BY CARL OWEN
How did the Republican Party pick up so many seats and win control of the United States Senate? Did they truly offer a better vision for America’s future or just stifle the vote of millions of people through Voter ID laws? Is this a real mandate by the majority of Americans? The political pundits, as usual, have it all wrong.
As a lifelong Democrat I must admit I was disappointed with this midterm’s election results. I had hoped that enough of us would see the importance of finishing President Obama’s term on our terms. But, frankly, the message I got from the Democrats failed to live up to what I wanted us to do as a party.
We basically used the same tactics the GOP did – fear. The Republicans scared the voters with Ebola and ISIS and tried to anger their base by making it a referendum on President Obama. We tried to scare voters to the polls by depicting the GOP as out of touch, maybe even a little nuts, which is probably true, and they’d roll back progressive gains, little though they might be, if the Republicans gained control of the Senate.
Our voters weren’t buying it. They knew no matter who controlled the Senate gridlock was still the main game in town. What we failed to do is clearly define who we are and what policies we want to enact to move this country forward. A “Why we’re Democrats” message which we didn’t get.
What policies do I want as a Democrat? Well, the following policies and principles that Democrats have stood on for years. It’s time we got back to basics and showcased our differences between the Democratic Party and Republican Party.
Seventy percent of our economy is driven not by the people who sign the front of the payroll check but the ones who flip it over and endorse it on the back. It’s been the business class that has stagnated our wages since Ronald Reagan’s time. Yet all we hear about is taking care of businessmen.
This last economic recovery was the first in modern history where the working class saw no gains in their economic status. The business class and rich made out like bandits.
We don’t need a higher minimum wage law but a living wage law. The minimum wage was first enacted in 1933 by FDR and again in 1938 under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It’s been raised almost 40 times since and not one conservative economist can point to any major job losses during that time despite all their claims to the contrary.
A DECENT RETIREMENT
Many business owners have switched from defined pension plans to 401[k]-type retirement plans, if they didn’t do away with them entirely. Why? It saved them money. Where did these savings go? Into their pockets.
Millions of Americans now rightly despair of ever being able to retire or if they do they fear being a burden on their children.
The GOP now calls for turning Social Security, the most successful and financially stable anti-poverty program of all time, into a crap game. The Wall Streeters who gave us the Great Depression, the Great Recession, housing bubbles and derivatives [and to this day few still understand them] are the ones they want to hand over hundreds of billions in retirement money.
The 401[k] retirement plan that many businesses now use in lieu of a defined pension plan was originally devised as a way for corporate executives to hide or defer taxes on bonus money. It was never intended to replace traditional pensions.
AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
The Affordable Care Act, in my opinion, is flawed. But I don’t think this was intended to be the final version of healthcare reform but the first step. When it was implemented healthcare was eating up 14% to 18% of the economy and growing. Even Republicans recognized this threat.
Since the enactment of ACA, or ObamaCare if you prefer, the yearly rise in healthcare costs has dropped to single digit numbers. All Americans have a right – yes, a right – to decent, affordable healthcare, including end of life care. And it’s not just for the benefit of the workers. Healthy employees are more productive and absent less which saves businesses money and reduces healthcare costs.
The United States is the only industrial nation on earth that has no mandatory holidays, no mandatory sick leave or guaranteed vacation time. Boss wants you to work Christmas or Passover or Ramadan? Better do it or you’re fired.
We need a real Department of Labor to enforce worker rights. If I force you to give me $20 a week, I’m guilty of strong-arm robbery and go to jail. If a boss forces you to work two hours off the clock a week, he effectively steals your money and nothing happens.
Working women who become pregnant know the enormous difficulties they face. As union membership in the country has fallen, so has the average worker’s salary. It’s no coincidence that as workers’ ability to organize declines so does their clout.
It should be much easier for workers to form a union, not tougher, since unions are the only organization that truly stands up for the average American worker.
More and more jobs require a greater skill base. Yet we keep raising the price of tuition to college or career technical schools to the point it’s almost unaffordable. Or it’s so expensive the graduates spend the rest of their lives trying to pay off student loan debt.
When taxpayers only finance 18% of the operating cost of a major university, the cost falls to the student and, unfortunately, we then allow extremely wealthy individuals who donate huge sums to schools to push dubious or devious and harmful ideology upon our children to make up for the shortfall.
This goes hand-in-hand with a good primary education. After years of blaming teachers, their unions, students and parents, maybe we ought to look at the real culprit – underfunding. The wealthier the community the better the educational outcomes are for the communities’ children.
Are poor students just stupid or do they suffer from a severe lack of educational resources? There exist many examples of schools serving poor children that are well resourced and have shown exceptional results.
A number of other areas where Democrats differ from Republicans: our desires for quality child care for working families, reliable and affordable transportation systems, criminal justice reform, sensible immigration policies, rational national defense expenditures, ending corporate welfare, comprehensive tax reform and, finally, getting corporate cash out of our elections.
We want to reasonably address environmental issues so our children and grandchildren aren’t left a stinking, rotting mess of a planet.
Since the ‘80s all I’ve heard has been the business class clamoring for relief for the business class. Lower their taxes, remove regulations, give them more freedom to operate without oversight or government interference and the benefits would flow like milk and honey.
We’ve done that for nearly four decades and look where we are. Former presidential candidate Ross Perot made a comment during one of the debates that’s stuck with me for years. As the panel was debating trickle-down economics, he said, “We tried throwing all the money at the top and found most of it stayed there.”
We cannot win future elections by using the Chicken Little strategy. The GOP has gone so far right they propose draconian policies that discriminate, humiliate and intimidate and it gets their voters to the polls through the use of fear and anger to put them in office.
Our voters aren’t that stupid or easily manipulated. They prefer calm, rational policy that they know will benefit them and the country. But we must loudly and clearly articulate these issues.
The well-being of the middle class won’t improve nor its size stabilize – or better yet, grow – if all we do is give the have’s more at the expense of the have-nots. If we don’t state loudly and clearly who we are and what we want, we’ll cede control of the government to special interest groups who’ll eventually drive America into a Third World banana republic.
America loves boasting about its capitalistic system, a system that relies on advertising. If we aren’t smart enough to use the tools of the trade to convince people to vote for their own good, for the Democratic Party, then shame on us.
I’m a proud Democrat and we not only need to trumpet these issues, but also roll up our sleeves and bring them to fruition.
– Carl Owen is a veteran postal carrier and retired U.S. Army Reserves major who lives in Moore, OK