Forget the ‘middle,’ Democrats, run on your convictions
President Dwight D. Eisenhower led a Republican Party in the 1950s that seems more like today’s Democratic Party than today’s GOP.
As explained in fascinating detail on Bernie Sanders’ website sanders.senate.gov, Eisenhower Republicans sought to raise the minimum wage and increase eligibility for unemployment benefits. They were proud of union growth and, in 1956, the party pledged continued support for a law that mandated living wages for workers on public contracts.
The Republican platform that year pledged the party would work to “assure equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.”
Today’s Republicans consider such ideas rabidly liberal, if not socialistic.
In Wisconsin, Scott Walker and his GOP buddies overturned many worker-friendly laws that were also on the Eisenhower agenda, such as the prevailing wage law and women’s pay equity. Walker, Paul Ryan, Leah Vukmir, Ron Johnson, Robin Voss, Scott Fitzgerald and other high-profile Republicans insist such policies cripple the state’s economy, decimate the middle class and keep the poor mired in poverty.
Yet the 1950s are known as “The Decade of Prosperity,” especially for the middle class. The economy grew by 37 percent — even though the corporate tax rate was at least 15 percent higher than it is now. .
The Eisenhower Era policies can still work today, as proven in Minnesota. At the height of the Great Recession, Minnesota adopted a middle-class agenda similar to Eisenhower’s and built one of the nation’s most successful state economies.
Yet today’s Republicans, especially in states such as Wisconsin, ignore these policies as they continue their marathon run to the right. They’ve tugged the Democratic Party and the political center to the right with them.
Today the electorate is so sharply riven that elections are won not so much by appeasing independent centrists as by inspiring them with Democratic ideas. The political sweet spot no longer sits midway between the right and the left. Instead, it stands grounded in conviction.
Consider the unexpected primary victory of Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York over a long-term establishment incumbent.
Consider the rising poll numbers of progressive Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke against far-right Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.
Polls and recent election results show the majority of Americans agree more with Democratic goals and strategies than with those of Republicans. Democrats are gaining by articulating their views decisively, not by watering them down so they’ll appeal to the political center — wherever that may lie.
Sanders-backed Democrat Andrew Gillum recently defeated establishment candidates in the Florida gubernatorial primary to face a Trump-backed conservative in the general election. That was an outcome the establishment leaders of both parties, who haven’t caught up with their voters, feared.
On Aug. 4, weeks ahead of the Florida primary, Gillum tweeted: “If there are Democrats who think running another candidate to the mythical center-right will win us a general election, we have 20 years of evidence to prove them wrong. It’s time to run strong on our values. Are you with me?”
The voters of Florida answered “yes,” and others will follow if progressives run strong on their values.