Democrats are justifiably reassessing their message to middle America. Losing Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania is a wake-up call. Few believe that Democrats can remain a national political force operating mainly from the North-East, the West Coast and a smattering of great cities scattered across the land. I just watched an interview of two aging Democratic heavyweights, Hilary Rosen and Bill Press, and I was amused at how clueless they are. Like Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated campaign, they profess to look forward while actually thinking mostly of triumphs from the distant past.
Their assessment is that the recent campaign concentrated too much on social issues and character assassination of Trump and too little on bedrock economic issues. That is likely true, but then they proceeded to demonstrate that they are the problem not the solution. For example, Press noted that Democrats have always had the back of working class America, citing the many great programs that they have created and supported over the years. Thus, he mused, the problem must be how they get their message across. He cited as principal examples their promotion of a $15 minimum wage and their fervent support of unions.
But the uncomfortable fact is that many – perhaps most – in the working class don’t much like either of these! They see the minimum wage as just a sop for others, the poor and marginal workers. The only impact they foresee for themselves is job insecurity as businesses have to adjust operations to meet a general upward wage pressure. A rise in wages that results from increased business activity and a tightening labor market is welcome and has few adverse consequences. One that is simply mandated is quite the opposite, except for those who are its direct beneficiary. And that is not the majority of working class America.
As to unions, they currently have a very mixed reputation. Unions once did marvelous things for workers in general and we all have profited from their efforts. But that is long past. Unionization is now low and decreasing. It is strongest in the public sector, but that is a mixed blessing for union promoters as few outsiders think highly of government workers.
A key factor in the low reputation of unions is a growing recognition that many of them basically ran a scam on their members. Their leaders colluded with management, particularly in the public sector, to trade wage increases for lavish fringe benefits, like retirement packages with golden health plans. This was attractive to the short-term perspectives of management because the costs don’t show up as operating expenses. Rather they contribute to out-year costs when, presumably, many managers will be comfortably retired. For the union leaders this also is attractive as the negotiations are far easier and their outcomes, if future benefits are amortized, appear very lucrative. The problem is that these agreements imposed impossible debts that are now coming home to roost. Wages have stagnated and the promised fringe benefits are in jeopardy.
Why should those who work with their hands back a party that promotes pie-in-the-sky social schemes, transgender bathroom rights, sanctuary cities, a globalized economic policy, immigrant rights, and a long litany of causes that are remote or counterproductive to people who sweat for a living and struggle to raise a family? Joe Biden is right. Democrats need to return to their origins. It’s fine to work for the poor, the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. It shows their heart and good intentions. But their main message must be to those who have jobs and work for a weekly paycheck. Otherwise they will become the party of the marginalized, essentially a Bernie-style Socialist Party. Even a blowhard like Donald Trump can defeat that.
Watch who is selected as the new Democratic National Committee chairperson. Just as picking Debbie Wasserman Schultz signaled a grey, technocratic and backward-looking future, this will show what path they are choosing for the next political contest. If it is Rep. Keith Ellison, as is widely rumored, the party is likely toast for the foreseeable future.