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Wed, March 20

Column: Democrats’ quiet victory

The budget bill


Wilbur Ross, "entertainment"


Democrats’ internal debates over messaging has distracted from even taking credit for a big recent victory.

Three messaging issues. First, they have been debating whether to focus on minority groups, like LGTBQ, Black Lives Matter, immigrants, and others, or focus on the “middle,” by which they mean, mostly white, mostly suburban, who have various concerns but uppermost is their own shaky economy. It’s a false choice. The main focus should be economics, which would help everyone, but we can continue to push for reduced racism and other issues while strengthening the economy of the middle. Democratic leadership has been offering no real economic change, so the only things that hit the news are conflicts over gay rights, police and minorities, immigrants, and similar issues. It looked like we didn’t care about suburban and rural people with slipping economics. That’s a failure of the leadership. Among the grassroots, the economic well-being of everyone is a very big deal. We can do both, economic reform and issues of justice.

Issue two is whether to go further left or more “middle.” To Democratic leadership the middle means conservative-light, with hopes of luring some moderate conservatives. Another false choice because if people are offered real reforms they’ll be on board. Policies like not letting big corporations hide behind employment agencies, even for fairly skilled mid-level jobs, so they can get away with treatment they couldn’t do directly. Empower working people and they’ll be on board. Trump makes mostly empty promises about jobs, but offers nothing to strengthen those in jobs. That’s where real change lies.

Issue three is the problem of seeming to be about giveaways: Bernie’s free college, Hillary’s family leave, expanded Medicaid. But there are a raft of issues that are not about government support. Some I’ve listed before. The issue mentioned above, plus serious enforcement of wage theft, legal changes to restore employee’s leverage in court, serious prosecution of crimes by executives, tightening the labor market to give employees more levera

ge. The safety-net is needed, but a political hole. People work hard, but the power-elite push wages down to where people need Medicaid and free school lunches to get by. The left takes the bait and makes those central issues. The right then accuse us of being about giveaways. Democrats need to be smarter about pushing real economic reform.

They just had a great success but so far I’ve heard little about it. They blocked budget cuts. Only a small cut to EPA, increases for the Department of Energy, NASA, NIH and Arts & Humanities, no cuts to sanctuary cities, or Planned Parenthood, no funding of the wall. But where is their big news coverage, their victory lap? Where is their making it clear that if they’re returned to offices in 2018 this is the kind of difference people will see, plus economic reform? Their aim is unfocused, and even when they hit the target, their messaging is weak. But at least they hit the target on this.

P.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross thinks bombing Syria was “entertainment,” as you’ll see in the news. War is never funny. That should be grounds for his removal.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at


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