The persecution of the archetypal suburban swing voter “Reagan Democrat” has been a guiding star for democratic embassies since at least the mid-1980s. The strategy was straightforward: these socially moderate to conservative suburban white Americans were largely sympathetic to Democrats on economic issues, but voted in part for the GOP because they believed Democrats were interested in pursuing racial justice at the expense of what they considered to be considered more relevant to their own lives.
The result of this thinking has been a “color-blind” approach to talking about economic policies and programs. The message was emphasized that the rising tide lifts all boats and glosses over or ignores racial differences. But for ideological and strategic reasons, this “color-blind” stance is no longer effective for Democrats – and, according to McGhee, it can actually backfire.
“Since the Obama era, the racist electoral sorting has also included white voters moving into the Democratic Party because of their progressive views on the breed, ”she says. “What holds the progressive coalition together, of course, is the feeling that government can and must be a driving force in addressing our major crises. But also the coalition … we think so have to talk about race and don’t want to see politicians who don’t have the courage to directly address these obvious inequalities. ”
While the Biden government’s massive investment in middle-class economic growth has been compared by some to the liberal heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that comparison overlooks an important difference. The New Deal era was defined by guidelines that “either explicitly apply to whites, either explicitly as with housing subsidies or implicitly due to the separation of education and housing under the GI Act,” says McGhee. In contrast, she sees the Biden era as “a massive replenishment of the pool of public goods for all”.
What explains this change? What has changed in American politics that has led the Democratic leadership to address directly the racist components of economic problems? And what is the hidden story that led to the divestment in public goods when black Americans were absorbed into what America saw as the “public”? To clear things up, POLITICO Magazine spoke to McGhee. The following is a condensed copy of this conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Let’s talk about swimming pools. It’s a living metaphor that you use in your book and a story I was unfamiliar with. Can you explain the importance of public swimming pools?
Heather McGhee: In the 1930s and 1940s, the country saw a boom in public facilities – public libraries, parks, schools, and swimming pools. However, these weren’t your normal swimming pools. These were great resort style pools that in many cases could accommodate thousands of swimmers.
In many ways it was a symbol of a greater ethos at the time: it was the job of a government to ensure an ever higher standard of living for its people. You saw this in the New Deal-era social contract, which included massive housing subsidies, high labor standards, wage floors, and the GI bill – which brought a generation of men into home ownership, college, and work. And all of this either explicitly as in the case of housing subsidies or implicitly only for whites due to the separation of education and living according to the GI law. This massive public investment made the great American middle class as good as for whites.
Public swimming pools were also often separated. And in the late 1950s and early 60s, when black families began to stand up for them successfully [for integration]Many cities across the country chose to drain their public swimming pools instead of incorporating them.
This meant that white families lost a public good they valued. This meant that the entire community lost a public space and community that could promote social cohesion. That meant that white families with enough money started building their own backyard swimming pools – that’s when we really noticed this phenomenon in the suburbs – and these private membership-only swimming clubs across the country appeared. Black families often had to do without it – and the white families who could not afford it when what was once a public good became a private luxury.