Yesterday in The New York Times, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the Democrats’ agenda for 2018 and 2020. Titled “A Better Deal,” it is centered around soothing the “economic anxiety” of the white working-class voters who feel left behind by both major parties, and either supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, or voted for Trump in the general election.
The Better Deal promises to increase minimum wage, create jobs via an infrastructure plan, and lower the costs of prescription drugs, as well as proposing programs to train workers for unfilled jobs in small, rural areas. I’m not here to criticize any of these ideas, since I want them too. But the way Schumer goes about outlining this “new” agenda is dishonest. In his words:
“In the last two elections…Democrats…failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of the working people, not the special interests.”
Actually, they didn’t fail. As early as December of last year, The Atlantic Monthly wrote a piece busting the myth that Hillary and the Democrats lost the election because they ignored the White Working Class. This past May, they followed this up with a study conducted in conjunction with PRRI indicating that it was not “economic anxiety” that caused the white working-class to vote for Trump, but rather, cultural anxiety. 68% of WWC voters felt that Americans need protection from “foreign influence,” and 79% of those who felt that way voted for Donald Trump (however, only 27% of them said that we should deport immigrants.) And WWC Republicans were 11 times more likely to vote for Trump than their left-leaning counterparts. However, the WWC voters who were more financially troubled were more likely to prefer Hillary Clinton. So the idea that the Party doesn’t have these voters behind them is suspect from the start.
The Democrats want to gamble on a message of economic populism to win back the Rust Belt states that were pivotal to the election, but Schumer’s column ignores a major reason they lost those states: voter suppression. Whenever a Democrat says, “Hillary lost because she didn’t campaign in Wisconsin!” I cringe, because upwards of 200,000 Wisconsinites were purged from the polls this year, many of them in Milwaukee, a city containing 70% of the state’s black population. Hillary’s share of the black vote there decreased by 13% in comparison to Obama’s in 2012, and many students were deemed ineligible without voter IDs. Had these laws not been in place, she would’ve won the state handily. Coupled with that are reports of voter intimidation in Pennsylvania, and this past December, Michigan’s State House passed a strict voter ID law. If Democrats want to win back the Rust Belt, they’d better roll up their sleeves and fight to elect Democratic Secretaries of State and other local officials to stop the spread of voter suppression that could cost us the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Then there is the Better Deal’s omission of social issues that motivate activists and allies like myself. Apart from voter rights, nowhere does Schumer’s column mention the rights of POC or LGBTQs, equal pay for equal work, or gun control. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought hard for those issues, even if they didn’t always succeed, and many of my friends who supported them did so because of those issues. It drives me crazy when leftists say that we have to get rid of “identity politics,” and then champion economic reform for whites without realizing that, by centering them, they’re ignoring the POC who make up the base of the Democratic Party to play white identity politics.
Senator Schumer has drunk the white guy post-mortem Kool-Aid about winning back the white voters that made up our Party’s coalition for so many years, like The New York Times’ recent column from former Clinton aide Mark Penn. But times have changed, and the lessons from one election don’t typically apply to the other ones: if they did, Big Data would have saved us in 2016 the way it did in 2012. Emphasizing the economy, as Bill Clinton successfully did in 1992, cannot work today without also emphasizing the Civil Rights issues that are so critical to our times.
The agenda of “The Better Deal” is strict in adhering to the policies of the one candidate in 2016 who emphasized a stronger middle class, who, according to writer Derek Thompson:
“Detailed plans to help coal miners and steel workers…had plans to help young men who were getting out of prison and old men who were getting into new careers…talked about the dignity of manufacturing jobs, the promise of clean-energy jobs, and…offered the most comprehensively progressive economic platform of any presidential candidate in history.”
That candidate was…drum roll please…Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who coined the phrase “A Better Deal” in one of her first stump speeches in 2015. By appropriating her ideas and then throwing her under the bus, as he did in The Washington Post this weekend, Schumer has become complicit in the erasure of her and her supporters from our discourse out of the belief that he no longer needs us.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.