Democrats appear to have finally recognized the opportunity that is staring them in the face. After riding a populist wave of anger to office, a fatally flawed Republican president is readily tossing aside those that brung him in a seemingly limitless quest to feed his insatiable ego. In the meantime, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a deeply uncreative and uninspired group of middle managers known as Republican lawmakers have failed to grasp the lessons of 2016—that the only thing that ever made Trump’s candidacy viable was the disdain he expressed, even if insincerely, for nearly everything that defines the GOP and its preferential treatment for the rich in every policy debate from trade to health care to taxes and more. The fact that the guy who now sits in the Oval Office took a wrecking ball to the core of the Republican agenda has left them rallying around the crumbling remains of an ideology a majority of Americans—including Democrats, independents, and even some Trump voters—despise.
Finally, Democrats are making a bid to claim the mantle of exactly what Trump and the GOP abandoned just as soon as he took the oath of office. It is in that spirit that Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer posted an op-ed in the New York Times seeking to re-establish Democrats as a party that truly stands for the working class ideals that Trump pretended to care about during the election. In it, Schumer moves beyond a call for passing a jobs/infrastructure bill, raising the minimum wage, and providing paid family/sick leave to lay out several new prongs on the way to leveling the playing field for Americans who haven’t benefitted equally from the many opportunities the 20th century brought to our country. Schumer writes:
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.
None of these ideas are entirely new, but the Democrats’ pledge to recommit to them as a party could certainly put a force behind them that has been missing. As corporate America became a behemoth power broker in our political system, the Democratic Party backed away from taking on Wall Street directly, even as it claimed to have the concerns of working Americans at heart. In a sense, party leaders talked a good game while following the same money trail Republicans did. Now it appears Democrats are making a bid to break away from a path of doublespeak that was so easy to take when the other party offered no true alternative. Schumer promises to come through with more initiatives in the coming months and declares: “Democrats will offer a better deal.”
We cannot promise anyone that this Congress will begin passing our priorities tomorrow. But we have to start raising our voices to present our vision for the country’s future. We will seek the support of any Republicans willing to work with us, but more important, we must start rallying the American people to support our ideas.
In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake. This is the start of a new vision for the party, one strongly supported by House and Senate Democrats.
Tim Murphy over at Mother Jones calls this the sound of “Elizabeth Warren Tightening Her Grip on the Democratic Party.”
That’s the way it fell on my ears, too. Old habits are hard to break, but Democrats could choose no better time than right now—with a flailing GOP Congress, a self-obsessed Republican president, and a hungry electorate—to breathe new life into the foundations of the party in a tangible way. Now let’s see if they can produce.