Most sentient beings’ diagnosis of the 2014 elections was simple: Democrats didn’t give people a reason to vote for Democrats.
But since the bleak days of November, a new political climate has begun to take shape that seemed unthinkable just weeks ago.
“Jobs are a lot more than Keystone,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, speaking at a Republican retreat on Monday. “We need a jobs agenda, an energy agenda, far broader.”
This kind of rhetoric echoes what Democratic pollsters think went wrong with the left’s 2014 agenda. Sure, everyone wants a higher minimum wage and equal pay, but where are the big ideas that tackle what almost all observers agree is the crisis facing the middle class: stagnant wages in the face of record corporate profits?
The new ideas are all coming from the White House and the left at the moment, and that’s very good news for 2016.
1. The right is accidentally helping progressives realize what’s been accomplished under Obama.
Republicans are obsessed with undoing: undoing the health care reforms that have insured 10 million people and added a decade of life to Medicare; undoing the president’s executive action that will keep law-abiding members of American families from being deported; undoing America’s first attempts to confront climate change.
The “ideas” on the right? Surprise! It’s just deregulation and cutting taxes.
The GOP Congress’ effort to gut the Dodd-Frank financial reform law is giving the left a newfound appreciation of it. The law is every bit as consequential and essential as the Affordable Care Act. And Paul Ryan is still committed to lowering taxes for the richest — his “secret sauce” — through “tax reform,” which should help liberals realize that under Obama the tax code has become much more progressive.
2. Immigration relief, net neutrality, local broadband, paid leave, and tuition-free community college are good ideas.
As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes explains in the video above, President Obama has been on fire since November. Almost every day he offers a new idea that reinforces how government can make life immediately better for workers. And there’s more to come. Most significantly, the president can give millions of workers a raise of up to $970 a week by simply revising dated overtime standards.
Nearly all of these policies poll extremely well and strengthen the Obama coalition. The president is daring Republicans to run against them.
3. Hillary 2016 is embracing the fight against climate change — and Obama’s legacy.
Any chance that the next Democratic nominee would run away from the last has completely dissipated. The improving economy and President Obama’s rising approval numbers remove the need for such a distancing, and Obama advisor John Podesta’s apparent transition back into Clintonland makes the connection with the White House inviolable.
“Perhaps Podesta’s greatest recent achievement is to convince the White House to be bold on climate even in the face of Republican wins in the 2014 midterms,” Grist‘s David Roberts explains.
Podesta once led the Center for American Progress, which released a document on Thursday that could be the foundation of Clinton’s presidential campaign. And if that’s true, progressives should be cheering.
4. The left has new clarity about how to close the wealth gap.
Income inequality. Jeb Bush is talking about it. So are Jim DeMint and Carly Fiorina. Even Mitt Romney is talking about it.
Republicans suddenly sound a lot like Elizabeth Warren, Vox‘s Matt Yglesias noted on Thursday.
The guys who left us losing 900,000 jobs a month in 2009 have looked at a steady stream of 250,000-a-month gains and realized that they have a problem. They could target the labor participation rate, which is at a generational low as Baby Boomers begin to retire, but then it might look as though they are against retirement (which they are). Or — like Democrats — they could focus on low wages. But this also presents a problem, as low wages are a virtue, not an ailment, for many GOP donors. So the right is embracing Paul Ryan’s “Right to Rise” trope to confront an issue that the president has highlighted since his soaring Osawatomie speech in 2011: income inequality.
The problem for the right is that they’re focusing on an issue that reinforces central liberal values — that “we’re all in this together,” so the government must step in to help those who are suffering. Also, it’s a problem that was created by the GOP’s main policy prescriptions — tax cuts and deregulation.
That won’t stop Ryan and others from framing it as an individual rights issue with the same tired calls to reduce the burdens on the rich and their corporations. But you can already hear the hollowness in that argument.
Conservative pundit James Pethokoukis points out that Democratic policy prescriptions have never matched their assertion that the wealth gap jeopardizes “middle-class America’s basic bargain.”
Finally the policies have begun to catch up with the problem.
House Democrats have proposed a “Robin Hood” tax that would tax Wall Street in a way that discourages risky trading — and the proceeds would fund a middle-class tax cut. This is good, smart policy. But it also reinforces the right’s key frame that taxes are punishment, not investments.
President Obama’s proposals — like free community college and paid leave — offer support for working people in a remarkably un-kludgy way. But they don’t get to the core of why the middle class is dying.
The Center for American Progress’ Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity does. Beyond the policy prescriptions we’ve all heard before — higher minimum wage, free pre-K, a fairer tax code, investments in infrastructure, broadband and education — it gets to the heart of why workers aren’t sharing in the profits they help create: the assault on labor, bad corporate governance, and skewed executive compensation.
These poison pills of Reaganomics have festered and weakened our economy for long enough.
If this is the foundation of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it’s a foundation that progressives should be proud to stand upon.
5. The GOP presidential field is a mess.
Republicans have been trying to figure out why conservatives embraced George W. Bush but can’t buy Jeb. Bloomberg‘s Dave Weigel has identified the big reason: Jeb isn’t leading Hillary in the polls the way W. led Gore in 1999.
Republicans want a winner, and they’ll even put up with Mitt Romney to get one. But Mitt still has the stink of losing on him, and not one candidate is ahead of the likely Democratic nominee in the polls. Most are losing to her in their home states.
There’s no evidence that the GOP learned anything from 2012. Their primary is again a sideshow for the “aggrieved conservative industry” in which the base batters the most electable candidate(s), then fails to unite around a conservative alternative.
Republican donors don’t want a Republican president. They want their own Republican president.
Billionaire Foster Friess is backing Rick Santorum again. Billionaire Ken Langone hasn’t given up on Chris Christie, though most of the party has. The Draft Ben Carson movement/book tour has raised millions that have been mostly spent on more fundraising. Ted Cruz justifiably terrifies most of the party. Rand Paul does a nice job of bringing liberal ideas like criminal justice reform and not bombing everyone into the debate. But there still doesn’t seem to be much evidence he’ll outperform his dad.
And after six years of bashing Obama — six years in which more net jobs were created than in 12 years under two presidents named Bush — the party is reduced to propping up failed ideas against a candidate with solidarity, an agenda and momentum on her side.
AFP Photo/Sandy Huffaker