This is the fifth and final installment of a series. In Part One I discussed how a candidate must run for something, not merely against Donald Trump. In Part Two I talked about how voters don’t fall neatly onto a left-right spectrum, meaning that trying to “claim the center” is a mistake. In Part Three I talked about how, contrary to popular belief, a clear majority of the electorate identifies as economically liberal. In Part Four I discussed how even voters in a Republican-leaning district hunger for a candidate who will advocate for a populist economic agenda. Today I talk about what that agenda might look like.
For nearly 40 years, Democratic politicians have been on the defensive. They have been ashamed and they have been afraid.
- Afraid of advocating for the interests of working people and for the poor;
- Afraid to fight back against the fallacy that government must favor the interests of big business and the wealthy in order to make the economy prosper;
- Afraid to confront those who would falsely and cynically cast government as the enemy, because they are afraid to acknowledge that government is, by definition, the will of the people themselves;
- Afraid to state, as a matter of demonstrable fact that, while government is not the sole actor in society, government is the only means to a host of valuable ends that, left alone, individuals and businesses have shown that they cannot or will not deliver;
- Afraid to give voice to the notion that people, working together, can make this country a better place;
Because of their fear — because they are afraid that they will be attacked by Republicans as weak or soft for giving voice to these principles — Democratic politicians have continually offered the most compromised campaign messages.
- They have failed to argue compellingly that people should not go hungry or homeless and should not go without basic medical care in the richest country in the world;
- They have failed to argue compelling that a person who puts in an honest day’s work is entitled to an honest day’s pay that allows him or her to provide for themselves and their family;
- They have failed to argue compellingly that the economy is not vibrant and healthy unless it is vibrant and healthy for rich and for poor, for the haves and the have-nots;
- They have failed to argue compellingly that the value of work is greater and more beneficial to society than the value of mere wealth, especially when that wealth is acquired through no work whatsoever;
- They have failed to argue compellingly that the rich should not be permitted to take advantage of the poor and the strong should not be able to take advantage of the weak.
These should not be controversial positions. There is nothing inherently partisan about a single one of them. They all address the basics of a functioning society that no one can argue in good faith are not desirable ends. If you need to put numbers to it, yes, I assure you that all of those assertions are favored by an overwhelming majority of American voters. Yet, at present, we have one political party whose entire agenda seems to be at odds with these principles and another which seems too cowardly to give a full-throated endorsement to them.
This is madness. It is long past time that Democrats advocate, in the plainest and most straightforward way possible, for these principles. It is long past time for them to call out Republicans for standing against them. It is by doing this — by offering a basic, clear-eyed and clearly-stated appeal to the interests of working people and to those in need — that a Democrat can beat any Republican in any district, no matter how gerrymandered it is.
I believe that a candidate doing so should focus on four broad issues and their underlying values, from which all substantive policy positions should flow:
Putting America to Work
The Dow Jones may climb and the unemployment numbers may be low, but working people know that the system is rigged, with productivity going up but people earning less and retirement becoming a fading dream for far too many. As real wages for real work are stagnant or declining, the benefits of our economy are being gobbled up by a smaller and smaller number of people who grow richer and richer by the day. It’s unsustainable. It’s unfair. It’s bad for America.
We must make our economy work for everyone, not just for the rich. We should raise the minimum wage. We must ensure that workers are given sick leave, family leave and medical leave. We must prevent companies from misclassifying employees to rob them of benefits and protections they deserve. We must provide protections for workers whose livelihoods are threatened by outsourcing, deindustrialization and automation and, if such protections prove inefficient, we must help retrain workers for in-demand occupations, especially occupations in emerging industries in the advanced energy sector. We must create disincentives for businesses to eliminate jobs and incentivize them to put workers first.
America has always been at its best when the lives of its workers have been at their best. Making workers’ lives better should be our top priority.
Years of tax cuts, service cuts and neglect have led to a degradation of our highways, railways, airports, bridges, tunnels, waterworks, sewers, the energy grid, our schools and our hospitals. The very bones of America are cracking and calcifying and they require a heavy investment in order to bring them back to strength.
An infrastructure plan — a real infrastructure plan that puts Americans to work, not some scam designed to put money in the pockets of developers, banks and middlemen — is badly needed. Infrastructure projects should be dictated by need, not by their ability to turn a profit. They should support good jobs that provide fair wages and benefits while discouraging anti-labor practices. They should likewise be sustainable, acknowledging that once you build something you must likewise maintain it and that you must train and retain workers to do so.
Infrastructure should be understood as an investment, not a one-time expense. It is, quite literally, the foundation upon which America is built.
Keeping America Healthy
America is the only major country on Earth that allows health insurance executives, pharmaceutical companies and their stockholders to get rich while tens of millions of people suffer because they can’t get basic health care. This is obscene and immoral. Every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need when they need it, regardless of their income.
This is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Every moment an American is worrying about the health of their family is a moment not spent making their lives and the lives of their families better. Every dollar spent on medical costs is a dollar not being spent on something else. Even those with health insurance already are paying costs beyond their premiums in terms of limited opportunities and the inability to change careers, start businesses or stay home to take care of their families because they fear losing employer-based coverage. Guaranteed health care for all Americans would eliminate a tremendous obstacle to their productivity, their innovation and their happiness.
By making health care a for-profit product available only to those with the ability to pay, we are in a self-inflicted health care crisis in this country. The only solution to it is the establishment of a single-payer national health care program. America should have done this decades ago. We can and should do it now.
Putting People Before Wall Street
Banks and corporations think that they run this country. They think it because our leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, have let them think it by taking their campaign funds and working hard to protect their interests at the expense of the American people. That they’d ever do this is unacceptable. That they doubled and tripled down on it after Wall Street and big business wrecked the world economy and caused the Great Recession from which many people are still trying to recover, is unconscionable.
In everything we do as a country, we must remember that we are a nation of people, not a nation of banks and corporations. Any policy we pursue, be it related to jobs, infrastructure, health care, taxes, the environment, trade, defense and everything else, should serve the interests of the people, not Wall Street. Ordinary Americans, not the wealthy. People who work, not people who get rich off the work of others.
There is no limit to the number of issues on which a politician or a candidate must take a position. And, of course, any candidate will have issues he or she will prefer to emphasize based on their personal convictions and their comfort with the substance of it all. In no way would I suggest that a candidate shy away from weighing in on any matter they think is important or addressing any matter with which they are presented during the course of a campaign. Never run from a fight, ever.
As I said at the outset of this series, however, a candidate must run for something. To do so, he or she must stand for something. This is true in any election, but it is especially true in an election in a district like OH-12, where a Democratic candidate must truly make voters stand up and take notice. A district in which he or she must not only motivate the Democratic base, but also (a) persuade voters who have voted Republican of late but who do not blindly and unthinkingly identify themselves as Republican; and (b) must awaken the masses of people in OH-12 who do not vote often and inspire them to go to the polls.
If that candidate wants to win OH-12, he or she will not merely run against Donald Trump. He or she will not follow the old, misguided conventional wisdom about “claiming the center. He or she will not shy away from policies that are economically liberal. He or she will, in fact, advance a populist economic agenda for which voters hunger. Finally, he or she will hammer home the themes and positions I mentioned above, over and over again.
As I argued in October, yes a Democratic candidate can win Ohio’s Twelfth district. This is how to do it.