Fear not, brothers and sisters, for in these dark days of Trumpism, of unrestrained corporate power, of environmental ruin and possible nuclear war, there is a ray of hope. The Democratic party, led by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, is riding to the rescue:
Democrats are beginning to craft an economic message for 2018 that goes beyond the tempting, single-minded strategy of demonizing Donald Trump.I don’t know about you, but when Chuck Schumer promises a “strong, sharp-edged, bold economic message,” I get a tingle up my leg. It’s almost as inspiring as Nancy Pelosi saying, “We’re all capitalists.”
Licking their wounds after an embarrassing showing in November, Democrats vowed to charge into next year’s midterms with a proactive sales pitch to voters. While many, including party leaders, have fallen right back into the same anti-Trump pattern they say cost them 2016 in the first place, top Democrats now say they’re working on “a strong, sharp-edged, bold economic message,” as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put it Tuesday.
But let’s be fair. After leading us to a string of humiliating defeats since 2010, culminating in the slaughter of 2016 and the victory of Donald Trump, the Democratic party is acting decisively to craft a broad economic agenda that will “unite both caucuses” of the Party. It’s “expected to emerge by early summer.”
“We’re spending a lot of time on this,” says Chuck Schumer.
Just when you need the cavalry the most, six months after the battle’s been lost.
At issue is a deep philosophical divide: One branch of the Democratic party wants to do more of the same plus family leave, while the other branch wants to do absolutely nothing at all. One branch wants to throw some populist window dressing around, kinda, sorta, by the dark of the moon; the other wants to sit on their thumbs and wait for Trump to fail, because that strategy worked so well in 2016.
“We have no message right now,” says one House Democrat, “and we don’t need one.”
The trouble is, the Democrats don’t know how to pack “more of the same plus family leave” and “do absolutely nothing” into an inspiring, easily digestible soundbite. But don’t worry, they’ll try, and fail. Chuck Schumer promises that they’re going to “hammer” this agenda leading up to the midterms. I hope they’ve hired John Podesta, Robby Mook and Bob Shrum to help them iron out the details.
Meanwhile, Republican congressmen are being assailed at town hall meetings all over the country by progressives with a very simple message: single payer now.
How’s that for an easily digestible soundbite that conveys the Democratic way of thinking? Chuck, Nancy, are you listening?
Bernie Sanders is polling as the most popular politician in America, the leader of a populist upsurge that nearly toppled Hillary Clinton in the primaries. What does that tell you? Chuck, Nancy, are you listening?
Many Trump supporters are souring on his recent conversion to neo-conservatism and war. The little people, even some of Trump’s deplorables, don’t want any more war. Are you listening Chuck, Nancy? Hello?
This suggests a very simple set of soundbites that the Democrats could use, as they say, going forward: single payer, raise the minimum wage, end the wars.
Single payer, raise the minimum wage, end the wars. Give the people healthcare, a little more money, and don’t kill them in a nuclear war.
I came up with that in two minutes, without the benefit of a consulting firm, the Gallup poll, a Rolodex full of Beltway experts, or lunch with Robby Mook, Bob Shrum and John Podesta. I didn’t need to phone up Frank Luntz in his cave to come up with a few Orwellian jargon words to makes these ideas palatable to the masses. People need health insurance, they need more money, and nobody, but nobody outside of neocon circles, wants a nuclear war. We want to be healthy, we want to have enough money to pay the bills, and we don’t want to be incinerated. Wow. How revolutionary.
Are these doable? No, not right away, but they are a practical set of aims, easily communicated in a soundbite media culture, that a party can build on. Or substitute raising the minimum wage with some other popular measure. Student loan forgiveness? We bail out banks, why not students? Think of something, Democrats, and mean it. Then hammer the message over and over and over again.
Oh, sayeth the wise Democratic centrists, those positions ignore the hard political realities. Well, at one time, cutting Social Security went against the hard political realities. It was the “third rail” of politics. Now, after decades of Republican hammering, it’s right there on the chopping block, a hard new political reality that ice cream cone Democrats, in their week-kneed zeal for bipartisanship, offer up in their ‘grand bargains’ with Republican butchers.
Hard political realities can, and must, be changed. The American Revolution went against the hard political realities of the day. So did abolishing slavery, the forty-hour work week, the New Deal, civil rights. They all went against the hard political realities and, wait for it, changed them.
Nowadays it’s the Republican party who changes the hard political realities, and then imposes them on us with blood and iron. Meanwhile, the Democrats cluck around the barnyard like gutless chickens, praying the ax will slip out of Trump’s hand before he cuts their necks.
There is a ready-made populist constituency just waiting to be led. They are thirsting for leadership, for someone to articulate some basic positions that actually help people. But the Democrats, in their centrist wisdom, have decided to wait and see.
They will consult their donors and all the Important People in order to manufacture some safe, bland, poll-tested, focus-grouped agenda. It will be carefully designed to appeal to the fiscally conservative yet socially liberal attitudes of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. They will offer it up like it’s the most super fantastic thing since the New Deal even though everyone will know it’s a sham. It’s most progressive elements will be immediately jettisoned at the first signs of opposition, or at least completely watered down. Then they’ll be trampled to death in another Republican rout and blame it on Russia, or a third party candidate, or some other external factor. That way they never have to trouble their beautiful little minds with hard things like reflection, self-criticism, and change.
There is a luscious women waiting with her legs spread, beckoning, and Chuck Schumer is standing there with his pants around his ankles, his spectacles perched on the end of his nose, calling over his shoulder to Nancy Pelosi about what to do with the cocoa butter.
“Hey Nancy, what are you supposed to do with this stuff?”
“Hold on, Chuck, my pearls are slipping.”
Nancy Pelosi recently said to a gathering that single payer was a really swell idea. It’s the right idea, the popular one, and everyone supported it. If we were starting from scratch, she said, a “tabula rasa,” we would put it in place immediately, but it’s just too late. We already have a system in place and we have to work within it.
That sums up the Democratic approach perfectly. Politics consists of extracting piecemeal concessions within the established order, as defined by corporate, banking and Pentagon interests (and enforced by Republican bullying). You can’t implement any policy, no matter how popular, if the donor class doesn’t want it. They set the agenda and you must be happy for any crumbs they choose to give you. You must not fight. You must not shout. Shut up and be happy at the back of the bus. We’ll let you know when we decide to do something for you. It’s timid and conformist. It’s passive and obedient, and it always leads to defeat, as the recent history of the Democratic party amply demonstrates.
Martin Luther King they ain’t.
The piece concludes:
The task ahead for Democrats, then, may be to bait Trump into swinging and missing on bread-and-butter economic issues just as he did on health care, while simultaneously plugging their own plan.In other words, let the Republicans set the agenda. Do nothing. Hope Trump “swings and misses,” and occasionally, you know, mention some possible alternatives.
“On every issue the president talked about — on the wall, on tearing up the Iran deal, on immediate health care repeal — [Republicans] are coming face-to-face with reality in a very painful way,” Himes said. “And we don’t want to slow down that learning process.”