2016 election, Center for American Progress, Democrats, Economic Policy Institute, Elizabeth Warren, entitlements, Following Up, manufacturing, middle class, Mitt Romney, Neera Tanden, private sector jobs, progressives, safety net, Trade, Trump, Welfare State, working class
A little over a week ago, I wrote that much of the American Left was way off-base in believing that working class Americans who supported Donald Trump’s successful presidential run had voted against their economic interests. My thesis: These Trump voters were (rightly) much more interested in the family wage private sector jobs his campaign was promising rather than the various forms of welfare that Democratic candidates were strongly suggesting were adequate substitutes. And revealingly, compelling confirmation for my claim arrived just this week – in my email box!
The evidence came in the form of fund-raising pitches from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Center for American Progress CAP). Yes, it’s true that such solicitations aren’t the same as detailed policy papers. It’s also true that both organizations have in the past supported at least some of the trade policy overhauls emphasized by Mr. Trump as vital to job creation in the genuinely productive sectors of the U.S. economy – especially manufacturing. It seems that their interest in new trade policies continues to some extent. And it’s true as well that funding appeals are practically by definition aimed mainly at core or likely supporters – so they don’t necessarily reflect the full output of thinking of these think tanks.
Nevertheless, as a result, fund-raising pitches almost by definition reveal much about these core backers’ priorities, and those of an organization. And in both the EPI and CAP emails, creating more good jobs via trade was a concept conspicuously absent, while what I’ve described as cleverly disguised (even when necessary or desirable) welfare measures were front and center. And here’s a fact that goes far toward clinching the case that the Left remains largely clueless re helping the “ninety-nine percent” it claims to champion. These think tanks in many ways represent the two main wings of progressivism and the Democratic party– what have been called the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton camps.
Take EPI’s pitch – which came in the form of a note from Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren certainly identified a big problem faced by working class voters and bearing much blame for the neglect they obviously feel: “A lot of people in this country work hard, but they aren’t building any security—and they are angry about it.”
“They’re angry that bonuses go up for CEOs while their own paychecks are stuck in the same place year after year. They’re angry that basic costs like housing, health care, and childcare have skyrocketed. And they’re angry about a tax system that benefits the rich and powerful.
“They’re angry because our economy and our government work for those who have already made it big, but don’t work for them.”
And in my view, she correctly identified a goal that needs to be achieved for greater and more broadly based American economic success: “Our top economic priority must be improving the lives of working people in this country—because everyone in this country should have a fighting chance to build a future.”
But what did Warren emphasize as the policies most needed to help the working (and middle) class? “[F]ighting to raise the minimum wage to a living wage [and expanding] Social Security for millions of Americans…” along with addressing “the gender and race wage gaps….” The words “trade,” “offshoring,” and “globalization” simply don’t appear.
The appeal for the Center for American Progress came from its president, Neera Tanden. You might be familiar with Tanden from the presidential campaign. As a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter, she’s been a fixture on many of the Sunday morning talk shows. She was also one of the most prominent Democrats embarrassed by the hacked and leaked emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
Tanden’s email yesterday was titled “Defend Our Economic Security” – and therefore seemed full of promise. I thought that it might deal with neglected issues I’ve written profusely about, like the weaknesses that have emerged in the American defense manufacturing base, or the recklessness of permitting the nation’s best tech companies transfer much of their best (and defense-related) knowhow to China.
No such luck, however. Tanden’s focus instead was on “the issues that matter most to working families” – which of course is laudable. But as her letter makes clear, CAP is most concerned with “how the American middle class has been squeezed by the rising costs of health care, child care, higher education, housing, and retirement” and the greatest challenge it sees is preventing President-elect Trump and the incoming Republican-controlled Congress from cutting the government programs that have helped the middle (and working) class cope with these rising costs.
Again, I have no objection to ensuring the continued health of many of these programs, or entire safety net. But in CAP’s apparent view, they’re ends in and of themselves. I also understand the need to demonize political opponents in fund-raising literature. It’s a tried and true way to fire up the donor base.
But the organization doesn’t seem interested in policies to foster the types of private sector jobs that would enable Americans to reduce their burgeoning reliance on these measures. That notion is also difficult to find at the Economic Policy Institute. Both institutes may be right in viewing a safety net-centric economic game plan as a winning political formula. And if they were, in an ironic way, they’d be confirming one of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s biggest verbal mis-steps during the 2012 election – his suggestion that 47 percent of Americans are welfare state takers.
But one of the clearest lessons of the 2016 election is that the masses of working class voters who opted for Mr. Trump aren’t buying it. All of which presents the Democrats – who have styled themselves as the Party of the Common Man – with a dilemma that’s not only momentous, but possibly existential.