As I watched the roll-out of the Democrats’ “Better Deal,” I thought of President Gerald Ford’s “WIN” campaign, an acronym for “Whip Inflation Now.” Despite the hype, and the lapel button sported by the president, it was a laughable effort in confronting a real crisis. I believe the “Better Deal” will meet the same fate. This “Better Deal” is neither new nor bold. It is a transparent repackaging of some elements of the party’s agenda to appeal to a certain segment of Trump voters. These are working men and women—let’s be honest, white working men and women—who have been severely impacted by job losses due to globalization and technological change. It is accepted almost universally that Hillary Clinton lost the election last fall because she failed to connect with this segment of the electorate.
Now there is nothing objectionable in the three elements of the “Better Deal.” No one would argue with higher wages for needed infrastructure jobs, reduced expenses for pharmaceuticals, and help in acquiring the skills needed for the twenty-first century economy.
But is this really enough of an agenda for the Democratic party?
Is it even accurate to say that Hillary Clinton lost the presidency because of her inability to connect with this cohort of voters? I believe this very premise is incorrect, and I fear that what is omitted from the “better deal” in focusing on this demographic diminishes the ideals that make many of us proudly pull the Democratic lever rather than the Republican one, and the constituencies that are the foundation of the Democratic party.
It is worth bearing in mind that Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote convincingly. She lost the election because of the slimmest of margins in three states, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Certainly, had she won a larger share of the white working class vote she would have triumphed in these three states. But she also would have won if minorities and young people who voted for President Obama had come out to vote for her. The failure to mobilize this important part of the Democratic coalition that chose either to sit out the election or vote for fringe party candidates easily accounts for the difference between victory and defeat. Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on an agenda that will energize this group that was disaffected or insufficiently motivated by the Clinton campaign?
And no version of any reformulated agenda can insulate against the unprecedented October surprise that James Comey handed us. Even Republican pollsters are reported to believe that this event, more than any other, tipped the scales away from the Secretary during the last days of the campaign.
I am astonished that Democrats feel the need to reinvent what they stand for. Democrats should be proud of what the modern party stands for and how different it is from what the Republicans stand for.
First and foremost, I believe that Democrats stand for a vision of America that embraces the diversity of its people as our country’s strength, and respects the dignity of every human being regardless of race or religion, national origin or ethnicity, gender, gender orientation or gender identification, wealth or status.
The Democratic agenda stands for the rule of law and fairness for every person before the law.
It stands for a free press, and the right of the people to assemble in protest without their bona fides as real Americans being called into question.
It stands for the principle that every American is entitled to affordable health care.
It should stand for an America that is engaged globally, and leads by example, not by threat.
It should stand for protecting workers from exploitation. They should not have to sacrifice safe working conditions in order to find employment.
It should stand for protecting the planet. Environmental responsibility is not a luxury that can take a back seat to short-term economic gain.
It should stand for freedom of religion, while at the same time acknowledging that members of all faiths have a responsibility to abide by the law and the civic values that protect everyone’s rights.
These are timeless values that are continuing to evolve. Their frontiers are ever expanding. These are the values that Democrats stand for. These are the core values American society is built upon. The Democratic party does not just pay lip service to these ideals. And this is what most distinguishes the Democratic party from the Republican party.
The Republican party proclaims that the needs of all the people will be their priority. But despite their pronouncements, virtually every one of their remedies is based on lower taxes for the already wealthy. Cut away the verbiage and there seems to be little else they stand for. The most you can say about them is that they are true believers. They believe that lower taxes will solve every societal ill. The current healthcare debate is an excellent example because it highlights how Republicans use the language of improving care, lowering cost, and providing greater accessibility to disguise a program that will strip health care from millions of the most vulnerable in society and enrich the wealthiest.
Furthermore, one will not find Democrats pandering to bigotry, racism or xenophobia. Even with a wink and a nod! One of the greatest threats to our society’s well-being is the way these un-American traits were central to the Trump campaign. What is particularly frightening is how many people allowed themselves to be allied with values that they would normally find repugnant. The Republican party still fails to clearly repudiate these tactics which are now integral to the Trump way of governing.
Democrats cannot beat Republicans at their own game. They should not want to. They must make clear the distinction between the parties. The public needs to know that the values Democrats stand for are nothing like the values that the current Republican president and many, many in the current Republican Congress, and the voters who put them there, stand for.
Our country is at a moral, spiritual, and political crossroads.
It is not a new slogan or a new agenda that the Democratic party needs. It is a fearless, proud, unapologetic statement of its historic commitments that the times demand of the Democrats.
The future of the country depends on it.