Marcy Kaptur is the longest-serving woman in the current Congress.
She has also been in the U.S. House of Representatives longer than any woman has served there, in all of U.S. history.
She came to the Congress in 1983.
She is 74 and has been a Democrat her entire voting life.
You might think she is worth listening to.
As it happens, she has a message for her party: Wake up.
Wake up or you will lose the House in the next election and maybe not regain it for many years.
Wake up or you will lose the working class to the Republicans, for good.
Miss Kaptur points out that leadership in the House is dominated by members from the two coasts and from wealthy districts.
A political realignment is taking place. Rural America is already Republican and, more specifically, Trumpian. Now more and more working-class and working-poor Americans are leaving the Democratic Party and voting Republican. Why? Because they feel their plight, their reality, has at least been recognized by Donald Trump’s GOP.
Mind you, Miss Kaptur thinks Donald Trump did nothing for these voters and never seriously intended to. She also thinks he is psychologically “unbalanced.” But she recognizes what he recognized: what has happened to manufacturing and the working class in places like Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo, and large swaths of greater Detroit.
She represents a district characterized by economic decline.
But these places and the people who live in them, says Miss Kaptur, are largely invisible to her Democratic colleagues in the House who are busy forming caucuses around identity politics. They don’t get her part of America, and they aren’t interested. She says that one colleague told her people should just move away.
There is no one like her, no one from a district like hers, in Democratic leadership. “It’s been very hard for regions like mine, which have had great economic attrition, to get fair standing” (in leadership), she says.
Instead, she says her colleagues tell her, up front, that they don’t get her or her voters.
Miss Kaptur is an old-fashioned Roosevelt-Truman Democrat. She is not going to retire or change parties or become a congressman without a party. She will keep on, and keep fighting for what she believes. Her latest cause is to establish an infectious disease unit in the National Institute of Health.
But she, like many Democrats, is disillusioned and alienated.
A devout Catholic, she cannot share the obsessive enthusiasm of her party for abortion. She is for women’s rights and rights to privacy, but not for government funding of abortion or late-term abortion.
She is an environmentalist, passionate about saving Lake Erie, but she also wants to save the auto industry.
Cultural questions are tough ones, morally and politically, but most people seek a balance.
Miss Kaptur has been seriously disrespected by her party. She has been denied a major committee chairmanship after all these years — 20 terms in the House. Think about that and what it means to disrespect that.
“I think economics can bind us. I think that when we divide into too many subgroups, we lose the overarching theme,” says the congressman.
She’s right. Dead right.
The overarching theme should be opportunity, not identity.