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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Dems Win Business Support?

The American Prospect is featuring an article by Paul Waldman, “The Dems’ Big Business Opportunity,” making a persuasive case that Democrats are in position to win broad support from pro-business voters, particularly with a few smart moves.
Much of Waldman’s argument is based on the GOP’s “stunning record of incompetence.” It’s not just the current Administration’s disastrous Iraq and foreign policy, which could provide a case study in mismanagement for the Harvard Biz School. He also cites a nicely-done eriposte study showing that, on a range of economic indicators important to business, such as GDP growth, unemployment, deficits and inflation, the average performance under Democratic Administrations has been superior to that of Republican Administrations. Waldman concedes that the facts won’t matter much to ideologues, but for rational and “responsible” business men and women, making this case might help Dems.
Waldman urges Dems to “approach business with a new grand bargain” and “change how they think and talk about corporations” a tall order for the Party of the Big Tent. He also counsels a more practicable wedge strategy to separate rational business people from the right-wing ideologues, so Dems can peel off a healthy portion of the former.
In his blog at the ITT List (In These Times) Adam Doster argues that Waldman underestimates the importance of taxes as a core issue of Big Business and adds that the “responsible” busineess leaders are already supporting Democrats. Doster sees slim business pickings now that the low-hanging fruit is being hauled away on donkey carts. Doster says Dems would do better to put the energy into promoting “populist policies.” Doster also flags Christopher Hayes’ Washington Monthly article “Revolt of the CEO’s,” which included this paragraph echoing Waldman’s thought on the possibility of a social contract business leaders could support:

“The corporate guys are beginning to think this is going to happen,” said Bill Galston, a senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a current fellow at the Brookings Institution, referring to health care and climate change legislation. “They are willing to make their peace with the welfare and regulatory state as long as they can have some say. What they don’t want is for the train to leave the station and they’re not in the first-class car.” The Chamber of Commerce’s Josten summed up his members’ views this way: “You want a seat at the table, because if you’re not at the table you may be on the menu.”

Of course the hat trick for Dems is to win business support without selling out organized labor, whose ground troops loom large in the weeks leading up to election day — or, to put it in moral terms, to win the confidence of business while remaining faithful Democrats.
I’m a little more optimistic than both Waldman and Doster that it can be done. It’s getting to the point, where honest, level-headed business folks have nowhere else to go than to the Democratic Party. Jackie Calmes’ Wall St. Journal article, “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote, ” cited by Waldman, notes that 37 percent of the “professionals and managers” occupational category now identify themselves as Republican/Leaning Republican, a significant decline from the 44 percent of just three years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last month.
I anticipate Dems winning the largest percentage ever of small business men and women, few of whom could be much-impressed by what the GOP field and congressional candidates have offered in the way of health care reform thus far, or by their do-nothing prescriptions for the Iraq quagmire. All in all, ’08 is shaping up as a banner year for Democrats — and that’s good for business as well.

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