First, do no harm – avoid any semblance of bragging about how well the economy is doing. Instead recite lists of Dem proposals to create jobs and grow the economy that have been blocked by Republicans in Congress. Focus on an economic message that consistently and repeatedly insists on more and faster economic growth based on increasing worker spending power. And then promise (a la “the contract with America”) that if Democratic majorities are elected in the House and Senate, Democrats will pass a specific program to create jobs and increase wages and family incomes.
The core of such a specific program could easily be the Democrats’ advocacy of a $10.10 federal minimum wage and a beefed-up version of President Obama’s proposed public works program (aka “infrastructure”). But these two pillars need to be linked – to each other and to a larger Fordist theme that stagnant wages and incomes are what’s slowing our economy down.
Though the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that 500,000 jobs could be lost with a minimum wage set at $10.10 is undoubtedly on the high side, it would be refreshing if progressive Democrats granted that some low-wage jobs would be threatened if the economy continues to limp along at a 2% growth rate. But with an ambitious job-creating public works program (closer to Bob Kuttner’s massive outlay based on actual engineering estimates of need than to Obama’s 2015 budget) increasing economic growth by a percentage point or so, the threat of job loss would be greatly reduced or eliminated. Meanwhile more than 16 million workers would get substantial increases in their wages and millions of construction and related workers would be employed.
The public works program would have to be paid for over time, and the complicated list of tax measures in the President’s budget is too small, too “measured,” and hard to remember. Better (for both political and economic purposes) would be the so-called Robin Hood Tax, as advocated since late in 2009 by a coalition of unions, progressive think tanks, civil rights and women’s groups.1 A small sales tax on the buying and selling of stocks and bonds, Robin Hood is designed to reduce the kinds of speculative activity on Wall Street that helped crash our economy in 2008-09. It would also produce about $100 billion a year to fund at least part of a vigorous public works program. This is an economically sound proposal, but it is even better politically in order to more thoroughly and permanently brand the already-branded-GOP as the party of the 1% –a party that is blocking a minimum wage increase and the creation of construction jobs in order to protect Wall Street.
Such a simple, bold “economic populist” program would help fire up all parts of the Democratic base, including the 2/5ths of the white working class that consistently votes Dem in Presidential elections. But if it’s big enough and tied to a well-reasoned, clearly explained economic growth program based on a long-term (and real) commitment to increasing wages and incomes, it could attract and persuade that 20% or more of working-class whites who Andrew Levison describes as open-minded “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand thinkers.”
Jack Metzgar, Roosevelt University, Chicago.