August 1, 2017 at 8:01 AM
At the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “Never before in modern history have the essential differences between the two major American parties stood out in such striking contrast as they do today.” Arguing that Republicans had offered “no path for the people below to climb back to places of security and of safety in our American life,” he called for a “new deal” to “restore America to its own people.”
Under President Trump, the differences between the parties on domestic politics are similarly stark. Yet as the GOP fights to advance an extremist agenda that would take the nation backward, Democrats have struggled to offer a clear vision for the future or a path to security for struggling Americans. To that end, the “Better Deal” agenda that Democratic leaders introduced last week may not live up to Roosevelt’s lofty standard or the bold 21st-century populism that fueled Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) insurgent presidential campaign, but it is a promising step in the right direction.
At the core of the Better Deal is a crackdown on corporate monopolies that represents a genuine shift for the party establishment.
The agenda lays out the problem in no uncertain terms, stating that “growing corporate influence and consolidation has led to reductions in competition, choice for consumers, and bargaining power for workers,” while “extensive concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations hurts wages [and] undermines job growth.” In response, Democrats propose toughening merger standards to prevent harm to consumers and workers, requiring regulators to conduct “frequent” reviews of all mergers after they are completed, and creating “a 21st century Trust Buster” agency to fight anti-competitive behavior. This focus on reducing the power of corporate monopolies has won praise from leading antitrust activists, including Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout and New America Foundation fellow Barry Lynn.
In addition, the Better Deal features several policies that progressive activists have long championed: creating 10 million jobs with a mix of infrastructure spending and tax credits, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, guaranteeing paid sick and family leave, and lowering the price of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies. Taken as a whole, the agenda demonstrates the ascendant power of the populist wing of the party led by Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
However, the Better Deal remains far from perfect. As Robert Borosage writes at the Nation, its emphasis on skills training as a solution to workers’ problems is “clearly a nod to the still potent New Democrat forces in the party” and smacks of “blaming workers for not getting the education or skills they need rather than focusing on changing the rules that rig the game against them.” Indeed, while the idea of “better skills” may help attract campaign donations from Silicon Valley billionaires and the Davos set, it does nothing to address the fundamental unfairness that plagues the economy. What’s more, the agenda fails to establish a clear path toward universal health care, affordable college, or criminal justice reform — all critical economic issues for millions of families.
If Democratic leaders are genuinely committed to a “better deal” for the working class, they would be smart to consider another platform released this month: the People’s Platform. Crafted by a coalition of grass-roots organizations led by Our Revolution, which emerged from Sanders’s presidential campaign, the People’s Platform calls for bold, common-sense solutions to many of the country’s most pressing challenges. The agenda takes aim at economic inequality by endorsing Medicare for All, debt-free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage, as well as a financial transaction tax to raise revenues. It also includes proposals to ensure equal access to abortion, eliminate for-profit private prisons and implement automatic voter registration.
The coalition behind the platform has set a goal of getting at least half of House Democrats to sign on. “Democrats in Congress must lay out a bold vision for how we create a country that works for everyone — not just the very wealthy,” they declared in a petition delivered to Democratic National Committee headquarters last week. “In the wealthiest nation on earth, each and every American family should have the basic things they need to thrive.”
To be clear, Democratic leaders deserve credit for waking up to the harsh reality of our rigged economic system and pledging to do something about it. But while there is much to like about the Better Deal, the People’s Platform offers practical, popular solutions that are essential to the economic security of working Americans. And with the 2018 election cycle rapidly approaching, Democrats have an opportunity to draw an even sharper contrast with the GOP by embracing the kind of bold populism that this moment demands.
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