Kevin Drum has a post relevant to the current debate on Democratic economic policy. I agree with some of the individual points, but don’t really agree with the general framing. “Democrats simply don’t consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes,” he argues. Well, depending on how much work “consistently” is doing I’m not sure if I disagree but let’s take the points one by one:
Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005
This isn’t an ideal example of a both-sides-do-it argument given that it passed with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But, still, it was terrible legislation, a lot of Democrats voted for it, and they didn’t filibuster it, so at least 3/4 of a point to Drum on this one.
They’ve done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies
Neither Obama nor Clinton were very aggressive on antitrust, so fair enough.
next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways
Uh, Democrats created a Bureau of Consumer Protection and Obama wanted to have Elizabeth Warren head it. Republicans are opposed to staffing it in principle. So both in absolute and relative terms I’m afraid I’m not buying this one.
They don’t do anything for labor.
Well, they appoint people to the NLRB who actually want to enforce labor law, which is far from trivial. But, yes, conservative Democrats have stopped card check and this is bad. So half point on absolute terms, zero points on relative terms (where are Democrats at the state level voting to take away collective bargaining rights?)
They’re soft on protecting Social Security.
Eh. I didn’t like Obama giving even nominal support for Chained CPI. But not only have Democrats protected Social Security when in office, but unified Democratic opposition was crucial to thwarting Bush’s plan (which, remember, was not merely to modestly cut benefits but to destroy the program altogether.) Anyway, Democratic support for Social Security could be stronger in absolute terms but relatively has been pretty good, and relatively there’s no comparison.
They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can’t even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one.
So we’ve established that the Democrats are suboptimal, not a controversial claim. But what about the positive achievements? Unlike Reed, he doesn’t simply ignore them, but he does yadda yadda them:
Sure, Democrats do plenty for the poor. They support increases in the EITC and the minimum wage. They support Medicaid expansion. They passed Obamacare. They support pre-K for vulnerable populations. They expanded CHIP. But virtually none of this really benefits the working or middle classes except at the margins.
First of all, a lot of this — especially the ACA — is far from marginal in its impact. And second, there seems to be sort of a shell game going on here where the imprecise terms “working” and “middle” class are used to dismiss the impact of Democratic Party achievements. (Drum also leaves out unemployment insurance, which is highly relevant to both the lower and middle classes.) Note, too, that to the extent that the Medicaid expansion has had a more marginal impact on the working poor than it might have, this was because of a Supreme Court decision by a Republican-dominated Court that Drum was inexplicably fine with despite its very thin textual and precedential justification. And, speaking of the Supreme Court, for middle class issues like consumer protection and workplace discrimination who controls the Supreme Court matters a great deal, with Democratic nominees predictably being far better.
So while I think Drum makes some fair points, his bottom line is overstated.