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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Freedom and Fairness’ Frame Can Lead Dems to Victory in 2024

Some nuggets mined from Colin Woodard’s article, “Liberty on the Ballot: How Biden’s freedom agenda could win him a second term and save the republic‘ at The Washington Monthly:

Joe Biden officially launched his reelection campaign in April with a three-minute video laying out the stakes in this election: the survival of the American experiment itself.

“The question we’re facing is whether in the years ahead, we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer. I know what I want the answer to be, and I think you do too,” the president said, as images flashed by at subliminal speeds of him speaking to union workers on a factory floor, in the Rose Garden, and at the opening of a new Amtrak railroad tunnel in Baltimore. “This is not a time to be complacent.”

….“Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms … dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love, all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote,” he added. Freedom is the most important and sacred thing to Americans, he said, and making sure we’re all given “a fair shot at making it” is essential to securing it.

Woodard continues, “An analysis of 2016 voters by the political scientist Lee Drutman showed that almost all of Trump’s general election supporters were conservative on social issues, but on the economic front they were split almost evenly between liberal and conservative tendencies. (The Obama voters who then chose Trump—about 9 million of them in 2016—were almost entirely economically liberal and socially conservative.)”

Woodard notes that “Two and a half years into his first term, Biden has racked up enough policy successes that he and his party have a shot at resetting the country….From June 2022 to April 2023, per capita income in America, after inflation, rose 3.6 percent—the highest real income growth in a quarter century. (Under Trump before the pandemic, it was 2.5 percent.)  Public opinion hasn’t caught up to this reality, which is not surprising—a similar lag occurred in the 1990s, when economically traumatized voters didn’t believe that positive developments would persist. Consequently, Biden’s job approval numbers on the economy remain low. If current trends continue, however, he’s likely to be in a stronger position with voters going into the November 2024 elections.” Further,

Still, to survive the coming GOP onslaught, Biden and the Democrats will need to talk about their past accomplishments and agenda for the future in terms that are persuasive to voters in the swing regions of the country.” Also, Woodard writes,

….Seven years ago, in American Character, I wrote that the American way—the set of political values shared by the vast majority of Americans—is about pursuing happiness through a free and fair competition between individuals and the ideas, output, and institutions they produce. If someone becomes fantastically rich through hard work or brilliant innovation, most Americans applaud them. If they squander their opportunities by greed, sloth, or indulgence, most Americans have little sympathy. Rightly or wrongly, we Americans have great faith that when individuals are so freed, their aggregate actions will contribute to the creation and sustenance of a happy, healthy, and adaptable society, one responsive to change and inhospitable to the seeds of tyranny: ignorance, hopelessness, fear, and persecution….

….The freedom-and-fairness agenda isn’t about a government handout or hand up, or a plutocracy’s resources trickling down; it’s about the government having your back as you make your way in the world (if you’re not one of the 0.1 percent at the top) or keeping your power in check (if you are). As Americans, we’re committed to defending each other’s equal moral right to pursuit happiness, participate in our politics, and not be tyrannized, which is why government should vigorously respond to discrimination and disenfranchisement.

Biden and his party have a record of policy achievements that beautifully match this freedom-and-fairness creed. The administration, for instance, has begun reversing four decades of lax federal antitrust enforcement that has allowed corporations in a few big metro areas to monopolize much of the economy and has narrowed freedom and opportunity for entrepreneurs, employees, and smaller cities and towns in the middle of the country. The administration has blocked airline mergers that would have raised ticket prices and reduced choices for travelers, sued Google for cornering digital ad revenues and thereby killing off local news outlets that average Americans trust, and proposed a ban on “noncompete” agreements that rob employees of the ability to negotiate higher wages by seeking jobs at rival firms. At times, the president has discussed his antitrust actions in eloquent freedom-and-fairness language. “Capitalism without competition is not capitalism,” he said in his 2023 State of the Union address. “It is exploitation.”

Biden and the Democrats have other big achievements to brag about, but so far they haven’t consistently done so in freedom-and-fairness terms. The infrastructure bill—passed with some Republican support—is a big communitarian investment package that maintains and expands the bridges, roads, tunnels, ports, and rails that allow Americans to freely participate in economic and social opportunities regardless of where they live, and keeps clean water and power running to their homes and communities. The Inflation Reduction Act made nearly $400 billion in clean energy investments, giving hundreds of millions of Americans and their decedents potential freedom from dependence on unreliable petroleum markets controlled by despotic regimes in Russia and the Middle East—and also quicker access to that ultimate expression of American freedom, latest-technology cars, this time low-maintenance, fast-accelerating electric ones. The legislation also made the wealthy and corporations begin to pay closer to their fair share through new increased corporate minimum taxes, a new 1 percent tax on stock buybacks, and better enforcement and collection by the IRS.

“Most Americans also don’t want to live in the authoritarian, fascistic world Trump and his emulators are trying to create,” Woodard argues. “They don’t hate their neighbors or fear trans kids or want LGBTQ people erased from schoolbooks, Target stores, and legislatures. They don’t want their government overturning democratic elections or pardoning convicted seditionists or kidnapping toddlers from migrant parents at our borders or deploying soldiers to crush those who demonstrate against it. They want women to have control of their bodies and their children to be free to go to school without the need for Kevlar, armed guards, and terrifying safety drills. They don’t think America should be an ethno-state of white Christians. But they need leaders to make stark the alternatives and to rally them to the cause: to build an America that is truly great because it’s a place where we all fight for each other’s inborn and equal entitlement to freedom.”

One comment on “‘Freedom and Fairness’ Frame Can Lead Dems to Victory in 2024

  1. Martin Lawford on

    Colin Woodard does not say where he got his figures for personal income, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports “From June 2022 to June 2023, real average hourly earnings increased 2.2 percent, seasonally adjusted. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with a decrease of 0.9 percent in the average workweek resulted in a 1.3-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period. ” That is about one-third of the figure he quoted. The discrepancy could be reconciled if one compares income to earnings. If investment income is rising much faster than wages, that would imply that Biden’s policies have increased rather than decreased income inequality.


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