Think back to the past…the halcyon days of 2016. Two behemoths clashed for the White House. Donald Trump, the outsider reality TV show host promised to “build the wall,” and “drain the swamp,” and “make America great again!” His opponent, the wily political veteran Hillary Clinton promised…something. I’m not sure, to be honest. But we were “with her,” yeah? No? Well…hm.
Okay, let’s rewind a little further.
The olden days of 2010. Here in Wisconsin, what would turn out to be a battle for the soul of the Badger State was raging between two men who were practically neighbors. In the right corner stood Scott Walker, Milwaukee County Executive, the first Republican to hold the post…probably ever, who knows. But Walker promised Wisconsinites that he was going to “cut your taxes,” and “kill the train,” and “create 250,000 jobs!” His opponent, in the left corner, Mayor of the City of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett. Barrett, the former congressman cum city CEO got out on the stump and promised the people of Wisconsin he would…not be Scott Walker?
Are you noticing a pattern here?
What I just described to you, in a nutshell, is the reason Democrats have had such a hard time winning elections even though they have proven themselves to be the better party at actually doing the jobs we elect them to do. They aren’t putting out a bold vision for anything. And what little vision they are talking about is so damned nuanced and long-winded that nobody remembers what they’re promising by the time they get to the end of detailing the promise from the stump.
The frustrating thing is the grassroots of the Democratic Party isn’t just demanding bold action…they’re telling the party exactly what to do. What’s worse is, while the Republicans are promising things that either can’t be done (build the wall, create 250,000 jobs) or shouldn’t be done (cut your taxes, kill the train), Democrats have a plethora of promises to pick from that can be done, and should be done.
The best example of how to do this as a Democrat actually comes from newly-elected Virginia State Delegate Danica Roem. Roem, while she had every opportunity to play the identity card as a trans woman running against an anti-transgender “old boy,” or to parry every bigoted attack that was thrown at her from her opposition, instead, won on a simple message: “Fix Route 28.”
With those three simple words Roem knocked out a 28-year veteran Republican in a safe Republican seat.
That’s the kind of magic that Democrats need right now. Why? Because the Republicans are coming back. Why? Because the Republicans at least say they believe in something. Something actionable. Something affirmative. Something everyone can understand (whether they support it or not).
So the Democrats have to fight simple, affirmative platform fire with simple, affirmative platform fire.
Connect every home!
Every home in the United States, urban or rural, east or west, north or south, should have a connection to at least 100 megabit broadband internet. Not only will this be the economic equivalent of rural electrification in the 1930s, this could save rural America entirely. Our small towns and counties have been hollowed out over the last 50 years. Farming families are dying out, literally. Massive agribusiness is taking over the small farms and folding them in, but not doing anywhere near as much for the adjacent towns.
But you know who seems to kinda dig rural life? Millennial desk jockeys. There’s an unusual entrepreneurial spirit in the 18-37 year old cohort (full disclosure: that includes me). Possibly because the Great Recession hit right when a lot of us were supposed to be getting “real jobs,” so we had to find ways to create our own. And, apparently, we want to do it on a small farm. But we need a website for that small farm, and credit card payment processing at the farmers markets, and a VPN connection for the spouse to remote into work downtown, and don’t even ask us to live without our Netflix.
Connect every home and you save rural America.
Make work pay!
Meet “Ned.” Ned is a nice guy. Ned works at the local Sam’s Club food counter in Naperville, Illinois stocking shelves for $10/hr. Ned works full time, and goes home to his 16-year-old son Charlie, 12-year-old daughter Melissa, and his wife Betsy who earns $12.50 an hour as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Together, they gross about $49k. Problem is, that’s about $10k per year short of being able to afford the average 2-bedroom apartment in Naperville.
So they get a small Section 8 voucher to help afford their place to live. They qualify for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Neither one of them has ever been able to afford a new car, and the idea of “retirement” is something “rich people do.”
It’s more than just raising minimum wage. Minimum wage has to go up and be set to automatically adjust every year or two to keep up with inflation.
But more is needed beyond that. A tax penalty against companies that have a certain percentage or more of their workforce eligible for certain public benefits because the pay is so low. Think about it…if a full-time worker is eligible for $5,000 in various forms of public aid, that means that person’s employer is getting $5,000 worth of free labor every year. Either pay your people what they’re worth, or repay the taxpayer what you’re costing them.
Fix our country!
America’s infrastructure is so dilapidated it’s embarrassing. And it’s not just our roads. Our bridges are falling into the water. The parts of our power grid that aren’t full-on failing are still vulnerable to cyber-attack.
But didn’t Donald Trump promise to fix our infrastructure? Sure! He promised to spend only $200 billion on a trillion-and-a-half dollar’s worth of work! How? Magic, apparently. Oh, also, the plan is already dead.
No, a real plan, with real money, and real vision is needed. Pledge to spend X-dollars within Y-years to create Z-results. For example: “We’re going to spend $75 billion dollars here in Missouri to bring every road in the state up to spec by 2023.”
Make our own bank!
Here’s a cool idea: create a Bank of [State]. North Dakota did this eons ago, and it is helping that state weather bad times, and secure good times. It makes every tax dollar in that state go a little further. And residents can invest in it, getting a good return, and generating even better outcomes for North Dakota residents. Why should North Dakota be having all the fun?
Clear out criminals!
You know what has really cheesed the American people off? Watching people harm their fellow Americans and get away with it. I’ve been a big fan of Barack Obama ever since I interviewed him back during his Senate race. Still am. But he really screwed up here, directing his Department of Justice to not prosecute those who broke the law in the Bush Administration, or who caused the Great Recession.
Americans need to be able to trust their government again. And they will never be able to do that so long as those who are put in a position of public trust and/or power are let off when they break the law. No more leniency for public servants or powerful people who violate the public trust.
Create a bunch of jobs!
Sure, Scott Walker made this promise and failed on it. Hard. But does anyone care? No. At the end of the day, so long as you’re in the positive on this category, you win. Just throw a number out there.
There are plenty more ideas that can be summed up in three words. So if you’re a Democrat running for office, either pick a few things off the menu above, or come up with your own. Just make sure you can sum it up in 3-5 words, make it big, and hang your hat on it.
As one of the greatest Midwesterners in history, Daniel Burnham (the Architect of Chicago) once said: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”