American Dream

GOP, Dems in Turmoil Over Midterm Voter Pitches

To regain political power in the midterm elections, Democrats need to reconnect with American workers who have gradually lost confidence in the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, according to a veteran Democratic political strategist. Republicans have to find a way to tout their tax plan that is sagging in popularity.

To regain political power in the midterm elections, Democrats need to reconnect with American workers who have gradually lost confidence in the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, according to a veteran Democratic political strategist. Republicans have to find a way to tout their tax plan that is sagging in popularity.

Heading into pivotal midterm elections this fall, Republicans and Democrats are both in turmoil over their value propositions to voters. Republicans may not be able to run on their record and Democrats are still searching for a platform with political traction.

Congressional Republicans planned to campaign based on a popular tax cut. However, the GOP tax cut faces sinking support, including in so-called Trump country as evidenced by a recent special House election in Pennsylvania that a Democrat captured.

Now congressional Republicans have an immigration mess on their hands. Already deeply divided, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their asylum-seeking parents at the border has apparently deepened the divide. House GOP leadership canceled plans last week to vote on a pair of immigration measures until after the November midterm election.

GOP congressmen face another political problem – backlash from their base if they criticize President Trump, as conservative voters seem bent on asserting at the ballot box that it is now the Trump Party, not a big-tent Republican Party.

Democrats aren’t any better off. They have a smoldering debate among progressives and centrists. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been demonized and molded into a rallying cry for conservatives. Trump has pummeled Democrats as obstructionists. There is confusion about whether to attack or ignore Trump and what themes will work in the midterm elections to flip control of the House and not lose ground in the Senate where the GOP holds a slim 51-49 margin.

In steps Jake Sullivan, who has been a senior adviser to President Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, with a keen read on where Democrats stand with voters and how they could earn their way back into power.

Sullivan argues in an essay published in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas that Democrats should realize public opinion is more conservative than liberals might hope on deeply divisive issues such as abortion, guns, immigration and race. Political pay dirt for Democrats, Sullivan says, lies in left-of-center economic issues such as taxation, health care, minimum wage and education funding.

“Just as the Great Depression discredited the ideas of the pre-New Deal conservatives who fought for total laissez-faire outcomes in both the political branches and the courts, so the Great Recession once again laid bare the failure of our government to protect its citizens from unchecked market excess,” Sullivan writes. “There has been a delayed reaction this time around, but people have begun to see more clearly not only the flaws of our public and private institutions that contributed to the financial crisis, but also the decades of rising inequality and income stagnation that came before — and the uneven recovery that followed. Our politics are in the process of adjusting to this new reality.”

In the face of political maps showing a lot of red, Sullivan insists “There’s something profound happening in American politics right now. A tide is moving. The center of gravity is shifting. Democrats have a rare opportunity to set bold goals and meet them. By offering new ideas based on tried and true principles –taking the big, ambitious governing style that used to define our party and our politics and putting it to work to meet the challenges of our time – we can achieve growth and fairness, innovation and equality.” 

He added, “Moments like this don’t come around that often in history. Democrats must seize this one.”

The four pillars of his advice to Democrats are:

  • Recognize that present-day jobs are as or more valuable than future jobs, which demands rethinking the contemporary workplace to ensure health insurance coverage, fair wages, antic-discrimination and the right to unionize.
  • Promote policies that reflect changing family structures with more two wage-earning parents, single mother-led households, college students moving back home and a ballooning older adult population that is living longer.
  • Talk about workers in sectors beyond manufacturing in fields such as health care and the service economy and promote workplace, tax and educational policies that sustain the American Dream, while addressing serious issues like opioid addiction.
  • Build alliances with 21st century entrepreneurial businesses to pursue tax, trade and antitrust policies in a globalized economy that keep America competitive and increase income security for US workers.

Republicans have a clearer litany of their policy views – lower taxes, fewer regulations, anti-abortion, free trade and conservative judges. However, like any party in power, the GOP has to defend what it has done – or not done – as well as it what it stands for.

Sullivan’s prescription for Democrats may be the clearest expression of what Democrats could wield to win the seats in Congress and state legislatures they need to gain back power they have gradually lost in the past decade as worker confidence has waned.

 

Consensus Plan to Reduce Poverty and Enhance Opportunity

Speaking of strange bedfellows, the conservative American Enterprise Institute and liberal Brookings Institution teamed up in 2015 to produce a consensus report on addressing poverty and enhancing opportunity. It started with facts and contained policies that crossed partisan divides.

Speaking of strange bedfellows, the conservative American Enterprise Institute and liberal Brookings Institution teamed up in 2015 to produce a consensus report on addressing poverty and enhancing opportunity. It started with facts and contained policies that crossed partisan divides.

Since strange bedfellows became the order of the day on raising the debt ceiling, providing disaster relief and keeping the federal government running for three more months, maybe it is time to revisit more cats and dogs proposals.

One of the more interesting products of diametrically opposed groups is the 2015 American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution consensus report on how to reduce poverty in America. The report was published after 14 months of painstaking work by 15 experts from AEI, a conservative think tank, and Brookings, its liberal counterpart.

On its website, Brookings touts the report “as a consensus plan to reduce poverty and restore the American Dream [that] bridges the partisan divide and suggests a way forward despite the political polarization and gridlock that paralyzed much of Washington.”

In the nearly two years since the plan was made public, little in the nation’s capital has changed. The unexpected deal last week between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders on the debt ceiling, spending authority and disaster relief is probably just a political blip.

Instructively, the AEI-Brookings report begins with “facts on poverty and opportunity that progressives and conservatives can agree on.” Even if the report contained no recommendations, agreeing on the facts would be a major boon.

According to the report, the percentage of single women with children has quadrupled to 40.8 percent as marriage rates declined between 1970 and 2010. In 2013, single-parent households earned an average of $36,000 annually, roughly a third of married-couple family incomes. Most troubling, only 4 percent of children born to poor families ever become high wage-earners, while 43 percent remain poor into adulthood. The data draws a correlation between family composition and education, employment and wages, which have downstream effects on poverty rates and economic mobility.

To address family trends, the AEI-Brookings report recommends policies that promote marriage, delayed and responsible childbearing, parenting skills and job skill development for men and women.

Brookings experts conceded the importance of marriage and family structure, while AEI experts acknowledged the benefits of family planning, which can include use of contraceptives as well as abortions.

On the jobs front, the report cites the need for higher-level skills in the workplace and how people, especially men, without advanced skills can fall behind and never climb the economic ladder.  Recommended policies included making more jobs available and make work pay better than it does now for lesser educated and skilled workers.

Reinforcing that “a good education is important to achieving the American Dream,” the report says achieving the American Dream now more than that ever requires hard work and a good education. “The education level of adult heads of households has been increasingly associated with their income as the income gap between the well-educated and the less-educated has grown steadily over the last four decades,” according to the report.

Policies to cope with a shrinking American Dream include increased public investment in preschool and postsecondary education, modernizing the organization and accountability of educational systems, closing funding gaps and educating the “whole child” to promote social-emotional as well as academic skills.

The way forward, the AEI-Brookings report concludes, should adhere to three core values:

  1. That all Americans should have the opportunity to apply their talents and efforts to better themselves and their children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth;
  2. That all Americans have a responsibility to provide for themselves and their families to the best of their abilities before asking others for help;
  3. That all Americans are entitled to a basic level of security against the vacissitudes of life and, in a nation as rich as ours, to a baseline level of material well-being.

“The only way forward, we believe, is to work together,” the report’s authors insist. “No side has a monopoly on the truth, but each side can block legislative action.”

It is striking in these passages to see conservative and liberal thinking crisscross as policy recommendations converge on addressing poverty and enhancing opportunity. There are significant give-and-takes in the report, but the challenges facing many Americans rise above partisan thinking or ideological purity.

“Poverty is changing,” the report’s authors say, “and policy responses must change, too.” So far, despite the good work of strange bedfellows, they haven’t.