To 2016 and Beyond: an Open Letter to the DLP from an Academic-Activist

Democrats, liberals, and progressives (the DLP) will have to unite if they are to win the 2016 elections and those beyond. The United States needs to move in new directions rather than follow the Republican mission of restoring a golden past that never existed, and a unified DLP is the main route for the nation to recognize and act on the challenging realities emerging.

An important lesson from 2014 electoral defeats is that getting voters out is an insufficient means of winning an election, certainly not one that seeks to deal with the big changes occurring in the United States. Instead, to determine election outcomes, the DLP must attract a majority of the almost 40 percent of voters uncommitted to either party, a percentage that is larger than those committed to either of the two competing parties. The uncommitted will have to be won over to DLP perceptions and prescriptions, and given a realistic picture of the United States’ emerging difficulties.

Quite a few pundits have admonished the Democratic Party for running poor national and state campaigns during 2014, providing insights into potentially more effective campaigning in 2016. Missing in the commentaries, though, are attempts to put the 2016 election in the context of a long-term strategy for moving the United States toward actions needed to address the radically changing economic, social and political situations. Because the nation is undergoing deep shifts, voters need to be encouraged to buy into a substantive new understanding of the challenges and commit to supporting effective responses. Such understandings and willingness to act in new ways cannot be widely achieved by the 2016 election, but should emerge as issues by then.

The numerous changing economic, social, and political situations that need to be faced include the following: The US economy is experiencing great change as other nations manufacture and export to the United States goods produced in the US not so long ago. International trade issues, such as the value of the dollar and trade regulations, need attention, as does the economy’s allocation of 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to advertising and 40 percent of its business profits to financial sectors. Such patterns cannot produce adequate decent jobs for a growing labor force, one currently marked by increasingly more low-pay service jobs rather than high-pay, high-tech employment. Income inequality has received public attention, but efforts to deal with it have focused on modestly increasing taxes on the super-rich and improving low-pay jobs somewhat rather than on increasing the number of higher-pay jobs. Of particular concern is whether the rising percentage of college graduates will encounter employment opportunities appropriate for their educational attainments following graduation.

To address some of these issues, the DLP should develop a long-term strategy for building an economy that produces decent employment for all and begin to persuade Americans of the need for the new directions it offers. One solution might be to propose a DLP plan in 2016 for needed spending to upgrade the transportation infrastructure as part of a broader program to improve America’s international trade possibilities by lowering transportation costs.

Further, recognizing that America is a deeply divided society marked by differences in culture, income, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education, location and values, the DLP should offer a program to bring together diverse communities to learn about one another’s concerns and interests and encourage grassroots dialogues that could lead to better understanding. While such communal efforts would not quickly heal the great divides that impede effective actions, they could spur the conversations and political conversions that America needs.

In addition, the DLP should address the indictments of the federal government rather than simply dismiss them as Republican dogma. The DLP should recognize the importance of positive performance and evaluation of government programs, as did Franklin Roosevelt. When FDR faced intense criticism of New Deal programs, he appointed a committee to recommend ways to improve them, even though few changes were actually made due to the approach of World War II. The effectiveness, efficiency and understandability of many government programs and policies needs to be improved, including tax schedules that currently confound ordinary citizens. The Republican creed that less government is better government must be overshadowed by the creation of superior government. In 2016, support for this could start with legislation to establish citizen review boards for agencies like Medicaid.

The 2016 election is likely to be a very important one if Republicans win decisively. One way of combating such a disturbing outcome is to show that the DLP thinks and acts long term as well as for the 2016 election season since tomorrow is very much in the minds of uncommitted voters.