Over the course of the last week, House candidates from every part of America have vowed to fight the failed Austerity agenda being pushed by Romney, Ryan and their Republican cronies in Congress. The full-- and growing-- list of candidates, with their statements, is on this page, where you will see an inspiring diversity of thought and approach. Patsy Keever, the intrepid Democratic state Rep from Asheville, NC, was the first to respond and she focused primarily on tending to the nation's infrastructure, something her opponent, Patrick McHenry, has blocked:
This country has faced the slowest economic recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Our Congress has been hijacked by extremely radical members who refuse to come together to put the best interests of all Americans before party allegiance. This country needs its infrastructure re-built. Thirty percent of North Carolina?s bridges are structurally deficient, 215 of the state?s damns fall short of its safety standards, 27% of our highways are in poor condition and 54% of them are congested. These statistics have a wide-ranging and devastating impact on our economy. Small businesses need roads and bridges to support their work. People need safe and uncongested roads to get to their jobs. Infrastructure spending not only ensures that people who do have jobs can keep them, but it creates jobs for people who don?t have them. It is critical for our country to invest in its own future. We need leaders willing to work for the people, not merely their parties.
In order to strengthen our nation and revive our economy, we need strong communities. That means investing in infrastructure, in innovation, and in the public resources that ensure our continued competitiveness.
And while we certainly should rigorously review spending, and ensure that we are delivering government services as effectively and efficiently as possible, we will not cut our way to prosperity.
When it comes to raising revenues-- let's put every special interest, loophole and deduction on the table and-- with our eyes wide open-- decide what our priorities are and how we're going to pay for them. Right now the wealthy and connected are best equipped to navigate, and at times bend, the tax system to their advantage. My vote is to have a transparent, progressive structure that gives struggling families the best shot at moving up the economic ladder and creating greater wealth and opportunity in their communities.
I've knocked on nearly 20,000 doors in my district since I started campaigning a year ago. The number one issue people talk to me about is the economy and their most pressing concern is finding a job.
That's why I'm committed to investing in our communities, getting people back to work and ensuring that everyone's paying their fair share to move this country forward.
The challenge is forbidding and doubtless sounds na´ve to establishment politicians. But the risks of failure are huge. Faced with the growing fear that Obama will pursue a ?grand bargain? with conservatives after the election, further compromising core principles, leading liberal-labor forces are toughening up their tactics. They see the prospect of re-election as a great opportunity to coax or push the president toward the fundamental economic reforms he ducked in his first term-- a source of great disappointment on the left.
Cynics may sneer at part of the strategy for renewal, but it?s a novel approach, and I think it may represent a meaningful turn in the road. Instead of bombing voters with hyped-up TV messages, progressive leaders are going for big ideas. They are rolling out a meaty agenda of economic reforms, giving voters a firm grasp of the issues that affect their lives and charting a path toward a prosperous, more secure future. The ultimate goal is long-term and larger than Obama: reviving small-d democracy and rebuilding the left by helping ordinary people regain their power as citizens. Is that still possible in our dysfunctional system? We are going to find out.
Organizers say Americans are hungry for liberal alternatives to the austerity agenda. People everywhere are tired of manipulative rhetoric. They want to hear serious proposals for how to restore prosperity and an equitable society. Trouble is, neither the president nor the Democratic Party much wants to talk about solutions that sound suspiciously liberal. Mitt Romney is mocked for not having a coherent plan for economic recovery, but Obama doesn?t have much of one either. ?Fairness? is not a governing strategy. Frequent factory visits are not going to bring back manufacturing jobs.
...Hacker lays out the principal steps for restoring progressive taxation, re-regulating the financial system and breaking up the mega-banks. He does not pause to note that the Democratic Party has been deeply complicit in these scandals. But his report could be read as a ?shadow platform? for a party that has drifted rightward and lost its way.
?This campaign is basically the choice between austerity-- more pain for working people-- or an economy of growth and jobs and prosperity,? AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka explains. ?Our president is campaigning for that future. Professor Hacker?s agenda spells out how to get there-- the ideas and actions that deliver what people want and need in their lives. ... Our agenda is about governing solutions that work, that can heal our wounded country,? Trumka adds. ?The conservative corporate machine will oppose nearly everything we propose. But we know from polls that people are overwhelmingly for these propositions-- typically with 75 to 90 percent support.? By arming people with the truth about debt reduction and who gets hurt, Trumka thinks, Hacker?s blueprint should have an immediate impact on postelection decisions.
...As the election season heats up, organized labor and allied groups are trying to walk a delicate line. On the one hand, they intend to push these comprehensive reform proposals aggressively on Congress and the White House, no matter who wins in November. On the other hand, they are committed to Obama?s re-election and anxious to avoid making problems for him. After the election, however, all bets are off. Liberals and labor will be ready to play hardball. Or so they say.
Progressive leaders think they have figured out how to get the president?s attention and compel him to take their agenda seriously. The familiar pattern in Obama?s first term was serial disappointment and occasional anger. The cautious president kept his distance on major decisions while vaguely expressing sympathy with liberal aspirations. He seemed more worried about upsetting independents in the ambivalent middle. He worked especially hard at courting corporate and financial titans.
Looking back, many liberal activists realize they were much too deferential when the White House seemed to take them for granted. Because the GOP was savaging and slandering Obama, trying to block everything he proposed, faithful supporters were reluctant to add to his grief. But they have belatedly concluded that Obama, like most politicians, sometimes needs a poke in the chest from his friends.
The pattern of Obama?s encounters with frustrated supporters suggests what succeeds is a smartly focused strategy of tactical pressuring?a willingness to get in his face, up the ante with direct action, and withhold affection until you get a meaningful response. The president and White House staffers insisted that impatient agitators would only hurt their cause, since Obama had already declared his sympathy for their goals. Overzealous pressure campaigns would make it harder for him to act.
Obama?s track record indicates the opposite: he doesn?t like to be pushed, and he resents it especially when the pressure comes from allies. But if they keep the heat on, he is more likely to address their grievances. On at least four notable issues of great concern to Democratic constituencies?immigration reform, gays in the military, the Keystone pipeline and same-sex marriage?the pattern of sustained pressure and protest aimed at the president led him to ?evolve? in his views. Instead of offering mere rhetoric, he responded concretely to their demands.
Two years ago, immigration advocates lost patience with the administration?s aggressive approach to deportation and its foot-dragging on the DREAM Act. They escalated the terms of their complaints in harsh and highly visible ways and started marching en masse. Bhargava, a leading organizer of the pro-immigration forces, told the president face-to-face at a White House meeting that the administration was presiding over a ?moral catastrophe.? The president rebuked Bhargava for exaggeration and ingratitude and became ?pissy? with immigration advocates in other meetings.
In June, nonetheless, Obama announced a great victory for immigrants? rights. At the president?s command, the Department of Homeland Security stopped deporting DREAM Act?eligible young people-- as many as 1.5 million-- and arranged to provide work permits for them. This was a very big deal: the largest legalization of undocumented immigrants since Ronald Reagan?s sweeping amnesty in 1986. Certainly the approaching election had something to do with Obama?s change of heart. (That is what elections are for.) But it was the advocates? persistence that persuaded the nervous White House to go for it. As the Obama team discovered, good policy can also be good politics.
Similar tactics produced similar victories-- or at least forward motion-- on the other issues. Liberal-labor forces intend to adapt these lessons as they push for the fundamental reforms enumerated in the Hacker blueprint. They recognize that they cannot easily emulate the model unless they go to work at the grassroots, building a popular base of citizens who are mobilized to demand action. Right now, the economic reformers lack the level of sophistication and solidarity that helped deliver results for gays, Latinos and environmentalists in recent years. Americans do not need to be told about their pain and insecurity. They need to learn how to do something about it.
...But will labor and other mediating organizations actually follow through with the plan? Can they establish enough distance from the Democrats and the White House to advance an effective pressure campaign? Skeptics doubt it. They recall earlier moments of crisis when similar declarations of independence were voiced but nothing much changed. This time is different, and for important reasons I think the results will be different too.
For one thing, the economic crisis has severely altered the political context. The new circumstances are especially adverse for working people, but an adequate response from government has not been forthcoming. As the broad middle class festered in desperation and bitterness in the wake of the crash, Democrats, including the president, were surprisingly restrained. The White House seemed reluctant to advocate aggressive measures that might alienate independents or upset financial interests and other malefactors.
Then Occupy Wall Street came along and blew away Obama?s soft talk. Now, candidate Obama has wisely adapted Occupy?s brilliantly succinct message as his own. He does not have the nerve to invoke ?the 99 percent,? but his rhetoric of fairness plays to the same music. Occupy likewise became a wake-up call for labor liberals. When people in the streets began shouting what the left had been too shy to broadcast forcefully, unions got a welcome jolt. Soon enough, they began shouting too.
With any luck, this surge of energy and enthusiasm-- and the attendant rejection of 1 percent politics, as embodied by Mitt Romney-- will propel Obama to a second term. But some activists are already worried about what will happen if Obama wins. Will he abandon his ?inner liberal? again and opt for a grand bargain with Republicans that will do brutal damage to the liberal legacy and long-loyal constituencies?
These enduring suspicions reveal the fraught nature of the marriage between organized labor and the Democratic Party. Unless the party renews its vows and honors them, this marriage may be headed for a trial separation.
For more than three decades, the union movement has faithfully turned out labor votes and raised many millions to finance Democratic campaigns. But as its membership shrank, it gradually became weaker and more dependent on the Democratic Party. Union membership was decimated by globalized production and the business campaign to destroy workers? rights. But the Democrats became less reliable as the defenders of labor at precisely the moment labor really needed them.
Dissident union leaders and rank-and-file workers repeatedly complained that labor was getting the worse end of the bargain. Unions should put aside party loyalty, they argued, and free themselves to pursue more combative and radical strategies in both politics and the workplace. Labor leaders mostly resisted the demands-- partly out of inertia, but also because they understood how vulnerable union members would be if they lost their political allies.
This dilemma has finally reached the breaking point: labor and its liberal allies must chart a new course or face extinction. Given their weakened condition, it is especially difficult to imagine a reinvigorated labor movement or a more independent approach to politics. But the status quo looks like a loser for sure.
A different strategy might start with people on the ground who have no voice at all, represented by neither unions nor politicians. In order to launch a mass movement for economic justice, organized labor would have to relearn some of the things it used to know, including how to wage a campaign to address large economic grievances and speak for working people everywhere.
Jacob Hacker makes the basic point that securing shared prosperity necessarily requires the restoration of democracy. A strategy that gives voice to the people who cannot be heard amid the clamor of big-money politics would not just be about winning elections; it would apply as well to the workplace and financial markets, to corporations and governing institutions. The excluded who need to gain a voice and power might not add up to 99 percent, but they surely represent a majority large enough to change the country.
"When I first read up on Prosperity Economics, I thought someone must have really taken a liking to my stump speeches. The ideas espoused by Professor Jacob Hacker and Nate Loewentheil are completely aligned with my core beliefs for getting our country and economy back on track. These beliefs, which include investing in infrastructure, education, and our social safety nets, and limiting the power of corporations to distort our political system, are not new. They are part of the original formula that drove the unparalleled success our nation has enjoyed up until recently.
But these ideas are now under constant attack, as is the prosperity of our nation, by corporate interests and social extremists whose ultimate goal is to increase income inequality and cultural disharmony. Wealth accumulation has now been confused with job creation, and the right wants to slash government services further to grow the war machine. All the while our middle class, which is the true engine of economic growth and stability, continues to shrink. We simply cannot cut our way to prosperity anymore than we can drill our way out of oil dependence. We need leaders who understand how smart, sound investment made us the great nation we are today, and how prosperity economics can ensure our leadership in the world for generations to come."