Do We Have to Hate Lincoln Now?

These days it seems there are two kinds of progressives. Those who have spent months in Florida trying to rally Amazon warehouse workers to approve a union, and those on the San Francisco board of education who sought to rename certain schools after more politically correct progressive heroes.

These recent stories out of San Francisco made some of us wonder if there is nothing higher on Bay area politicians’ agenda than renaming Abraham Lincoln Elementary School after Grace Slick or whoever. It’s not like San Francisco and Berkeley don’t have their share of problems. The cities are notorious for their struggles with homelessness, lack of affordable housing, NIMBYism and gentrification.

But I suppose it is human nature that, faced with intractable problems, San Francisco’s elected officials would prefer to do something that will have an immediate impact.

When conservatives attack liberal policies, they often go after the policies of those they call out-of-touch elites, like San Francisco’s elected officials. Elites who often focus on cultural issues (removing statues, renaming schools) rather than kitchen table issues (minimum wage, family leave).

These same conservatives, however, will never go after progressives who champion workers rights. That’s because the conservative base is solidly working class and conservatives don’t want to remind those workers that the GOP’s policies are anti-working family.

That is why Sean Hannity or Charlie Kirk or Tucker Carlson will spend hours railing about canceling Abraham Lincoln, but never devote a minute to, say, the Missouri GOP’s ongoing attempt to roll back a recently approved modest increase in the minimum wage.

Basically, it comes down to this: while cultural issues are not unimportant (I was glad to see the Columbus statue removed from my neighborhood park), they are not as critical as the issues affecting working families, i.e., health care for all, paid family leave, mandatory paid vacations, student debt forgiveness, predatory lending, and daycare subsidies, to name a few.

Nor will cultural issues win back working class voters. In fact, they tend to have the opposite effect.

It was the GOP’s single-minded focus on cultural issues (Vietnam War protests, abortion, busing, etc.) that led to the working class’s mass defection from the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 70s. At the time, many progressives said good riddance to the working class. They were tired of compromising with racists anyway.

But at what cost? Few progressive policies have been enacted since the mid-60s. In the last fifty years, there has been little to no action on gun control, health care, labor laws, family leave, Medicaid expansion, free public college, a liveable wage, immigration, climate change, etc., while the gap between the rich and poor has grown, union membership has plummeted, military spending has soared and corporations and the wealthy have seen huge tax breaks.

Progressives, socialists and communists used to be focused almost exclusively on the working class. And in those days working families returned the favor by voting for the Democratic Party.

For working families, changing the name of Abraham Lincoln School is not on their to-do list and never will be. Progressives might want to take a look at that list.