Can Democrats Set Out a New Path?

2014.11.25.DT.MainUS Senators, including Chuck Schumer (D-New York), push for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would ensure women receive equal pay for equal work, April 2014. (Photo: Senate Democrats / Flickr)If you value media that isn’t controlled by advertisers or billionaire sponsors, show your support today! Donate to Truthout now to keep independent media strong.

Democrats must embrace a pro-government platform, not run away from it.

Those were the sentiments of Sen. Chuck Schumer today, in a speech given at the National Press Club.

Talking about the reasons for Democrats’ losses on Election Day, Schumer said that those losses were proof that the US public and middle class want a government that will work more effectively for them.

He went on to say that, for the first time ever, the middle class has lost faith in the American Dream, and that in 2014, Democrats lost because the US public has lost faith in the party and the government’s ability to improve the lives of the middle class.

But it wasn’t always like this.

As Schumer pointed out, a pro-government mentality dominated the US and the political landscape from the days of FDR until 1980 when Reagan came to Washington.

With FDR’s New Deal policies and programs, the US public saw that government can strengthen the middle class, improve the economy and protect everyone’s ability to live the American Dream.

For several generations, Americans trusted our government’s ability to improve living conditions for the working class. As a result, Democrats stayed in power for a long time.

Then Reagan happened, and everything changed.

First, as Schumer points out, the Democratic Party veered way off course while Reagan was president, and abandoned its working-class base.

Second, Schumer says that because the Democratic Party had been so successful at creating a stable economy that worked for everyone for so long, people began to think that they no longer needed government, and were fine on their own.

Reagan capitalized on those sentiments, and was able to successfully create an anti-government mentality that exists to this day, and that helped fuel the Republican landslide on Election Day.

But this anti-government mentality that exists today isn’t just some random phenomenon.

There are lots of reasons for it.

As Schumer said, “When government fails to prosecute those who work in financial institutions (some of which were propped up or bailed out by the government) for what seems, on its face, blatant fraud – Americans feel that government is not working for them. When CEOs and executives pay less in taxes than their secretaries – Americans feel that government is not working for them.”

So, what can be done to restore the US peoples’ trust in the Democratic Party’s and our government’s ability to protect and strengthen the middle class? How do we go back to the pre-1980 days?

Schumer suggested Democrats should start taking more of a populist approach, saying that populism is, “necessary to open the door before we can rally people to the view that a strong government program must be implemented.”

One of the biggest takeaways from the 2014 election is that, nationally, progressive ideas and policies are very popular.

All across the United States, progressive ballot initiatives won and progressive candidates won.

Those are the very same progressive ideas and policies that made the US public trust the Democratic Party and our government for over four decades from the 1930s to the 1980s.

And, those are the ideas and polices that both built the Democratic Party and the US middle class.

As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to look back in order to go forward.

If the Democratic Party is serious about taking back Washington in 2016, then it needs to embrace its base, and restore the US public’s faith in our government.