The Democrats are pushing a new message aimed at reaching populist voters who went for Donald Trump in 2016. So far, their agenda skates over some of the most important economic issues we face.
This past week the Democratic Party began unveiling an economic agenda ahead of next year’s midterm elections, assuming it can’t merely run against President Donald Trump.
Depending on what happens with GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare,the party might get a very simple, powerful message against their opponents: Republicans took away health care from millions and raised insurance prices for millions more.
Still, the Dems think they have to be for something, not merely oppose. Hence, the evolving plan called A Better Deal (playing on FDR’s New Deal, which played on his cousin Theodore Roosevelt’s Square Deal).
Unfortunately, the new policy recommendations (beginning with a New York Times Op-Ed by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer) lack the boldness and clarity of either the Democratic or Republican Roosevelt. (FDR, facing national crisis, was also willing to experiment relentlessly and without ideological blinders).
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Among the Better Deal ideas: a $15 minimum wage, better control of monopolies and antitrust, an effort to bring down drug prices, and tax credits to companies in exchange for training workers.
Most of this is preaching to the choir. If Democrats believe this will win them Trump voters, they are delusional.
The $15 minimum wage is popular — and perhaps doable — in blue Seattle. But in addition to being potentially counterproductive in less prosperous places, it is a boogeyman for the right, an example of government run dangerously rampant. I suspect its advocacy would only strengthen red districts as Republicans pose as defenders of small-business owners and “economic freedom.”
The rise of industry consolidation, including monopolies, cartels and companies such as Amazon and Wal-Mart with overwhelming market power, has hurt job creation and competition and has clear-cut the economic assets of many a town and city. Yet the Better Deal would hardly be the trust-busting of TR.
Schumer writes, “We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.”
No one would argue that Amazon, with its low prices and ease of buying, hurts consumers. The brilliance of today’s market dominators is that most give customers a good deal. John D. Rockefeller Sr. must be looking down (?) smiling with envy.
Making it harder for most companies to merge if it hurts competition was already standing policy under the Obama administration. While it kept concentration from getting worse, it didn’t undo the damage of years of lax antitrust enforcement.
As for drugs, “We’re going to fight for rules to stop prescription drug price gouging and demand that drug companies justify price increases to the public,” Schumer wrote. “And we’re going to push for empowering Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for older Americans.”
Second things first: Insisting that Big Pharma bid for Medicare D would be a huge help in getting lower prices for this program. This is the most specific and resonant thing in the agenda, so far. And doable.
As for making Big Pharma lower its drug prices, this would require much more far-reaching reforms. One is to lead a crusade to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed unlimited corporate money into our political system, or legislate around it. That’s a tough lift.
Tax credits for job training is classic Bill Clinton small ball. Who could oppose that? But it’s not going to create large numbers of good jobs, much less prepare us for the job-killing rise of more capable automation and artificial intelligence. Neither party is mentioning this looming danger.
Important issues were missing. Among them: The economic boon from clean energy, breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks, making unionization easier, and taxes on the rich (including capital) and tax-evading big corporations. Infrastructure, especially a game-changer such as high-speed rail that could create many jobs, was barely mentioned. The Better Deal’s position on trade is yet to come.
The relatively mild, center-left agenda is understandable, and not merely because money is the mother’s milk of politics (so supposedly said Jesse Unruh, the legendary California pol). And key industries have a lot of milk to give.
The other reason is that the Democrats remain a mass party with liberals, centrists and even some conservatives. The Republicans were the same once, but have turned into solid right-wing party. Thus, Democrats must assemble coalitions to win, and some measures that would please its far left would make candidates in flyover country unelectable.
When party leaders traveled to a Virginia town that went for Trump to unveil the agenda, Schumer said, “President Trump campaigned on a populist platform, talking to working people. That’s why he won.”
For one thing, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and Democrats performed similarly in nationwide voting for the Senate. Of course, Senate elections are held in each state, so the victory is only symbolic.
Clinton had an extensive economic platform that was far more progressive and bold than the new plan. It was lost amid the media over-coverage of the nonexistent email scandal.
We’re still discovering how much Russian interference helped Trump. Those paying attention are still processing how much Trump’s propaganda and media tactics made facts irrelevant.
Finally, the identity politics of the right proved very useful. The Republicans played to white resentment of “those people” — the “takers” of color, as well as conservative anger over immigration threatening a white-majority country and over Democratic support of LGBTQ rights.
Indeed, take away this “cultural anxiety” and financially troubled white working-class voters preferred Clinton over Trump, according to a recent study.
If true, Democrats already win the economic election.
Bridging the other divides in our Cold Civil War will be much more difficult.