Monday, July 11, 2005I've written about this already, but recent discussion about Steven Rose's article continues to bubble, and I feel compelled to clarify some things. The gist of his argument is that economic populism is a mistaken (or at least limited) strategy because there simply aren't enough people out there who are economically distressed. Bradford Plumer, Kevin Drum, and Maxspeak have piled on, arguing that liberal economic policies simply don't have enough to offer to middle class people to make voting for them worthwhile.
Which I would argue is precisely the point. No there are not enough people in poverty to make a meaningful electoral majority. But living through the middle class squeeze right now - with high debts, high housing costs, low economic security, spiralling college costs, and deteriorating schools - I am aghast to hear good liberals suggest that America's middle class is simply too comfortable for class politics to get much traction.
Drum may be right in that the Democratic party at present lacks the credibility to offer solutions to the problems of middle class anxiety, but to say that because we have lacked the clarity and boldness to convince people is no argument for timidity. Instead it's an argument for pushing these issues more aggressively.
National health insurance is the classic example of good "anxiety" politics. Most people have health care, but they are afraid of losing it either because they may lose their job or because they can no longer afford it. That's why only 20% don't have insurance but 80% want national health care. It is the failure of Democrats to deliver on this issue that hurt us, not the fact that we tried to do it. To believe so is just a mis-reading of history.
The problem isn't that there's not enough stress in the middle class. The problem is that the Democratic party hasn't had the stones to do anything about it.