Can the Democratic Party Be Saved? Part Two

Those who blame Democratic woes on external sources–the media, disloyalty, sexism, etc.–need to grasp that since 1989, Democrats have lost 60 House seats, 14 U.S. Senators, 830 state legislative seats, and 10 governorships. One-third of the House Democratic caucus comes from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. Anyone that thinks the party is simply the victim of dirty politics is delusional. Democratic economic and social policies are in disarray. One wonders also about their political strategy.

                         Political Strategy:

This can be summed in a single phrase: fight or fold the damn tents! Republican bombast has already begun: Cooperate with President Trump; give him a chance to lead. The Democratic message should be loud and unambiguous: "Screw you!" Democrats should cooperate with Trump with exactly as much sincerity and fervor as Republicans cooperated with President Obama. The American public voted for gridlock and nastiness, so dish it out for a change instead of being on the receiving end. Do not fall into the "good of the nation" trap or any fantasy about being statesman-like. The GOP declared all-out war on Obama, Clinton, and Carter and all the Democrats got by seizing the moral ground was their butts kicked. Should American politics be about ideas and issues? Of course it should! Should it be rational and moral? Yes again. But it's not--so get over it. Michelle Obama suggested, "When they aim low, we go high." I wish, but she's wrong. Get in the mud, fling, and fight or --as Bob Dylan sang,--you ain't going nowhere.

Economic Policy:

1. Stop talking about the 'middle class' all the time.

It wasn't hard for Donald Trump to win the working class: after Sanders left the race, as no Democrat mentioned for-real wage earners. The constant "middle class workers" drum roll excludes a whopping 58% of all working Americans who work for wages, not salaries. The election of 2016 exposed the fiction of a "middle class" America, as well as  the impoverished thinking of Democrats imagining that the middle class cares about its agenda. Memo: That's only true of an educated elite; most of the white, suburban middle class is Republican, racist, selfish, and averse to taxes. Democrats need to do the following:

·      --Get out of the suburbs and into the urban core and the countryside.
·      --Evolve a message that addresses hourly wage earners that goes beyond raising the minimum wage.
·      --Put forth candidates that come from farm and industrial states, not those dominated by the professional classes. In essence, revive the John Edwards platform.
·      --Talk about the dignity of service industry jobs and stop treating it as if it's unskilled labor.
·      --Put forth a coherent plan for preserving American jobs. Part of this would include penalizing outsourcing and closing loopholes that make it easy for employers to engage in said practice.
·      --Take the lead on easy-sell economic programs such as closing tax loopholes that benefit only rich individuals and large corporations.

2. Get off the free trade horse.

It may not be possible to stem the tide of globalism completely, but Democrats should stop worshiping at the free trade altar. Donald Trump is absolutely right when he says that not all free trade is good. If there is no tangible benefit for American workers, no deal! Cheap imports mean nothing if working people have to max out credit cards to purchase them. Trump has threatened to slap high import tariffs on car manufacturers that move jobs out of the USA and he actually does that--good on him! Run with the idea that a healthy American economy is something beyond making Chinese exporters and Wall Street speculators richer.

3. Go hard at some 'soft' targets.

Pick on easy-to-hate GOP allies like banks, the pharmaceutical industry, and CEOs.  

How about a hard cap on credit card interest? Ten percent would be a start. There aren't many other businesses that make that kind of profit margin. Go after bank interest rates as well. Peg interest rates bank charge to a percentage of what they offer on savings. How about 1:3? If a bank charges 3% on a home mortgage, it ought to pay depositors at least 1% for getting to use their money. End all user fees for routine customer services: using auto tellers, checks, getting money orders….

It's obscene for drug companies to make grotesque profits from human suffering. A hard cap on drug profits is in order. It would reward research and insure fair profit, but under no circumstances should drug or medical costs be subject to the logic of  'what the market will bear.'

Log overdue: a law restricting total CEO compensation. It should be pegged to a formula vis-à-vis the lowest-waged employee. The average package used to be in the 4-5 times range; now it's 373 times. Call this what it is: a practice that breeds arrogance and management completely out of touch with average workers.

4. Go green or go home.

Democrats need a 21st century industrial policy and the "green" sector is the obvious place to go. Promote it and protect it. Sell it hard in postindustrial regions. Ignore backward-looking regions such as Louisiana and West Virginia that insist that more drilling and more mining will solve all woes. They're on the wrong side of history and until they flip the calendar, it's pointless to waste political energy there.

Social Policy:

Kneejerk liberals won't like it, but serious reframing is in order. I can't emphasize this enough: Democrats must stop talking about things that are perceived as "special privileges." I am not suggesting that Democrats abandon the quest for racial justice, LGBTQ rights, or reproductive freedom, but they must repackage them. How about using phrases such as "the right of all Americans?" Make appeals to "fairness" and "privacy," and steer clear of questions of morality. Currently the party is perceived as privileging black, queer, abortion, and interest group rights over all others. It makes it too easy for moralists to position themselves as the guardians of "American values."

Reframing works. For millions of Americans the difference between saying, "I favor abortion rights," and "I don't think the government has a right to tell people what people what they can do with their own bodies," is the difference between rejection and accord. Ditto saying, "It's not fair to discriminate against anyone" versus "Affirmative action programs are necessary to level the playing field."

This rankles the "Stand up for your rights" crowd, but I can attest firsthand the magic of reframing. I worked a Sanders-for-U.S. House campaign in which gay rights was successfully repositioned as a "privacy" issue. Democrats have two choices: they can address the masses, or be viewed as the party of the special classes. Liberals generally hate sanctimonious moralists, so stop behaving like them.

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