- Democrats released a three-pronged plan on the economy that’s uninspired and unoriginal.
- Its biggest flaw is that it assumes the US economy is doing just fine and that a few tweaks around the edges will sort everything out for workers.
- Ultimately it indicates a rift between centrists and leftists over the party’s direction.
WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party is facing an existential crisis, and we just got some clues into how bad it is getting.
It’s the kind of thing that usually follows major electoral upsets, and Americans could be forgiven for not noticing while we obsess about the Republican-controlled Senate’s inability to get anything done. But it seems as if the Democratic leadership can’t decide whether it will push forward as a centrist counter to President Donald Trump or push its politics further to the left in an attempt to win back voters who defected to Bernie Sanders or to Trump himself.
Exhibit A is the proposed economic agenda intended to counter Trump’s vision of pro-growth protectionism.
It is a testament to the disarray that Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader from New York and thus the de facto head of the opposition, launched the new economic plan with a thinly veiled attack on the party’s most recent presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“When you lose to somebody who has 40% popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Schumer told The Washington Post. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”
Clinton has previously pointed to James Comey’s untimely revelation that she might still be under investigation, in addition to targeted Russian propaganda campaigns that leaked her campaign emails on a daily basis in the last month of the campaign, as having derailed her candidacy.
So much to pick on
So the emerging vision we’re offered is wishy-washy and unoriginal.
Let’s start with the name: “A Better Deal.” How uninspired can you get? To put it in perspective, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was passed in 1933. Are Democrats saying it took them nearly a century to come up with a minor upgrade?
Speaking of minor upgrades, this is really the plan’s central problem: It assumes that the US economy is doing just fine and that a few tweaks around the edges will sort everything out.
The evidence and underlying data suggest otherwise. While the US unemployment rate has fallen near historic lows, and stood at 4.4% last month, underemployment is rampant, while weak wage growth and low inflation suggest the job market is operating well below its full potential. After all, if the economy were truly at full employment, would Trump’s campaign have gotten so much traction in the first place?
The Democrats’ “Better Deal” is presented in three components: raising wages, lowering costs, and giving workers “the tools to succeed.”
So far so good. But looking under the hood a little, there’s not much there that wasn’t already part of Barack Obama’s proposed agenda, stalled because of Republican opposition, or part of Clinton’s campaign proposals.
Democrats say they will raise wages in two key ways: by pushing for a $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan that creates new jobs, presumably in construction and engineering, and by pushing for minimum-wage increases. Both are noble causes but are insufficient to address the issue of wage stagnation, which has more to do with full employment across the economy than in specific sectors. Also, a major infrastructure overhaul requires a long-term vision of the sort that Dwight Eisenhower exhibited in building the interstate highway system. The Democratic plan reveals no such grand designs.
As for lowering costs, the party promises to “lower the crippling cost of prescription drugs and the cost of a college or technical education that leads to a good job.” It also says it “will fight for families struggling with high monthly bills like childcare, credit card fees, and cable bills.”
This sounds like a pretty empty, if well-intentioned, promise. The party can do a lot better. Healthcare and education costs are some of the biggest and most crippling expenses for American families. Democrats need to develop a united vision for the country’s health, education, and child/elderly care systems that avoid the sort of piecemeal solutions that have only marginal social benefits — and cost effects.
Skills-gap lip service
Perhaps most egregiously, Democrats pay lip service to the dubious notion of a “skills gap” — a conservative idea pushed mostly by corporations as an excuse to keep wages low — by saying “Americans deserve the chance to get the skills, tools, and knowledge to find a good-paying job or to move up in their career to earn a better living.”
Research shows that if such a gap really existed, wages would be rising more quickly because of a shortage of available workers, and companies would not be shy about investing in training themselves.
Finally, in their effort to not be just an anti-Trump party, the Democrats are almost remiss in their lack of attention or reaction to the Trump agenda. They offer up their policies as if in a vacuum, but that makes them look detached from a nation living through daily political chaos that sharply raises uncertainty about the outlook for key policies affecting the country’s health system, the environment, immigration, and finance.
In that sense, Democratic leaders like Schumer are open to much the same criticism they have made of Clinton: More so than Hillary, they seem utterly unsure of what they stand for. Battling a president with the lowest approval ratings in history should not be much of a task, but so far, top Democrats don’t exactly seem up to the job.