Thursday, March 21, 2019

How Democrats Can Win (and Keep Winning)

Paul Starr's new column on the Prospect website makes a lot of good points on how Democrats can win going forward and stick around long enough to actually get things done. He notes:
"The challenge for Democrats....isn’t just to gain power but to keep it. The big changes that Democrats want to bring about will take a long time to see through. The last two Democratic presidents both lost control of Congress at the first midterm election. To break that pattern, Democrats need a strategy that can maintain and even expand their coalition instead of undercutting it....
To avoid the problems Clinton faced in 2016 in conveying a message about change, the Democrats need to focus on a few big ideas that embrace many of the specific policies they will be promising to pursue...."
Starr mentions a couple of these big ideas. One is a Green New Deal. He frames it like this:
"[A] narrowly tailored climate policy—built, for example, around a carbon tax—will not work. To succeed politically, a program has to provide voters with immediate and tangible benefits, and the way to do that is to frame climate reform as a program for rebuilding America, which, in fact, it necessarily must be. Trump promised an infrastructure program but has failed to deliver it; the Green New Deal can be that program, except now aimed at meeting both economic and urgent environmental goals. This shouldn’t be a Christmas tree hung with every progressive ornament, but it has to be socially inclusive, deliver increased earnings (for example, through a higher minimum wage), and attend to the legitimate worries of workers and communities, especially those threatened at least initially by the coming energy transition. Borrowing is a proper way to finance public investments that bring a future return, and that is principally what Democrats should rely on, without being intimidated by deficit scolds as they were in recent Democratic administrations."
The points about providing voters with "immediate and tangible benefits" and not being afraid of borrowing for public investment are important ones. His other recommended big idea is family security. Besides a child allowance and an expanded child tax credit,
"Proposals for paid family leave and universal child care would also fit into what could be conceived of as a broader Family Security Act, aimed at helping young families get a start and providing a secure foundation for their—that is, for America’s—children. Democrats ought to finance these programs not only by repealing most of the unpopular 2017 Republican tax legislation but also through higher taxes on the superrich, as in Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on households with net assets of more than $50 million."
All good by me. Starr also stresses the need to stay away from unpopular or problematic ideas that will make it harder to get elected or get things done once your are. Music to my ears. He mentions specifically:
* reparations for descendants of slaves.
* single payer health care that eliminates private insurance
On the latter idea, Starr touts instead extending Medicare to those 50-65. I guess I would be tempted to go a bit farther and advocate the Medicare for Anyone idea (see previous post), which would make Medicare broadly available but allow people to keep their private health insurance if they wish. Perhaps that's a third big idea.
This third idea could be particularly important given that Trump appears determined to continue his advocacy for repealing Obamacare (see his latest budget). This is a tremendous opening for Democrats, given the role of health care in the 2018 election and the contrast this will allow the Democratic candidate to draw with Trump. Ron Brownstein in a recent Atlantic article cites some particularly illuminating data from 2018 that should clarify the stakes for Democrats on the health care issue:
"Health care, most strategists agree, was especially important in helping Democrats claw back some support from the working-class white voters who stampeded to Trump in 2016. In previously unpublished results provided to me by Edison, non-college-educated white women, usually a solidly Republican-leaning group, split nearly evenly when asked which party would do a better job at protecting patients with preexisting conditions. Fully 90 percent of the blue-collar white women who picked Democrats on that question also voted Democratic for the House. Blue-collar men still leaned more toward the GOP, but even 40 percent of them said that Democrats would better protect people with preexisting conditions, and almost four-fifths who felt that way voted Democratic for the House.
Most of the key dynamics about the 2020 general election, of course, remain unknown this far from the vote. But after Trump’s budget, two things appear more certain. One is that repeal of the ACA will be on the ballot. The other is that Democrats are much more eager to take on that fight than they were in 2012 or even in 2016, when Mitt Romney and Trump each ran on the law’s repeal."
So Democrats need to take up that fight but take it up wisely. That's the trick.
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The Democrats can and must think big, but they have to frame their ideas around the realities of a coalition party that includes suburban moderates.

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