For 40 years Republicans have tried to convince working-class whites that their hard-earned tax dollars were paying for "welfare queens" (as Ronald Reagan decorously put it) and other nefarious loafers -- a cunning strategy using racial prejudice and economic anxiety to distract attention from corporations that were busily busting unions, outsourcing abroad, and using technologies to replace jobs.
But as the economy has shifted, poverty is now a condition almost anyone can fall into. Nearly 55% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 have experienced at least a year in poverty or near poverty; half of all American children have at some point during their childhoods relied on food stamps. A growing portion of the middle class are in part-time or temporary positions, or contract workers. And two-thirds of those below the poverty line at any given point identify themselves as white.
All this renders the old Republican divide-and-conquer strategy obsolete. Which means Republican opposition to extended unemployment insurance, food stamps, jobs programs, and a higher minimum wage pose a real danger of backfiring on the GOP, making way for a new political coalition of America's poor and working middle class bent on getting a fair share of the economies' gains and repairing frayed safety nets.