around and blame me for not doing more to improve their economic situation.
For pete’s sakes! I’ve been voting for the working man my whole life. Who have you been voting for?
(Election maps courtesy of 270ToWin.com)