Schumer: Labor’s Share of Profit Should be Core of 2016 Democratic Agenda


Sen. Schumer (D-NY) wants a comprehensive focus on the middle class.

By Dante Atkins, Daily Kos

In a speech that sounded more like that of a liberal economist and less like that of a United States senator from New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) this week outlined a path forward for a Democratic victory in 2016 that will focus on increasing middle-class incomes and using government as a shield for workers against the forces of globalization, automation, and job loss through technological efficiency. The question? Whether that agenda, specifically designed to win over white working-class voters, will come at the expense of programs and proposals that help key Democratic constituencies?

Schumer noted that for the first time in American history, median wages have been in decline for a decade, even as outsourcing, technology, and efficiency have increased profits at the very top. In his view, Democrats — starting in 2009 with their ascension to the presidency and large majorities in Congress — wasted the opportunity to seize control of American politics for a generation by solving more narrow problems like health care reform instead of focusing on rehabilitating government as a vector for defending the middle class against the forces that are making their wages decline. Schumer claimed that while the Affordable Care Act was a good bill, it was the wrong priority for rebuilding a positive view of government for middle class Americans:

After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed. But it wasn’t the change we were hired to make; Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their health care. This makes sense considering that 85 percent of all Americans got their health care from either the government—Medicare or Medicaid—or their employer. And if healthcare costs were going up, it didn’t really affect them.

The Affordable Care Act was aimed at the 36 million Americans who were uncovered. It has been reported that only a third of the uninsured are even registered to vote. In 2010, only about 40 percent of those registered voted, so even if the uninsured kept with that rate (which they likely did not) you would still only be talking about 5 percent of the electorate. To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle class person thought “the Democrats are not paying enough attention to me.”

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.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Kos.


Posted By: Nick Vanocur

A talented nut in search of a publisher. Author of 'From the Desk of Nickileaks', @

%d bloggers like this: