An Inconvenient Coalition: Climate Change and Democratic Party Elite Discourse on Class, 1988-2008

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation uses Critical Discourse Analysis to study debates among elite members and affiliates of the Democratic Party from 1988-2008 on class issues and their relevance to the party's environmental agenda. This research builds off of several related historical and theoretical accounts (both primary and secondary) of new social and economic divisions between college-educated and non-college educated workers that have shaped American politics since the 1970s. I focus on how Democratic interest in environmentalism changed as a 'professional-managerial-class' or 'new class' supplanted unionized, industrial workers as the primary social base of the Democratic party. I trace how related people and groups associated with the party understood the relevance of these different classes to consolidating enduring electoral power, and how these informed specific arguments for what ideological views or policy proposals the party should publicly embrace. Furthermore, I identify 'green' narratives related to environmental protection, as an emerging thematic framework that some Democrats felt could help them build a coalition based primarily around support from educated, white-collar workers. I contend that the ideological character of the party's environmental rhetoric, as articulated in this debate, has been influenced mostly by attempts to tailor the party's agenda to the perceived sensibilities of the college-educated, rather than the older working-class base. My analysis proposes three overarching core concepts most often ascribed to the professional class and its members' ideological disposition. I use the discursive method described above to explore their relationship to the framing of the climate issue and its connection to broader ideological values. These are (A) Meritocracy (B) Technocratic Rationality, and (C) Individualism. I argue these professional-oriented climate narratives can be understood as adapting the conceptual reasoning of an older liberal tradition to the structural conditions of the post-70s, globalized economy. Specifically, that the frequent emphasis on these three concepts implicit to the PMC-centric discourse is consistent with a liberal view of freedom as 'non-interference', and a related hostility to democratic interventions into the market. This ideological analysis is significant to the dissertation's focus on framings of climate change because an account this conceptual logic reveals the potential limits of the Democrats' efforts to create majoritarian, political support for environmental protection.



The Democratic Party, Liberalism, Republicanism, Climate Change, Class, The Democratic Leadership Council, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, An Inconvenient Truth, The Professional-Managerial Class, PMC, The Working Class, Globalization, Post-Industrial Economy