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The Better Deal: How Far the Democrats Have Moved and How Far They Need to Go


As the Democrats move forward to articulate a set of policies for the Trump era, Chuck Schumer’s initial op-ed demonstrates both how far to the left the Democratic Party has moved and how far it still has to go. While “A Better Deal” is a pretty uninspiring slogan, there’s a lot in here that would have been unimaginable in 2004. What I don’t get about the reaction to Chait’s neoliberalism piece is how people could deny the power neoliberals held in the Democratic Party a decade ago and how far they have had to retreat today. I think you see that in some of these policy points.

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.

Positive! A $15 minimum wage is a really good thing! That’s an extremely progressive policy that would move the nation very much in the right direction.

Much of the rest of this though is a mixed bag.

Right now, there is nothing to stop vulture capitalists from egregiously raising the price of lifesaving drugs without justification. 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.

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.

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.

The first of these is fine. Here’s a better policy: Medicare for All. This sort of tinkering around health care is alright, but it doesn’t get at any fundamental problems. It doesn’t inspire and it doesn’t motivate. No one is going to say “I voted for Trump but I think I will vote for Democrats in 2018 because they hope to eventually maybe make drug companies articulate some lies to justify their prices.”

The antitrust bit is completely acceptable, but it’s very vague in terms of motivating people.

The employment stuff is more problematic. Giving employers huge tax breaks for doing basic job training is a bad idea. This is the sort of pro-employer tweaks that have defined the Democratic Party for a long time. Like the health care stuff, there is a better way to go here: “Employment is a fundamental right. We propose a federally guaranteed jobs program that would put every American to work who wants a job.” Schumer is right in recognizing that something has to be done for the hundreds of millions of Americans who do not have a college degree. A giant giveaway to companies for doing what they should be doing anyway is not going to solve that problem. I just read Tom Geoghegan’s Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Labor Movement. As a whole, I was pretty mixed on the book, but Geoghegan is absolutely right that we need to give up on the idea that sending people to college is the solution to employment and class problems. Here’s an image from the book:

The United States is indeed a high school nation. Until Democrats have a real jobs program for people who will never go to college, the fascists have a huge advantage. I don’t just mean that it will be easier for working class whites to vote for Trump and the like, though that is a piece of the problem. It’s also that Democrats aren’t giving the masses of black and Latino working class people a reason to come out and vote for them. That 200 million Americans are being left behind in this economy is a pretty huge problem! The Republicans’ response is to appeal to white identity while destroying the remnants of the social and economic safety net. To counter that, since Democrats are not going to embrace white identity, Democrats have to articulate a real set of economic alternatives that aren’t technocratic tweaks but rather appeal to broad masses of people. Whatever that is–$15 minimum wage, federally guaranteed job, universal basic income, free college tuition, etc–it has to be a big, bold policy.

I will also note that there is not word one about unions or organizing in any of this.

To say the least, getting Democrats to move toward embracing a $15 wage is a sign of how far the rejuvenated left has pushed the party. But the rest of this platform demonstrates that it’s not only policy where Democrats need a push, but, perhaps even more importantly, messaging.

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