Schumer feels that the "middle class" in America is frustrated because on average, their wages are declining even as the wealthy continue to rake in the additional profits that emerge from globalization, automation, and efficiency. Even worse, they feel that government is the only entity that can hold back the tide, but that government right now is either not focused on them, or worse, actively supporting the rich against middle-class interests.
Just as the industrial revolution unleashed forces that were best harnessed by the robber baron – the new economic order created by globalization and technology, without government intervention, is naturally beneficial to those already at the top of the economic heap: the wealthiest among us and entrenched corporations. Just look at how productivity, corporate profits, and stock market values have continued to climb while incomes have stagnated and the share of corporate profits that go to labor have fallen.
So when the government is seen as working for those interests who already have the advantage – Americans are soured and frankly, angry. Deep down – Americans are much more concerned with who government works for than its size or scope.
When government panders to these forces, and lobbyists and lawyers carve out ridiculous loopholes that amount to taxpayer-funded kickbacks to corporations – Americans feel that government is not working for them.
When government fails to prosecute those who work in financial institutions (some of which were propped up or bailed out by the government) for what seems, on its face, blatant fraud – Americans feel that government is not working for them.
In Schumer's view, Democrats have a natural advantage on these issues because the Republican Party wants to make matters even worse by removing any strictures whatsoever on capital's ability to exploit labor. Current economic conditions, combined with the Republican political philosophy, will allow Democrats to walk right through the door of opportunity to victory in 2016 and beyond, as long as they can convince voters that they will embrace a philosophy of government that represents their interests and makes them feel like government is working for them.
Schumer did not outline any specific policy proposals, but did outline a five-point core philosophy that would seek to determine what issues Democrats should focus on in the 2016 campaign:
First—we must ask ourselves, does this policy directly benefit middle-class families in an immediate and tangible way? Will the policy help increase their incomes or lower their expenses in a meaningful way? If we are to fulfill our pact with the middle class, we must articulate policies that will make their lifestyle more affordable. Period. These policies must be aimed at "who," not "what."
Not all of these policies will involve spending. For instance, raising the minimum wage; negotiating good trade policies that prevent jobs from going overseas; and changing labor laws so workers can demand more pay all don’t involve spending, but rather changing the rules of the game to make it easier for the middle-class to fight the forces they’re up against.
Second—the policy should be simple and easily explained. Can it be grasped almost intuitively as something that will help middle-class families?
Third—is it likely to happen? Democratic priorities should be achievable. Yes, they must be easy to message, but they have to be more than just messaging bills.
Fourth—does the policy affect a broad swath of Americans? Even though health care had very real benefits, it did for a very small slice of the country. There are even some policies that would help constituencies within the middle class but not a great deal of people. Those policies should be considered but shouldn’t become part of the core of the Democratic platform.
Fifth—our program cannot seem like a group of disjointed, specific policies, but must fit together to create an effective theme, message, and even symphony, so that people don’t see individual Democratic programs as individual pieces, but rather, parts of a whole.
As a sidelight, it's not clear how Schumer defines "achievable" in this context, given the fact that the entire point of the Republican Party is to prevent any progress from being made for the middle class against the wealthy and corporate interests. But what seems clear from Schumer's speech that he wants the Democratic Party to focus on what will play well in Peoria, because Peoria has been turning Democrats and saying, "what have they been doing for me lately?"
Schumer's remarks focused repeatedly on how a middle class that continues to decline will likely fall victim to strife occurring on racial, cultural, or financial lines. He wants the Democratic Party to work as hard as possible to prevent that by taking for its core agenda a more populist approach—but the subtext has a wrinkle. Reading between the lines, Schumer seems to believe it has to be a tempered populism that convinces white blue-collar voters that the Democratic Party doesn't just care about minorities or other issue-specific silos. Not that those silos can't be a part of the Democratic agenda, but that they can't be front and center. Otherwise, Peoria might stay unconvinced.
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