PRAISING ‘A BETTER DEAL’ (AND DEMANDING MORE)

Democrats are finally taking the hint and crafting a definitive response to the question, “what do we stand for?” The answer, for now, is a new set of policy proposals and beliefs that collectively they’re calling “A Better Deal”.

While the formal policies that will come from this new positioning statement will be rolled out over time, what has been generally announced so far include:

1) A more formal push for $15 an hour minimum wage
2) Massive new infrastructure spending
3) Tax incentives for employers that train and hire workers at a good wage
4) A crack down on prescription drug pricing
5) Targeting monopolistic activity in the corporate sphere

A Good Start

Saying nothing about the name/slogan — A Better Deal — the change in messaging itself marks a much-needed turning point in the lead up to elections in 2018 and 2020. The American people need to know that the Democratic Party stands firmly in their corner.

On first look, there is not much here to pick at. Formally coalescing around a $15 minimum wage is a positive move forward. And items 2–4 are things that even Trump ran on (the fact that he has failed to deliver may make them more powerful talking points for Democrats). But of the five things listed above, only the last one is truly something we have not seen in recent Democratic messaging.

Taking aim at corporate power is a strategy that should be applauded by those on the left. Democrats must reclaim their role as champion of the people and move away from the Third Way Democrats of the Bill Clinton era, who adopted many right-of-center policies and sold them to a new democratic base.

What’s Missing?

There may still be more to come from the Democratic leadership in the weeks and months that follow this initial set of policies. And so some of what is missing now may be added in time. That said, it should be very obvious to anyone reading this that the five points above are not enough. A clear, coherent, party-defining vision for the future must also tackle the following issues.

1) Healthcare — in this moment, no set of positions is complete without a strong stance on the country’s healthcare system. Single payer is the only logical way forward for Democrats looking to capitalize on the recent fervor around healthcare.

2) Education — a bold new vision for American education starts with universal Pre-K and universal community college. Every citizen has the right to these things, regardless of socio-economic background.

3) Taxes — a natural addition to the economic populism of the five initial positions listed above is a higher tax on the wealthiest Americans, which can be used to pay for some of these new policies. We must increase revenue at the federal level to make a real difference and shift the conversation.

4) Climate — a better future depends on a healthier planet, and we have the tools to get there. A carbon tax from which revenue is reimbursed to all Americans in the form of an annual payment is one part of a necessary environmental policy that the left can support. Democrats must make the opportunities of a renewables-focused energy policy a core focus of their economic vision.

5) Foreign Policy — it is difficult to make a clear distinction between liberals and conservatives today when it comes to foreign policy, and so one immediate issue that the Democrats should take up is waste in the military budget, which will total more than $1 trillion per year in the next 4 years. Spending some of that money at home would go a long way toward accomplishing some of these goals.

A Better Marketing Strategy

A roll out is what the Washington insiders and pundits call it when something like this is initially announced. How was the roll out, they ask.

The key question, once Democrats have figured out what the policies and messaging will be, is how to get said message out to the public?

It is clear from the initial announcements and press that the strategy they have opted for relies heavily on media coverage. The first days saw a single major stump-speech style event with several leading Democrats from Congress speaking from a podium in front of a slew of cameras and spectators, as well as a few carefully crafted op-eds in the nation’s largest publications.

For a set of policy ideas meant to set the Democrats up as the party of the working people, this does not feel like the right strategy. While they may have succeeded in getting media coverage, it feels a lot more like they are talking to the people instead of with the people.

The good news, again, is that this is something that can change over time. There are still five months left in 2017, and a full 16 months before the crucial midterm elections. Democrats around the country should start building a strong ground game today — hosting town halls, knocking on doors, working with community leaders to jumpstart the kind of grassroots support that will be necessary to get the outcome right this time around. This used to be a strength of the Democratic Party, and it must be that way again if “A Better Deal” has a chance.