Last week’s Brexit vote was just the latest example — albeit a giant one — in this wild political year when workers have been sending the clear message that status quo economic policies are unacceptable. Politicians here in America and in Europe ignore the concerns of workers at their great peril. For the Democratic Party in this country in 2016, the lessons are especially clear.
In the 35 years since Ronald Reagan became president, we’ve seen a steady erosion in the attention political leaders have given to the economic and political concerns of the working class. From the dramatic decline of union membership to the excessive deregulation of Wall Street; from trade deals that enrich multinational corporations but not American workers to a lack of antitrust enforcement that’s allowed near-monopolies in too many sectors; from a lack of significant wage increases for all but the top 10 percent of Americans to ever-escalating inflation in the costs of health care, groceries and college, our political system breakdown and our persistent “trickle down” sense of economics have combined — and conspired — to weaken the well-being of most American working people and retirees.
And now they’re angry, in ways that once hardly seemed imaginable.
A ridiculous huckster and nativist named Donald J. Trump is only days away from officially being the Republican Party nominee for president. And in the United Kingdom, Brexit has just validated that working class anger isn’t only an American phenomenon and concern.
The Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign need to understand that this reality matters, and that — in spite of some national polls showing a significant lead right now — beating Donald Trump in 2016 will be no easy lift. For all the people Trump has offended over the last year and for all of his racism and misogyny, for all the mistakes he has made in recent weeks, he is in a near tie with Secretary Clinton in several key swing states, and is still within striking distance nationally. And don’t forget that Trump outperformed his polling numbers throughout much of his primary run.
Democrats at all levels are going to need a big turnout of our base, as well as a message that appeals strongly to working class swing voters.
The good news is that the Democratic Party Convention platform being developed in advance of Philadelphia is a sign of things moving very much in the right directions. On a wide range of economic issues, the current draft sections of the Party platform are more responsive to working families’ concerns than we’ve seen in decades. There is great language on toughening up our trade deals and making them more focused on workers and their continued fair employment and less focused on just further enriching big business. There are calls for a new Glass-Steagall Act, for breaking up “Too Big to Fail” banks, and for a Financial Transactions Tax. A $15 minimum wage indexed for inflation is demanded, as is, importantly, a new large-scale jobs program to include major spending on infrastructure through a new infrastructure bank with a ‘buy domestic’ demand and worker protections.
The platform also pushes for expanding, not cutting, Social Security. There is the strongest language ever on the central priority of dealing with climate change. A call for a new multi-millionaire surtax is included. Major improvements to the Affordable Care Act are called for. And the language on reforming the criminal justice system, shutting down private prisons, and ending our wrong-headed mass incarceration policies is the best ever.
If enacted into law, this overall platform would dramatically improve the lives of working people in America. Its early embrace by Secretary Clinton is a clear sign that she is listening carefully to the American people, as she has throughout her life in public service. And contrasting this set of strong, tangible and effective policies with Donald Trump’s nonsensical collection of uninformed and ever-changing policy pronouncements will help Democrats across the country in their elections this coming November.
The next big decision is who Secretary Clinton chooses to be her running mate and the next vice president. With this noble Party platform in hand, we believe it would be a big mistake for her to pick someone whose views are not completely aligned with the Party’s new progressive approach. Now is the time to instill confidence among voters that their aspirations are shared by the Democratic ticket, not simply a “political business as usual” ticket balancing act. Voters want someone who recognizes, and who has voted, to reject the status quo approach on trade and the global economy. It must also be someone truly sensitive to the need for workers to be organized and thoughtfully represented. And it must be someone who shares the Secretary’s commitment to “jobs, jobs, jobs”, to fair wages and worker protections, to an ever-present American Dream for our nation’s youth, and to healthy comfortable retirements for our nation’s seniors.
There’s only a small handful of great Democrat men and women who would enthusiastically champion the middle class-oriented labor, trade and economic issues reflected in the Party’s 2016 platform, and we believe that Mrs. Clinton’s running mate must be one of them. And it certainly shouldn’t be someone whose own views on important issues are still being formed seemingly on the fly and whose ability to unite the Party and embrace working families throughout the country and especially in the Rust Belt remains a question mark. Most importantly, we need a vice president who can unite the Democratic Party for effectively governing in a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Americans want a fundamental change in the way Washington works, and they deserve a ticket that gives them confidence that incrementalism is unacceptable.
Brexit was a reminder — and a sobering one — of how quickly things can turn bad when the needs of workers and working families are cast adrift. As it just was in the UK, America’s 2016 election is going to be a tough, unpredictable battle until the last day, and as Democrats we must never waiver from our commitment for a genuinely united and enthusiastic Party with a strong populist message that respects workers and working families. The Party platform, with Secretary Clinton’s unwavering commitment to it, is looking like it will be a strong help in meeting this challenge. Now we just need the right strong vice presidential candidate as the partner for change that Americans so desperately require.
Leo Hindery, Jr.
Co-chair of the Task Force on Jobs Creation, founder of Jobs First 2012, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media
Co-founder Democracy Partners, a political consulting firm whose mission is building the progressive movement. Founder and Chair of American Family Voices.
Commissioner, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and Liaison to the USTR/DOL Labor Advisory Committee