Robert B. Reich: The choice of the century
The president blames himself for the Democrats’ big losses on Election Day.
“We have not been successful in going out there and letting people know what it is that we’re trying to do and why this is the right direction,” he said Sunday.
In other words, he didn’t sufficiently tout the administration’s accomplishments.
I respectfully disagree.
If you want a single reason for why Democrats lost big on Election Day 2014, it’s this: Median household income continues to drop. This is the first “recovery” in memory when this has happened.
Jobs are coming back, but wages aren’t. Every month the job numbers grow, but the wage numbers go nowhere. Most new jobs are in part-time or low-paying positions. They pay less than the jobs lost in the Great Recession.
This wageless recovery has been made all the worse because pay is less predictable than ever. Most Americans don’t know what they’ll be earning next year or even next month. Two-thirds are now living paycheck to paycheck.
So why is this called a “recovery” at all?
Because, technically, the economy is growing. But almost all the gains from that growth are going to a small minority at the top. In fact, 100 percent of the gains have gone to the best-off 10 percent. Ninety-five percent have gone to the top 1 percent. The stock market has boomed. Corporate profits are through the roof. CEO pay is in the stratosphere.
Yet most Americans feel like they’re still in a recession. And they’re convinced the game is rigged against them.
Fifty years ago, just 29 percent of voters believed government is “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” Now, 79 percent think so.
According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who believe most people who want to get ahead can do so through hard work has plummeted 14 points since 2000.
What the president and other Democrats failed to communicate wasn’t their accomplishments. It was their understanding that the economy is failing most Americans and that big money is overrunning our democracy. And they failed to convey their commitment to an economy and a democracy that serve the vast majority rather than a minority at the top.
Some Democrats even ran on not being Barack Obama.
That’s no way to win. Americans want someone fighting for them, not running away from the president.
The midterm elections should have been about jobs and wages, and how to reform a system where nearly all the gains go to the top. It was an opportunity for Democrats to shine. Instead, they hid.
Consider that in four “red” states – South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska and Nebraska – the same voters who sent Republicans to the Senate voted by wide margins to raise their state’s minimum wage. Democratic candidates in these states barely mentioned the minimum wage.
So what now?
Republicans, soon to be in charge of Congress, will push their same old supply-side, trickle-down, austerity economics.
They’ll want policies that further enrich those who are already rich. That lower taxes on big corporations and deliver trade agreements written in secret by big corporations. That further water down Wall Street regulations so the big banks can become even bigger – too big to fail, or jail, or curtail.
They’ll exploit the public’s prevailing cynicism by delivering just what the cynics expect.
And the Democrats? They have a choice. They can refill their campaign coffers for 2016 by trying to raise even more money from big corporations, Wall Street and wealthy individuals. And hold their tongues about the economic slide of the majority, and the drowning of our democracy.
Or they can come out swinging. Not just for a higher minimum wage but also for better schools, paid family and medical leave, and child care for working families.
For resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act and limiting the size of Wall Street banks.
For saving Social Security by lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.
For rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and ports. For increasing taxes on corporations with high ratios of CEO pay to the pay of average workers.
And for getting big money out of politics, and thereby saving our democracy.
It’s the choice of the century. Democrats have less than two years to make it.
Print This Article