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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Schumer’s Argument Can Help Dems Focus

Sen. Chuck Schumer’s argument that Democrats must focus more intensely on addressing the concerns of the working/middle class has received a compelling plug from New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall, who explores the purely political downside of Obamacare in his latest column:

The views of Democratic advocates of Obamacare notwithstanding, public opinion has generally sided with Schumer.
A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional connection poll of 1,013 adults in mid-November 2013 found that by a 25-point margin, 59-34, respondents said that the health care law (which includes a major expansion of Medicaid to cover anyone up to 133 percent of the poverty line, and subsidies for the purchase of private insurance for those between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line) would make things better for the poor. But respondents also said, by a 16-point margin, 49-33, that the law would make things worse for “people like you and your family.” White respondents were even more critical, with 58 percent saying that Obamacare would make things worse for people like you and your family, and 63 percent saying it would make things worse “for the middle class.”
Exit poll data from 1994, after President Clinton’s failed bid to pass health care reform, as well as from 2010 and 2014, provides further support for the Schumer argument. In each of those three midterm elections there were huge white defections from the Democratic Party; in 2010 and 2014, there were comparable defections of senior voters.
The loss of white supporters of House Democratic candidates can be seen in the data. In 1992, white voters split 50-50 between Democratic and Republican House candidates; in 1994, after the Hillarycare debacle, they voted Republican 58-42. By 2010 and 2014, whites voted for Republican House candidates by a 24-point margin, 62-38. The defection of seniors is most striking when comparing exit poll data from 2006 and 2010. In 2006, seniors of all races voted 52-48 for Democratic House candidates; in 2010, they voted 58-42 for Republican House candidates.

Edsall cites Schumer’s call for “an active and committed government that is on your side,” despite current cynicism about government. Schumer and Edsall agree that running away from government is political suicide.
It has been duly noted that Obamacare is, after all, a life-saving reform, which also has the potential for saving middle class taxpayers a huge bundle down the road. Edsall’s article is more about the relatively short-term political liabilities of the ACA. It is a trade-off, and only the passing of time will clarify whether it was a wise political strategy in the long term, as well.
There is an argument, which both Edsall and Schumer have not adequately addressed, that it’s more the weak sell behind Obamacare after enactment that has been destructive to Democratic prospects, rather than the ACA itself. Dems shouldn’t waste too much time playing Monday morning quarterback about the timing of the president’s strategy to enact health care reform. Edsall’s analysis nonetheless lends credence to Schumer’s point that, going forward, Democrats had better get talking, loud and clear, about economic reforms that unequivocally benefit the white working-class, as well as the poor and disadvantaged.
Democrats should be able to match or exceed President Obama’s 36 percent of the white working-class in 2012, with an unflinching focus on supporting reforms like: tax cuts for the middle class, coupled with tax hikes for the very wealthy; prosecuting abusive bankers; a minimum wage hike; strengthening labor union organizing; more federal aid for college students; tax incentives for investing in American jobs; expanding Social Security benefits (and scrapping the payroll tax cap); and an incessant call for infrastructure investments that can put millions of people to work.
Of course the Republicans will refuse to pass any of these reforms. But a laser focus on these issues and a refusal to get distracted will help Democrats rebrand both parties in a way that insures that the GOP will suffer a major rout in 2016.

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