Democrats’ Economic Agenda Falls Woefully Short

Better ingredients. Better pizza. Papa John’s.

A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.

The first slogan is meant to sell pizza, the second is meant to sell Democrats. The first has worked to convince Americans to order pedestrian slices of baked dough and cheese. Will the latter succeed at convincing voters to buy into a warmed-over policy agenda?

Doubtful. Democrat lawmakers released their economic plan last week to absolutely no fanfare, hoping to demonstrate that the party was listening to voters’ “clamoring for bold changes to our politics and our economy.” But so far the plan has failed to create even a modicum of momentum. Instead it has served as yet another example of Democrats’ fundamental conundrum: Do they steer themselves back towards the ideological middle or do they double-down on their leftist rhetoric?

Their plan attempts to straddle both, to poor effect. On the one hand, it doesn’t hold back in its Bernie Sanders-esque critique of businesses and capitalism, arguing that “vulture capitalists” and the “wealthy and powerful” will run amok without heavy-handed government intervention. But on the other, its policy prescriptions are little more than a recycled, reheated version of the same stuff they’ve been trying and failing at for years.

As the left-leaning Damon Linker writes for The Week:

Don’t get me wrong: The policy proposals that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lists in his New York Times op-ed announcing “A Better Deal for American Workers” are fine, as far as they go: a minimum wage hike; a $1 trillion infrastructure plan; paid family and sick leave; tax credits to get small businesses to “train workers for unfilled jobs.” The problem is that these ideas (and vague talk of beefing up antitrust laws, “rebuilding rural America,” and “changing our trade laws to benefit workers, not multinational corporations”) are embedded in precisely the same message that Democrats have run on since Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992.

Has any Democrat with national ambitions run for office over the past 30 years without promising a “strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there” (presumably in contrast to the lazy poor people who aren’t working hard)? Without throwing a few punches at vaguely defined “special interests”? Without assuring voters a little defensively (and unconvincingly) that the party isn’t about “expanding the government” or moving “in one direction or another along the political spectrum.”

This is the economic plan that is supposed to create a wave of populist sentiment? After months of supposed strategizing in the face of enormous electoral defeat, this is the best they could come up with? Somewhere, the militant left has stopped arguing over who is woke enough to overthrow capitalism and is collectively laughing at this plan’s banality.

The small smattering of ideas presented in the plan fall into one of three buckets. First, you have the political statements parading as policy prescriptions. This encompasses things like “rebuilding rural America” to cracking down on the “huge corporations” that send “costs skyrocketing.” Next you have the ideas that are ripped from the pages of President Trump’s agenda, a desperate attempt to recapture momentum among blue collar workers. For example, Democrats plan to invest in infrastructure, offer apprenticeships to new workers, and fighting back against corporations that outsource jobs. And finally, there are the ideas that have already been tried and failed, but were thrown in there to keep the base happy. This bucket includes items like a $15 minimum wage and government-led job retraining.

If Democrats really want to succeed, perhaps they could honestly take a page from Papa Johns. The key to a better pizza is better ingredients. The key to a better party is to have better candidates offering up better policies. None of the ideas they presented in their horrifically named “Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages” agenda lives up to that simple qualifier.

Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili