Saturday, December 12, 2020

Dems must get angry, and talk straight and bold on a failing economy

Just because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won in Wisconsin and nationwide, it doesn't mean that Dems don't have a lot of work to do going forward. Former UW-Milwaukee econ professor William Holahan printed this piece recently, which goes into how Dems need to improve their messaging, especially on the economy.

Holahan says that Dems often cower in fear of being slurred as "socialists", and never respond by standing strong for what they believe in, and showing voters that they want to solve real problems, unlike Republicans.
"Socialism" is a term in economics that describes activity in which the means of production and distribution are owned and managed collectively through some level of government. Confusion arises because the term "socialism" can apply both to small sectors of the economy and to centralized control of the economy as a whole. Strictly speaking, the streets, roads and highway departments, the water and sanitation departments, the police and fire departments, the military, the courts, the weather service, and a host of other services fit the "socialist" definition. But instead of applying the toxic S-word to such small units of the economy, descriptive words are substituted, such as “public sector,” “government sector,” or an adjective is attached to individual government services, as in “public schools,” or "public health," or “public parks,” or “public safety.” Government responsibility in these sectors is a long-accepted necessary complement to the market economy.

In election season, Republicans affix "socialism" to Democratic proposals in order to conjure the image of economy-wide centralized governmental ownership of the means of production and distribution of the nation's goods and services. Republican campaign ads attach that image to Democrats with references to historical examples: Soviet Union and China; and contemporary ones: Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea. If such a centralized bureaucracy is to maintain control, it cannot allow competition from private firms, an extreme constraint on individual liberty and ingenuity. Exiles from such places tell of debilitating inefficiencies, shortages, and forced labor camps and gulags for dissidents. [Dem US Rep. Abby] Spanberger is right: Democrats must strongly disassociate from such imagery.

Of course, no one, not even AOC or Bernie Sanders, is suggesting centralized control of the United States economy. Still, serious policy proposals — from investing in public safety, or addressing climate, health insurance, pandemic, infrastructure, poverty, economic recovery — all require a complementary role for government to correct identifiable market failures.

Although false and misleading, Republicans will conflate government and socialism in their campaign messaging. It is a lazy, contemptuous gambit, and a distraction from the absence of their own policy approaches. To respond when their proposals are labeled "socialist," Democrats can use elementary economics to explain the necessary role of government in their proposals, sharpen their explanation in focus groups, and then pose a challenge: "Here's our plan to address serious national problems; where is yours?"
Right. When GOPs blabber about “socialist health care”, Dems need to respond “Do you think health care should be tied into someone’s job? We don’t.”

When GOPs try to hold up COVID aid by giving liability shields to corporations, Dems should ask “Why shouldn’t companies be responsible for making workplaces safer? Why should they be left off the hook?” This allows Dems to show voters they’re in the corner of workers over fatcats, while GOPs clearly only care about profits and giving more power to people that have a ton of it already.

I also wanted to forward these thoughts from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, Inside Greenberg's article, he says that Dems blew a chance to make bigger gains in November because they were unwilling to forcefully engage Republicans on too many issues, and did not have a clear economic agenda. This allowed Trump/GOP to step into the gap, and drive up turnout among blue-collar whites while Dems did not benefit as much as predicted from turnout by voters of color.
BUT TRUMP’S RACIALIZING OF THE ELECTION was only part of the story on why Democrats underperformed. They were not pulled down by “fear of socialism,” my research showed. They were pulled down by the lack of any economic relief and any economic offer to counter Trump’s racist imagery and push to open the economy. Democrats were pulled down by their offering no competing narrative to Trump’s drumbeat on “law and order” on what was at stake in November. Democrats were not heard decrying the health care costs that are killing people, or battling for lower insurance and drug costs, or battling corporations and their big tax breaks—as they were in the midterms. Biden ended up with no advantage on who would be better for the middle class.

You may not have noticed that Trump cynically shifted from attacking Mexican Americans and Latinos to attacking Blacks. He actively courted Latinos, especially in Florida, and it worked. Fear of immigrants was far and away the top reason to vote for Trump in 2016 and 2018, but only one in five in 2020 said they voted for Trump because of the “border wall” and “being tough on immigration.” That gave many Latinos the space to consider Trump, because he was talking about their own experience, wanted to open up the economy, or based on his macho style, or opposition to Castro and Ch├ívez. That hurt Democrats in Florida and Texas, and made Nevada closer.

And one has to ask: Why did Trump’s race war joined passionately by the Democrats not produce historic turnout in the Black communities where Democrats’ organizational efforts could not have been stronger? Trump might have won 20 percent of Black men, but that is unimportant compared to Blacks not increasing their turnout in Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Atlanta and other cities. What went wrong?...

Blacks and Latinos were the voters “most frustrated and hurt by the political status quo that further enriches the top 1 percent and weakens unions.” Not disrupting the status quo where politics is rigged against working people means you have to live with a minimum wage that keeps you in poverty and a government that cuts education spending and investments in infrastructure and does nothing to make health care and prescription drugs affordable.

In short, while Democrats championed Black lives as a racial issue, they fell far short in addressing how much Black Americans wanted to shake up a rigged political system to do more for working people and bring changes that can help their families, that they can feel in their pocketbook. That, more than anything else, explains the disappointing level of Black turnout.
It seems telling to me that the non-racist ads Trump ran in Wisconsin tried to claim credit for an alegedly growing economy. This was shameless and galling, given the heightened levels of unemployment, and the disproportionate pain that has been laid on the lower half of the country over the last year.

But did we see Dems run strong on unlocking health care from someone's job, or remind voters of the GOP Tax Scam that did nothing to help the overwhelming majority of the country, but gave huge tax breaks to the rich while incentivizing even more inequality? No, we did not. Likely because the DNC/Biden-Harris crew decided on a message of "character and competence counts" (hey, it worked on people like my usually Republican-voting mother) and a general approval of a more inclusive country that respects and recognizes all its citizens.

But it didn't forcefully call out the racism of Trump and Trumpers, and it didn't forcefully attack the failing GOP economic policies that have left so many in desperate situations as 2020 ends.

If Dems continue to be the party that accepts a status quo that far too many are losing under, they can be outflanked by a "straight-talking" GOP whose policies are significantly worse for voters but successfully redirect anger against "elites" and a "broken system."

Frankly, Dems can't afford not to go bold and populist, if they want to win downticket in the coming years. And they need to realize that the election of Joe Biden doesn't mean that we can go back to the bland policies and messaging of the 2010s.

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