Katrina vanden Heuval explains how “How Democrats can win back the working class” in her Washington Post column.
…A tireless commitment to fighting Trump’s disastrous policies and support for the activists marching in the streets are important. But there is also a natural danger of falling into the default mode of opposing Trump, and merely defending existing policies, without offering the serious solutions that people so desperately need. Rebuilding the party requires Democrats to speak boldly about what they are for and not just what they are against. Otherwise, they risk replicating the failed campaign strategy of 2016, when the Clinton campaign hammered away at Trump without appealing to working Americans with a clear and bold alternative vision of its own. To that end, it has been encouraging to see progressive leaders recently taking their message straight to working-class voters across the country, including in red and purple states where Trump maintains solid support.
In addition to Sen. Bernie Sanders, writes vanden Heuval, Democrats have another exemplar who is focused on meeting this challenge, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has unveiled “a progressive populist economic blueprint that he’s been developing since late 2015. At the heart of Brown’s plan is the fundamental principle that “it’s not businesses who drive the economy — it’s workers.” Vanden Heuval credits Brown with offering “a passel of bold measures designed to empower workers, from a $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave to protections against wage theft and expanded collective bargaining rights.”
In addition, vanden Heuval cites impressive progress towards a proactive working-class message and agenda at the state level:
Meanwhile, progressives have been aggressively pushing a pro-worker agenda at the state level as well. State Innovation Exchange (SiX) Action, which advocates for progressive policies in state legislatures, responded to Trump’s congressional address by spearheading a “week of action” that brought together progressive lawmakers and grass-roots organizations in more than 30 states to advocate for some 130 pieces of pro-worker legislation. As part of the effort, state legislators introduced, advanced or highlighted paid sick leave in Michigan and Maryland, equal pay in Oklahoma and Colorado, and minimum wage hikes in New Mexico and North Carolina, among other bills.
None of this is to back away from strong criticism of Trump and the Republicans, whose increasingly “barbaric policies” must be called out and challenged. However, concludes vanden Heuval, “regaining the trust of working-class voters who supported Trump will take more than opposition. As Sanders recently argued, it will take a forward-looking message and a real commitment to addressing the challenges that working people face. “You cannot just be defensive,” Sanders said. “You need a proactive agenda that brings people together to fight for a new America.”
Leaders like Sanders and Brown are lighting the way forward for Democrats who want to win the support of workers of all races. Progressive candidates and campaigns who want to shed the Republican branding of the Democratic party as elitist ought to pay close attention to the messaging and policy agenda of these two energetic champions of the working-class.