The poverty of the Dems new message

In the wake of election losses, centrist Democrats are working to reshape their economic message. A story in the New York Times this weekend outlined the laments of Democratic senators over the Party’s failure to present a strong economic argument that appealed to constituents in all fifty states. In their estimation, the Party has come to focus too much on cultural issues, emphasizing coalitions of ethnic groups and cultural interests, rather than economic realities and how to address them. In this way, Hillary’s slogan “Stronger Together” characterized this loss of the Dems economic soul.

So far so good. This line of analysis and reflection aligns with those of the more progressive factions of the Party, and ought to lead towards a progressive legislative agenda, if not an outright program for addressing economic inequality, increasing opportunity, and building communities. Indeed, Bernie Sanders’ campaign brought together the gains of the social justice movement on issues like environment, racism, and inequality, with a powerful economic message.

The strategy among these Democrats, however, is not a productive agenda; it is recalcitrant. “Our role will principally be to defend the progress we have made in recent years,” Representative Xavier Becerra was quoted as saying in the NYT. Incoming senate leader Chuck Schumer spoke of defending benefits, and berated Republicans who are “gearing up for a war on seniors.”

These Dems new message appears to be the preservation of state benefits, and their new strategy to be protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Such benefits are important, to be sure, and a strong opposition in Congress is important to fight the privatization agenda of the Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell led Republicans. The work cannot stop there, however; protection of existing benefits must be but a means towards a larger progressive program to democratize the market and empower individuals and communities.