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The Surprising New Class Politics

Posted on Mar 27, 2011

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn.—The battle for the Midwest is transforming American politics. Issues of class inequality and union influence, long dormant, have come back to life. And a part of the country that was integral to the Republican surge of 2010 is shifting away from the GOP just a few months later.

Republican governors, particularly in Wisconsin and Ohio, denied themselves political honeymoons by launching frontal assaults on public employee unions and proposing budgets that include deep cuts in popular programs.

Democrats in the region are elated at the quick turn in their fortunes. A few months ago, they worried that a region President Barack Obama dominated in 2008 was turning against him. Republican triumphs in Wisconsin and Ohio, and also in Indiana, Michigan and Iowa, all pointed to trouble for the president.

Now, for reasons having more to do with decisions by GOP governors than with anything the president has done, many voters, particularly in the white working class, are having second thoughts.

“We certainly addressed the issue of Reagan Democrats,” said Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, referring to the blue-collar voters who began drifting Republican in 1980. Barrett lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November by a margin of 52 percent to 46 percent, but recent polls suggest he would defeat Walker if the election were rerun. In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich, who won narrowly in 2010, has seen his approval rating drop to as low as 30 percent in one poll.


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In telephone interviews last week, Democratic politicians across the Midwest avoided premature victory claims. “I don’t think we’ll know until November of 2012,” Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota replied when asked if the Republican moves against public employee unions would turn out to be a major error.

It’s a political irony that Republicans clearly believed unionized public employees were so unpopular that taking them on would play well with voters.

“It was part of an intentional strategy on the part of the right-wing Republican ideological machine to split private-sector workers from public-sector workers,” said Dayton, a Democrat who beat back the 2010 Republican tide. After decades involving “a giant transfer of wealth to the very top,” Dayton said, the campaign against public unions was “a way to distract attention” by creating “a fight over who is getting a dollar an hour more or less.” The effort, he added, “has not worked as well as they thought it would.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said even union sympathizers were surprised at the degree to which the Republicans’ approach “blew up in their faces” and that “the poll numbers of support for collective bargaining for public-sector workers are stronger than even most labor supporters expected.”

Another surprise: the extent to which Democrats, long wary of being accused of “class warfare,” are now more eager than ever to cast the GOP as the party of the privileged.

Barrett recounted a parable making the rounds among Wisconsin Democrats, telling of a room in which “a zillionaire, a tea party person and a union member” confront a plate of 12 cookies: “The zillionaire takes 11 of the cookies, and says to the other two, ‘That guy is trying to steal your cookie.’ ”

Still, Democrats are aware that the flight from the Republicans is also a reaction against ideology. Dayton saw the GOP’s heavy-handed methods in Wisconsin as playing badly in a region proud of its tradition of consensus-building and good government.

And Brown said that while joblessness was the most important issue in last year’s election, one of the most effective Republican arguments was the claim that “Obama was governing by ideology.” That charge has been turned on its head because “now, they are so overdoing governing by ideology.”

Sen. Al Franken said he saw this reaction against ideology playing out in Washington’s budget battle as well, citing the example of leading Minnesota business people, including Republicans, who have been appalled at cuts in effective job training programs.

The first electoral tests of the new class politics will come in Wisconsin. David Prosser, a conservative state Supreme Court justice, is facing a surprisingly tough challenge in an April 5 election from JoAnne Kloppenburg, who has strong backing from anti-Walker forces. Later this year, several Republican state senators could face recall elections.

The tests for the longer run will be whether echoes from the heartland’s struggles over economic justice are heard as Congress debates budget cuts—and the extent to which Obama, who has already benefited from fights he did not pick, decides to join the battle.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 1, 2011 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

She really said, “Whenever you get there, there is no there there.”
and she said something you might take as a piece of advice,
“Affectations can be dangerous.”  She meant that the affectatious
always trip over their own mouths.

As a flamer you just don’t have it.  Anything interesting to say, that is. 

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By reynolds, May 1, 2011 at 7:35 am Link to this comment

hernonymous, clan of the cave bore; to summarize, if i
read you correctly, what you’re saying is the framus
intersects with the ramistan at approximately the
paternoster. was it a vision, or a waking dream? do i
wake, or sleep?
as gertrude stein said; there’s no there there.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 30, 2011 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

samosamo—The definition of ideology you offer is what I mean by the word.  Marx, I am told, used the word somewhat more narrowly, to mean something like ‘false consciousness’—in other words, a coherent set of bad ideas as in ‘The German Ideology’.  Perhaps he thought all ideologies (my sense) are bad;  that is, constructing a huge set of coherent, abstract beliefs about the mostly-unknowable world is a waste of time.  Pretty funny if so.

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By samosamo, March 30, 2011 at 10:33 am Link to this comment


Maybe these will help:

ideology - a system of ideas and ideals, esp. one that forms the  
basis of economic or political theory and policy
• the ideas and manner of thinking characteristic of a group,
social class, or individual
• archaic visionary speculation, esp. of an unrealistic or idealistic

doctrine - a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church,
political party, or other group : the doctrine of predestination.
• a stated principle of government policy, mainly in foreign or
military affairs : the Monroe Doctrine.

strategy - a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major
or overall aim : time to develop a coherent economic strategy |
shifts in marketing strategy.
• the art of planning and directing overall military operations
and movements in a war or battle. Often contrasted with tactics

tactic - an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a
specific end.

think tank - a body of experts providing advice and ideas on
specific political or economic problems.

The enduring example of the present would be ‘the project for
the new american century’, a rotten neocon strategy from a think
tank, and piece of racist hubristic shit IMO, where the tactics are
still ongoing. Also the doctrine of major religions, also ongoing.

And all of these are very much a part of ‘choosing up sides’ of or
by identification. There are many and varied and many on just
an interpretation of words or who else is involved.

identification - the action or process of identifying someone or
something or the fact of being identified : each child was tagged
with a number for identification | it may be impossible for
relatives to make positive identifications.
• a means of proving a person’s identity, esp. in the form of
official papers : I asked to see his identification.
• a person’s sense of identity with someone or something :
children’s identification with storybook characters.
• the association or linking of one thing with another : the
traditional Russian identification of democracy with anarchy

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, March 30, 2011 at 6:57 am Link to this comment

Perhaps, but the Marxist-inspired (socializing) ideology is not a
matter of deliberately planning to oppress people (futurism), even
though it is possible for it to alter their consciousness since it is a
matter of how presiding institutions validate and endorse the current
political system through teaching ideas about the what is perceived
to be the way things are and how the world really is.  Some call it
socialization but I call it clever assimilation, working within present
structures of “restructuring” through ideological networks of
churches, schools, family, the pop literature, music, ads, television,
and now even Internet venues to alter public awareness and emotional
thinking.  I only call it Marxist-inspired because his use of the term,
that had its nascence during the French Revolution as a science of
ideas, was reconstructed by Marx in his effort to change it to be
indigenous who was dominant in societies, the upper classes who were
running the state or creating a new “state of the people.”  But that
didn’t work did it, at least so far, because inherent in any system are
those who would find ways to corruptibly control others, in socialism’s
case, the central committee (who were composed of tyrannical men,
who always seem to come out of the woodwork.).  Democracy seem to
be, at least ideologically, what most people in the world want, to be
able to direct their own government, not that they do not want any
but one that supports their way of life with much but
not absolute personal freedom.  Mainly because it is practical.  In the
end, pragmatics wins out.  The egalitarian impulse is always democratic
in essence and the renewed wave of affection for unions means they are
seen as leveling the playing field where individuals have found they do
not have any power.  There is magic in numbers.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm Link to this comment

I use the term ideology more broadly than Marx.  I think we need a word for large, complicated systems of political belief and attachment.  I’m open to suggestions for a replacement; I haven’t been able to think of one myself.

I agree, though, that anarchism proposes less of it (because properly it does not seek to command the future) than, say, the various flavors of fascism and liberalism.

When someone talks about the ‘end of ideology’ or about how their candidates or party are ‘non-ideological’, then perforce they are conservative, because presumably doing nothing (or pretending to do nothing) means leaving things as they are.  It’s an ideology (in my sense).  It’s like ‘the end of history’.

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, March 29, 2011 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment

The right-wing Republican ideological generator intentionally
at work through the newly elected Republican governors across
country under an obviously nationwide scheme to obliterate the
unions by a divide and conquer scheme is backfiring. Their plan
to segregate private-sector workers from public-sector workers
was really a complete miscalculation in that the Republicans see
these two unions as having members who are two different kind
of human beings, and the problem is that within many families
are workers from both “sectors” that contribute to the family
income or if not within a core family, then workers from both
public and private within extended families.  Public and private
simply describe how a person gets paid not that they are from
different planets. As Gertrude Stein might put it, “A job is a job
is a job.”  The exertion to exterminate the right to collective
bargaining was the proverbial straw and camel backs were

Ideology is a term developed, in the Marxist tradition, to talk about
how cultures are structured in ways that enable a group holding
power to have the maximum control. 

I would think that ‘against ideology’ was a description of anarchism
and ‘without ideology’ was indicative of fascism.  It does not seem
to preclude either position from being conservative.

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By samosamo, March 29, 2011 at 9:45 am Link to this comment



Maybe it’s that fiat money still buys the protection/security and
things that ostensibly supports the power so many covet. The
fallacy of that is exposed when all it is realized that eating those
fiats want keep one alive.

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By nubeewon, March 29, 2011 at 4:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would be tickled pink to see the people of the United States of America rise up and Unionize against the Rich Bitch Power structure in this country.

For all of their faults the Unions in this country have done the average Joe Blow public a world of good.  I wish the younger genration would wake up to that fact.  If they did our country might have a better tnan average chance of surviving the next fifty years.

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By AlwaysAskWhy, March 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Doesn’t it make you wonder:  The manipulators of these right-wing corporate “tools” have more money than god.  So why do they continue to do things that steal from, injure, and mass-murder people?

Well, I don’t think it’s as much just more money, as it is the old “Is that all there is?” syndrome.  It’s an ADDICTION TO POWER.  As they get and use the drug of more and more power, they need more and more power to get the thrill/rush. I call that THRILL KILLING.

Unfortunately, the ‘tools’ LIKE Walker, Kasich, Boehner, McConnell, and all the rest in congress, who do the bidding of their masters, will NEVER be as rich as those they bow to for their own measly financial gain and power.  SICK, HUH?

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By samosamo, March 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment



““By Inherit The Wind, March 28 at 2:41 pm Link to this
I don’t usually agree with you but you are right.”“

Maybe it is that way because of semantics. I would like to
think we agree more than not but for each, it doesn’t take
much to get the blood boiling.

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By TDoff, March 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

What we need in the US is one big union, a union of the poor and unemployed. It could be called the FFFBR.
Federation of Folks F***** by the Rich.

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DavidByron's avatar

By DavidByron, March 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment

Barrett can’t tell a joke to save his life.  What a mangled version.

“Barrett recounted a parable making the rounds among Wisconsin Democrats, telling of a room in which “a zillionaire, a tea party person and a union member” confront a plate of 12 cookies: “The zillionaire takes 11 of the cookies, and says to the other two, ‘That guy is trying to steal your cookie.’ ”

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 28, 2011 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

‘Against ideology’ or ‘without ideology’ means ‘conservative’.

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By samosamo, March 28, 2011 at 9:47 am Link to this comment


@ Hank

Those are the candidates this country needs but picking them
out stands to not be easy. Case in point is the traitor in chief in
the white house. How easy it was to have a ‘minority’ run and
gain the nomination creating a euphoria of hopeful
expectations. How easy it was to vote for the minority agent of
‘change’. Then to find amazingly fast that he was anything but
what he campaigned. It was not accidental, his candidacy, it was
contrived to keep from using the voter fraud techniques of the
2000 and 2004 elections. I’ll let o’s actions speak for himself.

And It won’t do to consider carefully the seats up for election in
congress but also those in state legislatures. There is also the
goddamn Citizens United debacle that should be an issue in a
functioning government.

As I said before, 2012 stands to be a very ugly election.

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By Inherit The Wind, March 28, 2011 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

I don’t usually agree with you but you are right.

Those supporting the Teaparty are like performers signing up for a snuff movie.  They all like the idea of getting well-paid for it, but none of them believes they are going to be the one “snuffed”.

Now they are learning differently.

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By aacme88, March 28, 2011 at 9:02 am Link to this comment

The Tea Party was a phony “movement” in American politics, ostensibly grass roots but financed by right-wing billionaires to counter the bankster image of the Republicans.
What began in Wisconsin is an authentic grassroots movement of working people, employed and formerly employed, who have had the wool ripped from their eyes by the naked overreaching of Republicans who thought they’d won. But those workers should be aware of the duplicity of the national Democrats, if not the 14 senators in Wisconsin, and choose alliances carefully. Unless you can outbid the banksters, don’t count on the Dems. Better to march on the Supreme Court and demand a reversal of Citizens United. That might get the Dems attention, but they have already shown themselves extraneous.
When the dust settles, we’ll need some new parties.

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By Hank from Nebraska, March 28, 2011 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

Why do we have to immediately put everything into a framework of political gain or loss?  The issue is the inhumanity of both Republicans and Democrats who put rich donors ahead of the entire electorate. Obama is not better than the Republicans.  In fact, it can be argued that Obama and his fellow Democrats have done a better job than republicans at getting their followers to argue over the last two cookies.
Mr. Dione, I am not voting Democrat any more than I will vote Republican. No amount of your political positioning will make any difference.  I want candidates who raise taxes, end wars, stop torture, work for single payer universal healthcare, and guarantee employment rather than bank profits. I do not see Obama and his corporate lapdog Democrats making that kind of a shift, so don’t start counting the Midwest on your side just yet.

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By samosamo, March 28, 2011 at 12:31 am Link to this comment


Well, it wasn’t that we were not warned about what these bastard
republicans would do when elected on the tea party ticket.
Hopefully their actions will get them sent on down the road to
hell come 2012. That is if the u.s. department of voter fraud
doesn’t pull fraudulent shenanigans to pull re-elections out of
their ass to keep them in office.

2012 elections are sure to be one messed event of criminal
behavior just to keep these gift giving tea party bastards in
office to keep tearing this country down. Really, it is hard to see
what would motivate the citizens to react to what is essentially
criminal acts of harm to them as they/we mill around like sheep
hoping not to be the ‘next’ one killed.

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