Courting the Vote of the Working Class

Robin Toner’s essay in today’s NYT suggests that economic populism will be a key theme in this presidential campaign. At stake, argues Toner, are questions of who stands with “the people” against the powerful elites in these times of growing inequalities and stagnant wages.

Republicans have charged that wealthy Democrats can’t vow to change the economy while simultaneously profiting from the status quo.

Toner reminds us that Ted Kennedy faced similar charges when he first ran for the Senate:

[W]hen Mr. Kennedy ran for the Senate in 1962, he was attacked by his opponent as being privileged, unaccomplished, and for having “never worked for a living.” A burly worker approached him one day and said, “Ted, me boy, I understand you’ve never worked a day in your life.”

He paused, then added, “You haven’t missed a thing.”

Toner concludes: “Champions of the working class, in short, are often made, not born”.

But are any of the current candidates honestly champions of working class? What exactly does it mean to be a champion of the working class in the new service and knowledge economies? What education policies are now in the best interests of working class kids?

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