Regaining Working-Class Trust

Ian Vanness

The Midwest deserves particular attention during the 2018 midterm elections. These states swung the 2016 presidential election, and also house the voters who voted for Obama and Trump. Understanding these voters susceptibility to economic populism can help solve the DNC’s credibility crisis among the working class. Developing a political platform that strives to create a more inclusive economy is an arduous balance. How does a party address corporate malfeasance without being lambasted as anti-business? This question cuts to the heart of the Left’s schism within the Democratic party between moderates and progressives. Trump’s vulgarity and the GOP’s corporatist agenda offers a real chance for Democrats to ride the anti-Trump wave in 2018. However, there is an equally important opportunity to have a robust conversation about the ideological direction of the party, and that includes creating a working definition of what it means to be Progressive.

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Ohio’s Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, offers a template of how progressivism in contemporary American politics looks rhetorically, electorally and legislatively. His success in Ohio shows the popularity and virtues of progressive campaign messaging. Despite Ohio’s swing state status, its politics are dominated by Republicans, resulting in a supermajority advantage over Democrats. Only one Democrat, Ted Strickland, has won a gubernatorial election since 1986. While the majority of the electorate are non-affiliated voters, registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats statewide. Yet, since 1974, Sherrod has won races for Ohio House of Representatives, Secretary of State of Ohio, U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. The paramount element of his continued success is his appeal and commitment to the working class.

Whether it’s advocating for union workers access to bargaining rights, to fighting for a $15 federal minimum wage, or crafting a “benefits bank” that would allow part-time contractors, and freelance workers access to sick leave and retirement accounts, Sen. Brown continually makes lower and middle-class obstacles his priority. This past March he released his 77-page of economic policy proposals titled, WORKING TOO HARD FOR TOO LITTLE: A Plan for Restoring the Value of Work in America. Brown accurately identifies a “rigged system” as the most immediate concern facing average Americans. How he addresses the systemic causes of working-class economic stagnation deserves the attention of everyone. Rather than preaching political revolution or invoking demagoguery, he is creatively working within the existing system to incentivize corporations to become better community partners.

This past September Sen. Brown introduced The Patriot Employer Tax Credit Act, in a preemptive effort to influence the discourse around tax reform. The bill would have established criteria for corporations to follow in order to receive tax breaks. The main items are keeping headquarters in the U.S., providing health care coverage, paid sick, family and medical leave, paying at least 90% of employees’ wages equal to or exceeding 218% of the federal poverty level, along with providing 90% of employees with retirement benefits. His rationale is that certain corporations take advantage of American taxpayers by having social safety net programs compensate for employees’ unlivable wages. Why should these “corporate freeloaders” then be rewarded with tax breaks?

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This brand of progressive legislation has the ability to influence several important outcomes. First, it would offer economic opportunity, justice, and stability for families throughout America. It would also redirect the conversation around the working poor, and confront the myth that only the lower class takes advantage of social safety nets and tax loopholes. Finally, it can bridge the gap between moderate and progressive Democrats. Working to ensure that the wealthy have to play by the same rules as the rest of us has appeal across political, racial, and class lines. The Left needs to focus on regaining trust with the working class. They can achieve this through smart progressive policies that prioritize the working class over corporate campaign donors. If Brown wins his third straight Senate race in Ohio this year, the DNC should take notes for 2020. The state’s liberal champion could be the key to not only effective messaging but also providing a more concrete example of how progressivism can remedy America’s working-class woes.

(Published February 1, 2018 - View Full Newsletter Here)