Historian Offers Insight Into Blue-Collar Conservatism

Posted on January 28, 2019
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Assistant Professor of History Timothy Lombardo’s first book tells the story of Frank Rizzo, a charismatic politician who rode  into office — first as Philadelphia’s police commissioner and then as mayor — in part by using race, identity and security to win the votes of white, working-class supporters.

Rizzo was in office in the 1960s and 1970s, but the release of “Blue-Collar Conservatism” by University of Pennsylvania Press takes place as those same issues are at the forefront of national politics.

Lombardo writes that the populist variant of modern conservatism was shaped by the racial upheavals of civil rights-era urban America, and was imbued with blue-collar identity politics. Rizzo’s supporters attempted to use class identity and blue-collar discourses to distract from the racial politics of civil rights legislation, and he charts the emergence of the “law and order” politics that were central to the rise of the right, Lombardo writes.

“Rizzo’s appeal,” says Lombardo, “was born of the interaction of culture, identity, neighborhood politics, race, and spatial segregation that could only happen in an urban center.”

Ultimately, “Blue-Collar Conservatism” shows how blue-collar whites joined the conservative movement that reached fruition in the 1980s, and reshaped it into a coalition that backed populist politicians from Frank Rizzo to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. Indexing for the book and rights for images from Temple University’s special collections were funded by a seed grant to support the arts and humanities from South’s Office of Research and Economic Development.

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