Throwing Money at Bitter White People

Andrew writes,

Reihan lays out a strategy for McCain to win – by copying the Clinton campaign’s attacks on Obama. But Reihan is intellectually honest enough also to show how hard this will be. I’m not convinced that throwing more government money at the bitter, white working classes with kids is a panacea for the Republicans. But it may be worth a try.

I’m not convinced either. In fact, I think channeling government money to a group on the basis of race is a dangerous idea. When it’s done on compensatory grounds, as in the payments to victims of Japanese American internment, it makes sense. Nevertheless, it is important to tread lightly. Which is why I was so surprised by Andrew’s post. It is always an honor to be mentioned by my friend and favorite blogger. Still, I’d like to clear this up. The article in question playfully refers to a “bitter bloc.” But I’m afraid I don’t feel any hostility to non-college-educated whites. In my limited experience, the white working classes are no more bitter than affluent childless urbanites. In fact, I tend to think the white working class people I know are far less bitter than affluent childless urbanites, who tend to be far more status conscious. This, of course, is anecdotal, though Arthur C. Brooks has garnered some (hotly contested) evidence to this effect.

Andrew very kindly read an early version of Grand New Party, and he certainly doesn’t agree with the kind of frankly nationalist, culturally egalitarian conservative politics Ross and I advocate. An essential part of our economic agenda is the idea of economic inclusion — seeing to it that women and men burdened by mass incarceration and high effective marginal taxes, who are make do in the shadowy underground economy, are brought into the mainstream. A disproportionately large share of these Americans are not white. They could be bitter. They should be.

It’s also true that we advocate more favorable tax treatment of dependents. Given that a disproportionately large share of parents in children are Latino, Asian, and black, it seems odd to suggest that we are “throwing more government money at the bitter, white working classes with kids.” Perhaps we could have limited more generous child tax credits to white children — but as I noted earlier, I find the idea abhorrent. Is this white nationalist approach worth a try? I emphatically don’t think so.

Also, my piece argued that the distinction between Anglo and Latino voters is collapsing, and that Republicans should target a pan-ethnic working class. My point, in part, is that “whiteness” is malleable, and that all non-black voters are assimilating towards a set of broad, class-based voting patterns. Black voters, who remain highly distinctive in many respects, are unlikely to embrace McCain in this cycle, but it doesn’t stand to reason that Republicans shouldn’t also fight for their votes. It just so happens that this isn’t a very promising year.

So yes, I think we should throw more government money — that is, more taxpayer money — at creating a more affordable, accessible healthcare system for taxpayers. (Barack Obama believes much the same thing, though he’d like to spend considerably more money and expand the role of public programs, an entirely respectable view.) Thus thrown, this money will benefit people of all colors, including people who are mauve and chartreuse, and some who have strange skin conditions. I also believe in throwing more money at police forces, particular in high crime areas. Many of the beneficiaries of such a proposal will indeed be white people, some of them bitter affluent urbanites, I’m guessing. But a disproportionately large share will be non-white, like some members of the Salam family. Money should also be thrown at education, the better to reduce summer learning loss, which plagues lots of poor and working-class children, a large number of whom are black and Latino.

I like the idea that working class people with children, a rainbow coalition of stressed-out people who feel some degree of economic stress, are just another identity group begging for a handout. Insofar as society is a partnership among the dead, the living, and the unborn, it seems that the last component, future generations, are not entirely unimportant. This is why I opposed the Bush tax cuts. (Not all tax cuts — the Bush tax cuts.) It is entirely possible that I will never have children. But I’d sure like to be sure that the African American, Mexican American, and Irish American children who go to public schools in my town, the District of Columbia, get a decent education and a decent start in life. I accept that parents experience unique burdens, and that children aren’t simply a form of consumption — like, say, buying a jet-ski. And it makes sense to that the state should recognize and seek to alleviate these burdens to some very limited extent, including through labor market intervention that address the particular challenges faced by women who seek to re-enter the workforce.

Ross and I think the fight against earmarks and wasteful spending matters because that public money would be better spent on inner-city students, on cops, on high-quality healthcare, and, yes, on working-class families. It should also go without saying that money is best spent by private citizens acting in their innumerable private capacities. Some groups — the agribusiness interests and access capitalists who will flourish when the money is doled out for green-collar jobs and the like come to mind — won’t like living in a Grand New Party world. Keeping government lean and efficient in its areas of concern, attacking the macro threats that individuals and families and neighborhoods can’t tackle alone, is important to us. Shared prosperity is important to us. Doling out funds to white people for votes is not.