The progressive think tank Data for Progress begs to differ. In a survey released in conjunction with the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and made exclusively available to The Post, they found that regulation remains broadly popular with the public despite decades of right-wing claims.
When asked to decide whether they think regulations make sure that “everyone has a fair shot” or instead slow economic growth, 7 out of 10 respondents chose the former. When asked if regulations helped keep workers and the environment safe, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans agreed. In fact, a majority of likely voters said that they wanted to see all stakeholders — impacted workers, businesses, scientists, among others — working together. They would also like to see for themselves how regulations are adjusted by the White House to maximize benefits and minimize costs — a secretive process that progressives say stymied more aggressive action on the environment during the Obama years.
Robert Weissman, president of the advocacy group Public Citizen, a member of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, calls the idea that the public doesn’t want to see regulation a myth, and one that is “deeply implanted into the D.C. political talking class.“ It’s not true, he told me, but people believe it to be.
So why do we believe it? Well, consider this: Regulations are not particularly popular with the corporate class, and corporate opponents of government rules to protect Americans have fought back against them for more than 100 years. Corporations will point out that there is always an excuse for why something shouldn’t be done. It’s always too difficult, or costs too much money, will make things worse or isn’t worth the trouble.
And, as a rule, the corporate class (and the wealthiest portions of our society more generally) have the ear of government in a way that you and I do not. As political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page put it in 2014, “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.”
All of this is incredibly important because if Democrats do not win both of the two Senate races in Georgia scheduled for Jan. 5, Republicans will maintain a majority in the Senate. And unless congressional Republicans experience that “epiphany” President-elect Joe Biden talked about and get cooperative once Trump is no longer residing on Pennsylvania Avenue, Biden’s legacy will almost certainly be one of regulation — both restoring it and adding his own.
Trump launched what I’ve called a smash-and-grab assault on government regulations in areas ranging from the environment to immigration and consumer protection — and even at the end of his term, he is showing no signs of stopping. In its final days, the administration is signing off on new rules allowing poultry plants to speed up their processing lines, something that could lead to an increased number of cases of diseased chickens slipping through — not a delicious result.
Once he takes the reins, Biden will likely need to rely on executive action on the regulatory front to enact a more progressive agenda. All sorts of things can happen this way: The American Prospect’s Day One Agenda has flagged more than 200 action items Biden can enact via executive branch actions, in areas ranging from the environment to student loan repayment processes. He’ll need to get to work.
But all this will be easier if we stop apologizing for good government that’s responsive to the people. So here’s some advice for the new administration: Take a hint from the Data for Progress study and emphasize the word “fairness.” The word “regulation,” no matter how well-meaning, has the sound of “eat your peas.“ Fairness, on the other hand, is a goal sought by almost all. It’s also something in short supply in our economically, racially stratified and politically divided society.
Try it on for size: “Biden is going to not only build back better, he will also build back fairer.” No one should be against that.