Does Gov. Whitmer Have a Formula for a Democratic Response to GOP Culture War?Historians in the News
tags: culture war, Gretchen Whitmer, 2024 Election
Democrats who control the Michigan state legislature scored a huge win last week by repealing the state’s “right to work” law, which helped decimate unions’ ranks by letting workers opt out of dues. The repeal will allow organized labor in the state to rebuild, boosting Democrats in the heart of the industrial Midwest.
But the move also offers Democrats something less obvious: an opening to craft an effective response to the reactionary culture war mania unfolding in many red states.
The pro-union bill, which Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed on Friday, follows other measures Democrats passed this month to strengthen LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections and repeal an old state abortion ban.
In this, Michigan Democrats are using the majorities they won in 2022 to advance an agenda that’s economically and socially liberal — as developments that can complement one another.
What Michigan Democrats are doing reflects these deep currents. Repealing “right to work” is meant to rebuild labor representation (a long, difficult task) and working-class support. But it also shows the party no longer fears that robust social liberalism will alienate working-class voters.
“We have this vision of the working class as socially conservative,” labor historian Erik Loomis told me. “This is largely not true.” The new working class, he said, represents “the broad diversity of the United States,” so choosing between economic and cultural issues is a “sucker’s game.”
The new calculus also reflects a changing Democratic coalition, notes Michael Kazin, author of a new history of the Democratic Party. He says Democrats are now confident that the college-educated voters trending the party’s way are fundamentally “progressive on economic and cultural issues.”
But, Kazin told me, Democrats must do more to “break through” with working-class people, by showing that social liberalism can coexist with “affordable health care, housing, and a right to a voice at one’s workplace.” For Democrats, executing this in Michigan could be “the wave of the future.”
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