How do you explain the "What's the Matter With Kansas?" phenomenon? This question, the title of the famous and insightful book, asked how it could be so many people vote against their own self interest, vote Republican, when the Republican party, clearly, is dedicated to keeping the rich rich and the poor in their place.
The two most likely explanations are: One, Joe Sixpack, who works hard to make $40,000 a year believes, has to believe, someday he will be rich. He believes he is only temporarily poor.. That is his pipe dream and he gets nasty and hostile when you try to disabuse him of this delusion.
The second explanation is the Republicans simply fool enough of the people enough of the time. They tell you you are not making it because the Democrats are spending your money, and it's not your fault: It's the Democrats robbing you blind.
Of course, the truth is just the opposite: it is the Republicans who are robbing you blind, who always have, who have stacked the tax code to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. It is the Republicans who want to destroy public education because they don't want to pay to educate the poor, especially if the poor might learn to be critical thinkers, in which case the Republican party is really cooked.
If the poor realized the Republican tax code means Warren Buffet pays less income tax than his own secretary, they might get pretty angry at the Republicans. But all the Republicans have to do is say, "No, it's the Democrats who have screwed you with taxes.
It's the old truth that a person often accuses others of the sin of which he himself is most guilty.
The Republicans can propose killing Medicare by turning it into Coupon Care, where you get a fixed amount, say $6,000 a year, to cover your medical expenses and then you find out your coronary by pass surgery will cost $250,000.
Tough luck, sucker.
But the real hard core of Joe Sixpack's resentment against the Democrats is his bitterness about how hard he works and how the Democrats are willing, and have always been willing, to give away money to slackers who simply will not work and who live on welfare, or depend on Medicare or Social Security.
Somehow, the message that Democrats, under President Clinton, and guided by Daniel Patrick Moynahan, changed welfare. There are no more welfare queens, driving Cadillacs, dripping in diamonds, sitting at home collecting welfare checks.
Actually, there never were such queens--the Welfare Queen was the most potent fictional character ever invented by the Republican party.
But there was, once, a very toxic welfare culture, a culture of dependency.
I saw it first hand in a clinic I did in Washington, DC, when a fourteen year old girl came in pregnant and I asked her how she intended to support this baby.
She shrugged her shoulders, looking at the floor and said, "Welfare."
It was a pattern I saw all the time in that clinic: Have the baby, hand it off to grandma, who was herself on welfare, sitting at home at age 40, taking care of her grand daughter's baby and taking care of her daughter's baby, and the daughter was working as a part time clerk and as a part time prostitute. The grand daughter went back to school,l where she got pregnant by three different boys, three more times before she finally left school. And all this depended on the arrival of the welfare checks.
That toxicity poisoned those it supported, but more important, it poisoned a generation of Joe Sixpacks who hated the Democrats for being so soft hearted as to give away the dollars Joe paid in payroll taxes and income taxes and gas taxes to these free loaders.
Democrats have to face this legacy of bitterness head on. We have to say, "We are against taking your money and giving it to people who don't deserve it."
On the other hand, when I asked people, "Suppose you had only two choices: Number One, you get all the healthcare and retirement money you need, but some people who are not working, who refuse to work will also get the same or, Number Two, you do not get any of that healthcare or retirement money, but the people who refuse to work get nothing."
Amazingly, there are people who chose number two.
That is a truth Democrats have to face.