Every Democratic candidate should have an economic plan
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Every Democratic candidate should have an economic plan, and this is especially true for candidates running for office in the parts of America that have not experienced a full recovery -- which includes most of the key battleground races for control of the Senate and House in 2018. Candidates must be able to listen to, and give voice to, the economic fears and frustrations of voters that are working harder, but not getting ahead. The recovery continues to pass by most of the smaller cities, towns and rural areas across the middle of America, and candidates in those areas need to communicate that you understand voters’ economic anxieties and you have a solid plan (holding high a copy of your “Better Paying Jobs Plan”) to make things better.
Across the middle of America, many factories are still padlocked and many shops on Main Street are still shuttered. Many small town hospitals are closing or consolidating, as are many local schools. Populations are declining as young people leave looking for opportunity in the big cities, and older workers are dropping out of the labor force because the jobs available today pay far less than the jobs they have lost. The deeper fear is that a way of life is ending, and people have difficulty seeing where they fit in as the world moves toward a digitally connected global knowledge economy. Everywhere there are signs of hopelessness and social stress including suicide, alcoholism, and opioid abuse. (There are also signs of hope that deserve notice.)
But it is not enough just to connect with voters economic frustrations, you have to have a plan to make things better. Your plan should have a straightforward name that captures voters’ aspirations, which in most areas is more better-paying jobs, but in other areas also includes economic growth, economic opportunity, or economic security. It can borrow from other economic plans but it must be tailored to local needs. It should be available on your website, and you should have a printed copy with you at all times so you can gesture with it in answers to voters’ questions.
Don’t start from scratch
There are lots of good Democratic economic plans to take inspiration from. You can start with the “Better Deal” from the Democrats in the Senate and House which offers a strong list of policy proposals arranged under three goals:
Higher wages and better jobs
A lower cost of living for families
And tools to succeed in the 21st Century
Under these headings the plan makes the case for $1 trillion infrastructure investment, a $15 national minimum wage, lower pharmaceutical drug prices, expanding child care supports, and a $20 billion investment in expanding broadband connectivity. There are, of course, dozens of other specific policy proposals, and there are some well written policy papers, particularly on the House side. The paper titled “Tools for the 21st Century” is especially worth the read. The Better Deal is more useful than it is often portrayed in the press, and offers a long list of policies, and a framework for presenting them that candidates can use to quickly craft their own localized economic plans.
An economic plan is NOT another list of policies.
Democrats have a lot of solid policy proposals to address the problems of middle class American families, and most candidates have a policy ready to answer every voter concern. We Democrats love bulleted lists of policies. This is a great strength but it can also be a weakness. Most voters are less interested in policy details than they are in understanding who you are, whose side you are on, and what is your basic approach to solving problems.
Voters want to know that you understand their economic fears and anxieties, and have a deeper level understanding of why they worry about their own future or their children’s future. Voters want to know that you see them and their economic frustrations, but more than this, they want to know you have a coherent plan to make things better. In simple terms you have to convey what you see as the root cause of their problems and how your plan will work to get the local economy growing, creating better paying jobs that offer economic security and hope for a better future.
Many Good Plans to Mine for Ideas
Take a look at “Putting America Back to Work” the plan released recently by Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio. Ryan’s plan makes the case that the root cause of the anxiety voters are experiencing is economic disruption caused by automation and globalization -- as clearly stated in the plan’s subtitle. His detailed plan calls for substantial investments in infrastructure with particular emphasis on roads and bridges, water and sewer systems, and modernizing business areas of small and medium sized cities and towns -- creating thousands of new jobs doing critically necessary work.
Ryan calls for universal access to broadband digital connections and new investment in renewable energy -- creating thousands of new jobs. He supports adding a White House Chief Manufacturing Officer to see that the federal government is on the side of American manufacturers in trade policy, and he calls for increased technical and STEM education with a particular emphasis on helping women and minorities get into technical jobs. He supports increasing access to a debt-free college education, and retraining and income support for workers replaced by automation. His vision includes strong unions and a stronger social safety net for an aging workforce.
At the heart of his plan is the need to get more technology outside of the concentrated areas like San Francisco and Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston by spreading out venture capital more evenly (right now, three states California, New York and Massachusetts get 80 percent) and building technology hubs in towns like the ones in Youngstown and Akron which he represents.
Fighting Either/Or Choices in Kentucky
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Amy McGrath, the fighter pilot running to unseat Rep. Andy Barr in central Kentucky has a strong economic plan to balance her military credentials. In her analysis the root cause of economic underperformance is political polarization and hyper-partisanship in Kentucky and Washington, DC and the solution is bipartisan cooperation to make the investments the economy needs to move forward. Her vision balances Kentucky’s traditions (think race horses and Bourbon) with investments to achieve leadership in the modern global economy.
The central element of her plan is the need to invest in a new economy. With the University of Kentucky and several other colleges and universities in the district, and Lexmark (a leader in laser and inkjet printing) and many other technology startups, Lexington already is poised to be a technology hub. McGrath’s plan is to strengthen the hub with more venture capital and support for innovation and entrepreneurship and spread opportunity out to the other 18 counties in the 6th Congressional District by investing in expanded broadband access, a smarter electricity grid, improved roads and highways making them more electric-friendly.
Collaborative Regional Economic Development
McGrath’s plan is a version of an approach that many Democrats are bringing to local economies all across America. Public/private partnerships bringing together government, business, labor, education, social service groups and others, are tackling local problems and creating conditions to help local businesses grow and attract new employers. We call this approach Collaborative Regional Economic Development. The common elements are investments in people and their job skills, investments in ideas for innovative new businesses based on new ways to solve problems, investments in connections including roads, rail, ports, high speed data networks, and smart energy grids, and investments in communities that address serious problems to create conditions where young and old can thrive.
The Collaborative Regional Economic Development model’s four strategic investments in people, ideas, connections and communities can be used as a common language to present nearly all of the Democrats’ economic policy solutions as part of a broad framework with a single purpose: better jobs. Your knowledge of your area’s particular challenges as well as it’s strengths, potential for growth, and current or planned development projects will add breadth and depth to your comprehensive plans to get the economy moving forward and create more and better paying jobs.
You can get your plan out of the policy, policy, policy trap by connecting with the deeper level emotions behind voters’ specific concerns as expressed in town halls and “Have coffee with...” sessions. Connect with the anxiety, fear and disappointment, and respond with hope, faith in the future, and a spirit of optimism that we can take control of our lives. By working together, investing in people and their job skills, investing in new business ideas, investing in connections, and investing in communities we can create more growth, better jobs, more opportunity, economic security, and a future that works for all of us.