Democrats: stop catering to white men

photo via theatlantic.com
photo via theatlantic.com

One of the only things worse than seeing right-wing Republicans sweep an election is seeing Democrats take that drubbing and interpret it as an indication that they need to act more like Republicans. Which is why I wanted to yell “hallelujah!” when I read these comments from Dannel Malloy, the governor of Connecticut and the person poised to take over the Democratic Governors Association: 

“The only middle-aged white men who voted for me were myself and my brothers,” Dannel Malloy, the progressive-friendly, two-term governor of Connecticut told BuzzFeed News in a sitdown interview. “So if we’re going to rely on middle-aged white men to win Democratic races again — you know, I mean I think we need to speak to a broader audience than middle-age white men.”

Malloy takes over the DGA — the arm of the party charged with expanding Democratic gubernatorial ranks — at a time when Democrats are split over how best to recover from brutal electoral defeats in the last two elections when President Obama wasn’t on the ballot. Some Democratic have suggested the party has spent too much time on its progressive base in the cities and it needs to shift focus away from issues like climate change and entitlement programs in order to win back white men voters who, in 2014, voted overwhelmingly for the Republicans. Malloy said that model isn’t going to work, even though has to try and keep governor’s mansions in red states like West Virginia and Missouri, where current Democratic governors are term-limited. And he has to help the DGA recover from deeply embarrassing 2014 losses in Massachusetts and Maryland, two Democratic strongholds where Democrats were expected to keep open seats.

Time and time again, Democrats have assumed that people of color and progressive women have nowhere else to go, so they play tug of war with Republicans over this mystical and all-important pool of gettable white men. When they lose, they think it’s because they didn’t run far enough away from Obamacare or some other left of center policy, not because their lack of courage or vision failed to motivate a more diverse, sustainable coalition. An eternal frustration I have with Democrats is that they will assume that embracing a progressive vision, and talking frankly about economic inequality, gender inequality, racism and LGBT issues will hurt them. Because they’re too afraid to ever step out and try, they reinforce the narrative that it just can’t be done. They could be investing time, energy, and the creativity of some of the greatest minds in progressive politics in developing a smart messaging and mobilization strategy that would engage these groups, but they are held back by fear and stuck in the patterns of the past. Malloy makes some gestures toward that kind of strategy:

“There are ways to talk about this issue in every single state. But if you’re afraid of the issue, or if some consultant tells you you can’t have a voice on that issue, then you don’t. And I think senators made mistakes, Congress folks made mistakes, governors may have made mistakes [in 2014,]” he said. “I’m not trying to throw stones at anybody, I’m saying we’re Democrats, we’ve got to stand for something. No person should work 35 or 40 hours a week and live in poverty. And certainly, no person should work 35 or 40 hours a week, live in poverty, and not have access to health care, particularly preventative health care.”

Of course, this is not a drum that hasn’t been beaten by women and people of color before. Will the Democrats be more receptive to hearing this message from a middle-aged white man? As annoying as that would be, it would at least put us on the path toward building a viable progressive majority that has clout in elections.

Instead of taking women and people of color for granted, why not focus on inspiring voters who aren’t white men to engage in the political process? There is also a not insignificant pool of white men who get it and will be inspired by that vision as well. Let Republicans cling to the rest of them. Democrats would be wise to heed these words:

“We have to speak to majorities,” he said. “And we’re probably never going to have a majority made up of middle-aged white men.”

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Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

7 thoughts on “Democrats: stop catering to white men”

  1. The democratic party primarily caters to white women. We can see this from the “War on Women” rhetoric which is far as you can get from catering to white men. The people who are marginalized consistently are people of color as both parties fight over the fickle white vote. A majority of white female voters supported Republicans over the last several elections while blacks vote 90% Democrat. The gender gap comes from minority women.

    http://www.colorlines.com/archives/2014/11/democrats_have_a_white_women_problem.html

    Issues like Mass Incarceration aren’t even mainstream yet despite America having the largest prison population in the world. I think we’ll see minorities revolt if Democrats keep this up even though they are the ones trapped between two white dominated parties while women with 54% of the electorate could easily dominate politics if they voted as a block.

    There is a serious problem with white supremacy in social justice that takes the form of attacking white men instead of whiteness which irregardless will disproportionately benefit white families with an average of 20 times the wealth of black and Hispanic families. White people are male and female. Their interest overlap more is considerable while minorities living apart from them face drastically different realities that are often ignored by the white dominated cultural mainstream. Getting whites to take racial minority issues seriously is a constant struggle while women’s issues are an easy sell to all races and sexes.

    Instead of lecturing the left on pandering to women more than they already do maybe it’s time the white women making all this noise to actually get their demographic to vote Democrat like minorities who get little in return for their loyalty. The male vote also matters and I don’t see either party trying to appeal to them.

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    1. I totally agree that Democrats should be paying more attention to issues that affect people of color, like mass incarceration and police brutality. And there are certainly a lot of white women who are resistant to that or haven’t embraced incorporating the concerns of communities of color into their movements.

      But I don’t agree that white men and women have completely overlapping interests. Yes, white people are male and female. So are people of color. Women of color suffer disproportionately from the “war on women” that you are quick to dismiss. When access to contraception and abortion are attacked, poor people and communities of color are likely to suffer a lot more than white middle class or wealthy women who can still obtain the care they need. Attacks on the social safety net, lack of wage equality and other economic issues have the same effect.

      The key here is intersectionality. It’s not one set of issues or the other. It’s all of them. There’s a coalition to be made of white women (married ones are the ones that tend to vote Republican, and we should work to push some of them), people of color, LGBT folks, progressive white men, and so on. Sustaining that coalition means addressing issues that are important to all of these groups. The Democrats are still catering in many ways to the issues of rich white men, and running away from things like expanding health care access because they think it pleases middle and working class white men, even though they would probably stand to benefit. My point is that they should take a bolder stance on all of these issues and not be afraid to embrace making life better for people other than those who are most advantaged in our society.

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  2. Well there’s a good reason to pander to white people, 77% of the population, and yes white families do have more wealth on average then black families, in black communities there’s less stability, more single parents, crime, black families tend to value education less(why do you think Asians out earn everyone?) and a whole host of other problems in their communities that they need to fix.

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    1. Are politicians only supposed to cater to people based on their wealth? Your stats and assumptions about various communities are way off. Politicians can keep catering to white people if they want, but it’s a recipe for electoral defeat, never mind being immoral.

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      1. Its not based on their wealth its based on numbers, if you get everyone except white people to vote for you you will lose in most of the states.
        Where are they wrong? and if what I’m saying about black and Asian communities is wrong then why is there a wealth gap?

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      2. Could you elaborate?
        Where are they being discriminated against? and how does that lead to the 20X wealth thing?
        Are people favoring Asians over whites or blacks then?
        Are, for example, crime rates actuly higher or is it just racism?

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