The “Tea Party” voters are people who have been jilted by one of America’s major political parties and never felt wanted, or at home, in the other party. They largely overlap the “Reagan Democrats” but became more frustrated as they came to believe neither party takes them seriously.
This group of mostly non-government workers see themselves as carrying the tax load for an ever-growing number of government workers and benefit recipients. They would very much prefer to stay in the Democratic Party, but they see that party determined to move away from them. These “jilted” voters find themselves increasing unfashionable and unwelcome.
The change in the Democratic Party became apparent with the 1968 Chicago Convention and has come to show itself in four major ways.
The first was triggered by the Vietnam War and the rise of the McGovern Democrats. The “Greatest generation” GI’s and Rosie the Riveters played a major role in World War II. They believe in “American Exceptionalism.”
This is not a blind, or foolish, “us first” attitude. It comes from an understanding that middle and lower class people in the United States have more opportunity and a better life than their counterparts in any other society now, or at any time in the world’s history. They are willing to serve in the military and fight to keep that freedom.
The second change in the Democratic agenda had the most serious economic impact on the Jilteds. Lady Bird Johnson helped turn the Democrats into an environmental party. While the Jilteds want a cleaner environment, they need factories to work in and cars to get to work. As the EPA has grown, manufacturing jobs have disappeared. The struggle in the Democratic Party over energy policy is the strongest between representatives of the environmentalist districts and the factory, and energy producing districts.
When Environmentalists work to stop energy production and irrigation it hurts the Jilteds economically. They need these resources to make a living. At times it seems the Democrats are willing to save a fish and let the workers go under.
The third change had a ruinous impact on the children of the Jilteds. In the period after the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, the Democratic Party had the opportunity to add black voters to their base. Instead, they went overboard and turned off the Jilteds.
Education is the best way to move up the social ladder. The Jilteds understood that and it seemed fair to them to give black children the same chance. As one parent put it, “I don’t care who my daughter sits next to, she’s going to get an education.” Unfortunately, the educational system was turned upside down. It became about making students feel they were succeeding instead of honestly telling them what was needed to move forward.
The busing wars highlighted the problem. Clearly, the political leadership was more concerned with “who the child sat next to” and not about the children getting an education. Those who could afford it, of all races, left the public schools or the cities to get away from schools which had lost track of their primary purpose.
The fourth area doesn’t have the economic impact of the others, but the “culture wars” have become a continual “put down.” The magazines and TV shows of the fifties showed a world which respected a shared moral, if not religious outlook. It wasn’t sectarian, but there was an accepted “American religion” that honored going to worship services and recognizing the role of “nature’s God.”
The change has shown itself in the Supreme Court cases on school prayer, then on abortion, and recently on “same-sex marriage.” Countless votes, referenda, etc. show there is a strong resistance to these changes. It doesn’t matter. The Democrats keep pushing.
Why don’t the Jilteds become Republicans? Because the Republicans, especially the “country club” version, don’t want them. To some extent the feeling is mutual.
Now we have a large block of voters who swing forcefully from one party to the other. The system is becoming more unstable. We can think of a moving van with a large untethered piano in the rear. When the truck was loaded, the piano was tied down, but the straps have become frayed.
When the road is smooth, there is no problem. But, when the driver has to swerve to avoid an obstacle, the piano shifts and swings from side to side. In a difficult stretch, it is likely the trailer will flip over and take the tractor with it.
The American political system needs to include the Jilteds in a political party. Until it does, the trailer will continue to swing violently.