by Brent Budowsky
Recently, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote a column hailing “the Obama recovery” that dramatizes why Democrats have lost their way and why Democrats have lost so many recent elections.
In Krugman’s rendition of “Happy Days are Here Again,” the economy is robust again, our people are feeling good again, and household finances are strong again. Perhaps in a future column, Krugman will explain why the Real Clear Politics summary of polls finds that barely one-quarter of the nation believes America is on the right track, while some two-thirds of the nation believes America is on the wrong track. Happy days are here for whom?
Here is my answer: In large measure because of widespread economic anxiety, pain, uncertainty, fear and frustration that Krugman and some in high Democratic circles do not respect or understand, Democrats have lost control of the House, lost control of the Senate, lost control of many statehouses, and lost much public approval for the Democratic brand.
This is a status quo that Democrats should be battling to change, not rushing to praise.
Let’s talk pure politics. There are two major reasons that Democrats have suffered catastrophic electoral losses during the Obama years. First, many Democratic voters were so discontented or depressed they refused to vote. Second, many swing voters who often supported Democrats voted for Republicans instead.
Now let’s talk political economics. Many voters who refused to support Democrats in recent years are those who have been economically disadvantaged during those years. They include women without college degrees, working-class white males, young voters who find a shortage of good-wage jobs after they graduate from school and cannot buy affordable homes early in their careers, and a number of Hispanic voters that is dangerous for Democrats.
These economically pained voters include the nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty who historically have voted for Democrats by large majorities but are too beaten down and depressed to vote. They have been made nonpersons in our political and media discourse, including by the president and many leading Democrats who are advised by consultants to talk only about “the middle class.”
For two generations, real wages and income have been stagnant or declining and have lagged behind the rise in the real cost of living. While Krugman triumphantly applauds gains in household finance, a recent study by Pew found that the disparity in household wealth between the highest incomes and everyone else has continued to widen, not lesson, even after Krugman’s “Obama recovery.” The number of urgent requests for help from food pantries continues to rise, not fall, during this “Obama recovery.”
If one adds up the demographic total of those I cite as economically discontented, the total would be near the two-thirds of the nation that believes America is on the wrong course according to Real Clear Politics. Krugman’s happy days are not here again for them.
If we break down the voting patterns of these economically discontented voters, either they are hard-core Democrats who are too depressed or disillusioned to vote, or swing voters who often vote for Democrats, but in recent elections, did not.
There is much criticism from the right of Obama and Krugman, almost all of which is wrong, since it is the policies of the Republican right, beginning during the Reagan years and culminating with the massive tax cuts and Iraq War of the George W. Bush years, that have fomented and accelerated economic inequality and discontent. But there is a corollary criticism from the progressive left, which is deserved, and on this, the right is wrong and the left is right.
Obama has made things better, but not better enough. Obama and Democrats have sometimes fought, but they have not fought hard enough, and they have capitulated far too easily, far too often.
The greatest danger for Democrats (are you listening, Hillary Clinton?) is not Republicans but a neo-bourgeoisie class of insider Democratic elites, lobbyists and consultants who idolize what Pope Francis calls the cult of money and have lost touch with core values and voters that make Democrats, Democrats and are essential for Democrats to win elections.
No, Democrats should not run on a platform of demonizing the wealthy or soaking the rich, but we should run on a platform of fighting for those who want the American dream to be alive for all in an economy that is fair for all. Paul Krugman did not give voice to these Americans in his “Obama recovery” column, and for this, he was wrong economically and wrong politically.