Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Schumer Tries to Resurrect a Moribund Democratic Party

New York Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, has set forth what he believes are a set of proposed “bold changes to our politics and our economy.” The new official Democratic agenda. Calling this list a “better deal for American workers” in a July 24th editorial in the New York Times, Schumer announced three enumerated platforms for a horribly-divided Democratic Party heading for the 2018 mid-terms, so far the “party of no” opposing anything and everything Trump.
There’s not much here, but it is a start… baby steps lacking a program of implementation and one that side-steps or just glances by some of the biggest domestic issues facing this country: the big healthcare fix (way beyond the cost of prescription drugs), student debt, restoration of environmental/financial/consumer regulations and failing infrastructure. And if you are a worked in an obsolete rust belt manufacturing sector or working in fossil fuel extraction (especially coal), nothing here is going to pull you away from Trump’s empty promises.
Here is that minimalistic, nascent Democratic platform: “First, we’re going to increase people’s pay. Second, we’re going to reduce their everyday expenses. And third, we’re going to provide workers with the tools they need for the 21st-century economy.
“Over the next several months, Democrats will lay out a series of policies that, if enacted, will make these three things a reality. We’ve already proposed creating jobs with a $1 trillion infrastructure plan; increasing workers’ incomes by lifting the minimum wage to $15; and lowering household costs by providing paid family and sick leave…
“[1] We’re going to fight for rules to stop prescription drug price gouging and demand that drug companies justify price increases to the public. And we’re going to push for empowering Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for older Americans…
“[2] Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care. 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.
“[3] Right now millions of unemployed or underemployed people, particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work. We propose giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs. This will have particular resonance in smaller cities and rural areas, which have experienced an exodus of young people who aren’t trained for the jobs in those areas.
“In the coming months, we’ll offer additional ideas, from rebuilding rural America to fundamentally changing our trade laws to benefit workers, not multinational corporations.”
The “why” we need these changes (see Schumer’s take below) could be taken from the underlying arguments from both sides of the aisle. The big difference: Republicans arguing that getting government out of people’s lives is the only path to growth and Dems stating that this path only enriches the wealthiest Americans… direct government involvement is their answer. The underlying evil is change. Both parties rail at globalization and each is silent on the obviously mega-impact of automation and artificial intelligence. Schumer explains:
“There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.
“But things have changed.
“Today’s working Americans and the young are justified in having greater doubts about the future than any generation since the Depression. Americans believe they’re getting a raw deal from both the economic and political systems in our country. And they are right. The wealthiest special interests can spend an unlimited, undisclosed amount of money to influence elections and protect their special deals in Washington. As a result, our system favors short-term gains for shareholders instead of long-term benefits for workers.
“And for far too long, government has gone along, tilting the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy and powerful while putting new burdens on the backs of hard-working Americans.
“Democrats have too often hesitated from taking on those misguided policies directly and unflinchingly — so much so that many Americans don’t know what we stand for. Not after today. Democrats will show the country that we’re the party on the side of working people…” Riiight!
At least, the Dems have wisely started with a domestic agenda, avoiding the exceptionally negative foreign policy shifts that have tanked American power and influence all over the world. They have left untouched the only clear “spend more” GOP vector remaining on the table: Upgrading the American armed forces with billions of new dollars, allocations that represent over 40% of the world’s entire military budget, even though we have not won a major war since World War II. We lost influence and control over Iraq to Iran, and the Taliban control more of Afghanistan than they did when we began that conflict 17 years ago (our longest war). ISIS may lose territory, but they have spread their evil in uncontained attacks all over the world. Until their economic fears are settled, most Americans just don’t care about what’s going on “over there,” even if the issues cannot be separated so easily.
There are a couple of other major considerations that make a unified, national message difficult to sell and even more difficult to implement by a minority party. Even if it is a tough expectation, all electing a 2018 Democratic majority in either House of Congress does is to stalemate and gridlock decision-making until the 2020 presidential race. Progress forward would still be stymied and will give the GOP/Trump machine someone to blame. It is going to take some clever explaining to keep this from deeply infecting the Democrats, but it is a road that they have to walk down. It also augurs better for centrist candidates than those on the extreme left, easier targets for the GOP. We may move farther left in the future, as automation and artificial intelligence take their toll on the job market, but America is still a nation very much in the middle today. And yes, it always is “the economy stupid!”
But what the Dems really need to focus on is this rather unsubtle political axiom: All politics is local. Battles need to be fought – based on issues of local importance and failed efforts of elected local officials – within state legislatures, governorships, other local offices and with Congressional candidates dealing rather directly addressing voter concerns in their own districts and states. Restrictions that reduce the voting power of local Democrats – from gerrymandering to other voter restrictions – should be in federal courts in every state where this impact is real.
At least someone is finally trying, but there is so much work to be done that local Republicans, as deeply embarrassed as they obviously are over Donald Trump’s tweets, ravings, policy-reversals and chaos among those he selected to work with, aren’t even looking in their rear view mirrors to see where Dems are advancing… yet. Dems are still thousands of miles away from creating a meaningful threat… even in the days of a wildly unpopular Donald Trump. Even with a Pence-tie-break-Senate-vote to “debate” the… er… mystery and unknown… GOP healthcare “repeal and replace” plan? Yup!
I’m Peter Dekom, and while we live in some of the most unjust and unfair times in American history, until Americans feel economically secure about their futures, those moral issues will just trail as national priorities as much as we may hate that reality.

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