Monday, August 5, 2019

What's a kitchen table issue, anyway?



From Isaiah Thomas, Editor
On Special Assignment in Brooklin, Maine

While you're sheltering in place today to avoid being taken apart by high-powered AR-15 rifle fire, perhaps you have time to ponder one of the great clich├ęs of election punditry: to win the Democrats must focus on “kitchen-table issues”

Which begs the question: what is a kitchen-table issue?  And shouldn't you define it before you advocate that Democrats focus on them instead of dining-room-table issues, reclining-chair issues, basement-pool-table-issues, or other furniture-related items of concern.

 Let's round up the usual gasbags and find out!

Here's that Trevi Fountain of conventional wisdom, Politico:

And a few states away in Virginia, freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger — who represents a swing district — is trying to stay above the impeachment fray and stick to the kitchen table issues that got her elected. "I reject all of the drama because the reality of it is that people who are trying to pay their bills, people who are trying to feed their kids, and people who are working two jobs and retirees who are worried about how they are going to live off of Social Security, they don't care about this flashy personality," Spanberger told CNN.

And here's an old chestnut from Real Clear Politics:

Thus emerging into the race are the "kitchen table issues," best defined as the sort of everyday concerns that confront ordinary folks on a daily basis. Traditional economic issues tend to the abstract: inflation rates, unemployment numbers, GDP growth, and the fluctuations of the stock market. But kitchen table issues comprise the concrete: bill paying, food purchases, tuition bills, vacation plans, and family heath care coverage.

Just last week Vice Principal John Delaney told Democrats to give up on crap like Medicare for all and focus on kitchen-table issues:

Delaney stuck to a centrist line, promoting the old line of “kitchen table, pocketbook issues.” “Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises,” he said. “When we run on things that are workable, not fairytale economics”—seemingly a reference to Warren’s expansive financial reform proposals.

We're pretty slow on the uptake but we get it: kitchen-table issues are the kinds families discuss at their kitchen table and relate directly to their financial status.

What are they talking about at their kitchen table?
But wait a minute!  Didn't the Conventional Wisdom just tell us that medical bills are a model kitchen table issue?  Wouldn't a proposal to relieve families permanently of medical bills and deductibles be a big winner at the kitchen table Olympics?

And now that we are thinking about this, whose kitchen table do these white moderate gasbags have in mind?

If you're sitting at the kitchen table of for example a family of color, aren't they also going to be concerned about issues important to them, like whether their teenage son can go out for a bag of Skittles without being lynched like Trayvon Martin?  I'm going to take a wild guess here and surmise that they might be concerned about nullification and suppression of their vote. That came up at Stacy Abrams's kitchen table!

Or like USA Today, you could ask them:

Young black voters who spoke to USA TODAY said they want candidates to address issues such as increasing the minimum wage, overhauling the criminal justice system, and pushing for more money to help struggling HBCUs expand research projects and fix crumbling buildings.

Kitchen table issues all, but not ones mentioned by John Delaney for some reason.

Or let's say that you're Latinx.  Might you express concern at your kitchen table that you can't go to Wal-Mart without some white supremacist mowing you down with machine-gun fire?  Maybe you wait until you get into the living room to discuss that?  Or maybe you might be concerned about friends or family that are enmeshed somehow in our dysfunctional immigration system and subject to being rounded up and incarcerated at the whim of the ICE body snatchers?  You might even express concern about children who look like you being locked up and neglected in unspeakably cruel CBP not-concentration-camps to please the sadistic lust of the Bigot-in-Chief.

So many kitchen tables, so little time.  At the kitchen table of a family with a trans member, maybe they're worried about whether that person will lose their job or even their custody over their children. Women at the kitchen table might be worried about, in addition to their economic woes exacerbated by pervasive sexism, being sexually harassed or assaulted or the loss of their right to safely terminate their pregnancies, even if that pregnancy was the result of rape.

And anyone sitting at their kitchen table might be worried about the blatantly unlawful and corrupt acts of the current occupant of the White House and whether anything will be done to preserve our constitutional system.

They also might worry that their children will suffer unfathomable harm, economic and otherwise, as the Greenland icecap melts into the Atlantic Ocean.  Why the jobs of a few coal miners are regarded as a critical kitchen table concern while the lives of millions in the path of sea level rise are somehow an abstraction unworthy of attention is known only to white male campaign consultants and pundits who in their next breath advise us that we must cut Social Security.  That's a kitchen-table winner!

John Delaney tried to pull the plug on progressive policies
The gasbags will cite polls that consistently rank economic issues as important to minority voters.  Well, duh.  But that doesn't mean that those are the only issues that are important to them or that their concerns and favored policies line up with the gasbags'.  When was the last time you heard white consultants talk about the important of remediating historic discrimination against people of color in buying homes and obtaining mortgages?  Take as long as you want.  Show your work.

We're beginning to think that this whole ragtime of “kitchen-table issues” is shorthand for abandoning a progressive agenda and running on incremental change supposedly appealing to white Midwesterners.  Of course, the Democrats nominated a candidate running on just that in 2016.  How did that turn out?  Well, actually, she won, but somewhere beyond the kitchen table, the election was stolen from her.

Even more ridiculous is the effort to drive a wedge between progressive policies and the kitchen table.  We have more than one candidate, notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who make it clear to even the dullest mind sitting at the old groaner the connection between the Republican-plutocrat machine (cause) and the stagnation of middle class incomes (effect).  So the distance from the ramparts to the table is – no distance at all.

Maybe the next time some insufferable white man tells you to stop worrying about the corruption-infested Presidency and Republican Party or imminent climate catastrophe and instead focus on – what exactly, just tell him what's important to you and your kitchen table and suggest that he take his patronizing misjudgments about what millions of voters care about into another room and flush it down another important piece of household furniture.

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