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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

 
Always right, never respected

by David Atkins

Alex Seitz-Wald has a good piece in the National Journal about the national Democratic Party's slow, grudging, tepid embrace of populist politics. It serves as a nice bookend to yesterday's post by Digby about the failure of the "adult in the room" strategy. Here's Seitz-Wald:

The party has shifted noticeably to the left on economic issues, said Neera Tanden, the president of the center-left Center for American Progress. "Economic populism is a uniting force in the Democratic Party and progressive movement, and will help draw a contrast with Republicans in 2014 and future cycles," she said.

What's changed? Part of it is that Obama finally realized Republicans were unlikely to be very fruitful negotiating partners, freeing him to speak his mind without fear of damaging bipartisan deal-making. Meanwhile, macro-economic trends toward greater inequality continue apace, as Democratic-leaning demographic groups expand in size and voting power.

And as the economy has improved, and deficits have fallen, voters care less about cutting spending. According to a Pew poll released last week, 63 percent of Americans see reducing the budget deficit as a top priority, down 9 points from a year ago. That places the issue below five other policy goals, from fighting terrorism to improving education. It's the first time that number has slipped since Obama took office in 2009.

At a meeting with liberal writers last week, House Democratic leaders expressed unity on Obama's State of the Union message, and said they felt confident their populist-infused message would resonate with voters. The focus of the rest of 2014, said Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is simple: "To create opportunities for people."

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said her party would focus on legislation this year aimed at closing what she called "the opportunity gap." That acknowledged that few bills are likely to advance past the Republican "brick wall" in the House, but failures will still help highlight what each party stands for, she said.

Pelosi and other members pointed to priority legislation such as raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits, as well as a wish list of ideas like universal prekindergarten, greater college affordability, paid sick leave for workers, a gender pay-equity law, and an updated voting rights act. It's an agenda that fits neatly under the "opportunity" umbrella.
So the Party is willing to accept that maybe--just maybe--it needs to go a little more populist. But only to a point:

The message also takes some of the edge off of Warren's more confrontational rhetoric, which conservatives often deride as "class warfare." ("No other candidate in 2012 represents a greater threat to free enterprise than Professor Warren," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's political director said during the campaign.)

While Warren's message is aimed at the failings of the super wealthy, the "opportunity" message turns the lens around and offers to give a "ladder of opportunity" for people to move into higher socioeconomic strata.

And that's something that broad swaths of the party seem ready to embrace. From purple-state governors to red-state senators such as Arkansas' Mark Pryor, many Democrats have lined up to support a hike in the minimum wage ahead of tough reelection battles. The logic isn't too hard to see: Despite business group's objections, it's an idea 71 percent of Americans support, according to a December National Journal poll.
Progressives are right. We've always been right. We've been right for decades. But the party that purports to include progressives never gives them credit until years or even decades after the fact, and refuses to act on progressive values unless the polling is north of 70 percent.

Conservatives don't have this problem. They're willing to go the populist route even when it's broadly unpopular. It's hard to say that that has hurt them. It hasn't. Their problem is that they're running a conservative populism that appeals to a dying demographic. But it's not their populist tactics that are the problem, just their target audience and ideology.


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