This was in The New York Times this past week:
“Democrats are for a bunch of freeloaders in this world as far as I’m concerned,” said Gari Day, 63, an Avis bus driver from suburban Detroit. “Republicans make you work for your money, and try to let you keep it.”
Mr. Day is oversimplifying quite a bit (think of Republican supported corporate welfare), but he’s concise and articulate. And he’s right about a key thing. Freeloaders are demoralizing to hard working people, and the Democratic Party shouldn’t be enabling them. Government assistance should be conditioned on work and responsibility–a social contract–and taxation should never be onerous.
Democrats have a terrific opportunity going forward because the demographics of the country are going their way (Millenials, Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and women are all growing parts of the electorate, and trend Democratic). But Democrats will scupper their advantages if it seems like they’re just for wealth transfer from the rich to the poor.
Thus Democrats need to take budget control seriously, support justice for the working poor, and not let anyone freeload on the system. This latter point can perhaps be tied in with compulsory military or national service for the children of the rich, the middle class, and the poor alike. Before the age of 30, no one should escape some form of national service for 2 years. It builds a national culture and puts everybody in the same boat. And for the qualifying poor, 2 or 4 years of service can translate (say) into 2 or 4 years of free college or technical training.
In any case, no one in America should be laying around collecting a check from the government, and no one should be untouchable (rich, beyond the law, and aloof to working side-by-side with people from lower classes, at least for 2 years of their lives).
In short, if the Democratic Party retooled its brand in such a way that it could attract the vote of Gari Day (the gentleman quoted in the NYT), Republicans would be forced to run to the center as well, and our collective politics in the United States would be less divisive and hate-filled.
People like fairness and inclusion. The party that gives that to them most consistently will win the future.
It’s not “branding” it’s message. The Democratic Party’s success with single mom’s and blacks is largely due to their pro-wealth redistribution policies. It’s not a “white men” problem. It’s a “people who earn a living” problem. No amount of “marketing” or “branding” is going to change that. Real policy changes would, but then it would cost them the many free-loaders who happily vote for them now, so that’s not going to happen.
I think you’ve created a false dilemma for Democrats. I think Democrats would win more votes, not fewer, if they had responsibility policies attached to any government benefit. Maybe I’m naive about this.
As for Republicans, they have real dilemmas (which we’re all witnessing right now): how to keep Southern and evangelical voters even as they reach out to Hispanics and cultural liberals (on such things as gay marriage and marijuana).
Your post was dealing with an issue facing the Democrats. You cannot accept that such an issue exists without seeing it as little more than a skin deep issue, or without bring up entirely unrelated issues facing the Republicans. You are a party loyalist Santi. Just admit it to yourself already, you’re not fooling anybody else.
Whatever my motivations are (I’ll leave the psychotherapy to you), you framed the issue in a way that didn’t occur to me (that Democrats’ base consists of freeloaders who won’t go to the polls and vote for Democrats if they don’t get free stuff). I think that is an oversimplification–a sort of Mitt Romney shorthand for complaints about the “47%.”
But most people who vote for Democrats work for a living, as is true of Republicans. And a renewed attempt to “end welfare as we know it” (an old Bill Clinton trope) would be a good idea (in my view). I would link it to corporate welfare, national service and military service, justice for the working poor, and no freeloading. With rights and benefits come responsibilities.
Take the Obamacare exchanges, for instance. People are getting subsidies if they are among the working poor, but they still have to cut a check to the insurance company every month if they mean to keep their health insurance. It’s not, strictly speaking, a freebie. The working poor are getting help, but not a “no responsibility” handout. Medicare is another matter, but if health insurance ever became universal (single payer), I think it would need to be linked to work (again, not a freebie).
Democrats, in my view, have the football (thanks to demographics). If they drop it over the next decade, it’s their fault. The way not to drop it is to hold the center against freeloading of any sort.
I would refute the basic assumptions here characterizing Democrats and Republicans. I would say Republicans make you work for *their* money, and try to keep it. Democrats seem to be trending in the same direction lately, but, in general, the idea is simply to level the playing field. The game is won or lost by whose definitions carry the day, not by any scrutiny of the policy proposals.
Good turn of phrase: “Republicans make you work for their money, and try to keep it.” : )
As for making people work for safety net money, such as unemployment compensation or welfare, it would be fine if they paid the prevailing wage for the labor; otherwise you depress wages for real jobs doing the same. There’s no simple “common sense” solution.
I suppose that working for safety net money would translate into make-work jobs (Roosevelt style programs brought into the 21st century). And I agree with you that there should be a minimum wage for the work (I’d say $12.50 an hour so that no one willing to work would fall below about $500 a week for 40 hours of work).
People chronically unemployed should not just be sitting around. It’s demoralizing to hard workers, it’s bad for the esteem of the chronically unemployed, and it draws people to reactionary politics.
And a globalizing economy is going to continue to put enormous downward pressure on industrialized countries (in terms of wages and employment). The easy thing is to cut checks and let an ever larger segment of the population fall into indigence and an undignified (nonworking, noncontributing) existence. The human, political, and social repercussions of this are not likely to be good.
National tree planting campaigns? Communal art studios around the country? Pay people to organize community 10k runs? There have got to be simple, meaningful activities that people can do across the country that contribute to the public commons or good. No able-bodied person getting a check from the government should just be waiting on their couch for the next spurt in traditional economic growth to go back to work.
If Democrats protect a status quo decline (just cut the checks), then reactionary politics (I predict) will build in a way that it overcomes the demographic advantage that Democrats have a chance to reap in generating a compassionate and responsible centrist politics.
It’s a hard problem to resolve, that’s for sure. Can you imagine the howls over $12.50/hour make-work? They’d also need supervisors, no doubt making a great deal more, not to mention various planners, movers and shakers. The thing is, there aren’t really hordes of these people lying about shiftlessly, as a percentage of society. It’s just that certain politicians keep harping on it, until we all believe we have to watch our step to keep from tripping over them on the way to our jobs. CEOs are costing us incalculably more than any number of layabouts.
An additional thought: Current politics is bifurcated as follows: Democrats mean to cut checks and make freeloaders invisible. Republicans mean to not cut checks and make freeloaders invisible. There’s got to be some new middle path through politics; something that is not so obviously demoralizing, callous, and divisive.
American politics is strange.
“Before the age of 30, no one should escape some form of national service for 2 years. It builds a national culture and puts everybody in the same boat. And for the qualifying poor, 2 or 4 years of service can translate (say) into 2 or 4 years of free college or technical training.”
I agree that this can inculcate virtues such as duty, respect, loyalty and team work. My main criticism is that it come too late in the development of the young adult. By the time s/he has finished school the principal values have been formed.
I think there are six main problems that must be addressed.
1) Social capital has declined, as documented by Robert Putnam. See this review. Social capital creates bonds, bridges between groups and sustains shared values.
The decline of social capital has exposed divisions in society, making it more polarized. This has been exacerbated by the deliberate adoption of the Overton Window technique where radical ideas are deliberately pushed to move the window of acceptable ideas in the radical direction. This creates polarization.
2) Moral priming has decreased. With the decline in church attendance moral priming is playing a smaller role in society. Lower agreement about moral values results in more damaging behaviour.
3) Perverse moral priming has increased. Media are increasingly promoting a celebrity fueled culture where their behaviour becomes the norm. Instead of admiring saints we now admire celebrities with all their excesses. Film and television media increasingly promote violence, narcissism and scofflaw behaviour. Vengeance and retribution are popular themes.
4) Parental priming has decreased. Divorce has dramatically increased and single parent families have become the norm. Parents spend less time talking to their children and more time watching television or engaging in social media. Parental priming is the primary way that values are passed on to children.
5) Narcissism has increased sharply. This is the result of rampant consumerism with strong media and product marketing to individuals, appealing to their status, image and identity needs. Narcissistic individual are less likely to consider community needs.
6) Moneyed interests(the kleptocrats) have learned how to manipulate the democratic process to their advantage. This has resulted in the increasing wealth gap and increasing poverty among the poor.
Democracy needs a basic consensus about shared values and goals. The items listed above are eroding that consensus creating sharper conflict between the political parties.
In addition to those you outline, I see aspects of the Internet as reinforcing such problems as well. People find just the people who are like them to interact with on Facebook and other websites, and each time they get a bunch of “likes” on their politics, etc. it reinforces their own CONFIRMATION BIASES.
So the Internet, like so many other aspects of contemporary society, can be used, not to engage and stay in contact with difficult people and situations, but to walk away from them entirely.
Internet classes function this way. One doesn’t have to take any risk of exposure as an embodied being. One doesn’t have to deal with embodied beings. One doesn’t have to be in a room with people who are not like you, encountering their irony at your seriousness, and your irony at their seriousness. You don’t have to speak your mind in their presence. You don’t have to suffer through the pain of speaking poorly on the spot and then trying again. The skills of staying in dialogue, speaking your mind, listening, not walking away, and complexifying are difficult.
One of the great issues of having an education (and perhaps a moral life) is to stay and deal with the Other, acknowledging the mystery and complexity of them, and not being so cocksure you’ve got all (or even most of) the answers.
Existentially, we have a hard time as humans acknowledging the presence of others. Easier to shut them out from concern–to do an Atlas Shrugged on them. Maybe caring about others is a luxury. During the Holocaust, survivors like Primo Levi etc. have noted that the nicest people in the camps weren’t the survivors. It got to the point where, just to survive, you had to look out for number one. Perhaps that’s the logic of zero sum games. But as the economy grows, we’re not in a zero sum game.
“One of the great issues of having an education (and perhaps a moral life) is to stay and deal with the Other, acknowledging the mystery and complexity of them, and not being so cocksure you’ve got all (or even most of) the answers.”
That is a very powerful point.