The official plans of both Democrats and Republicans are being disrupted during the current election cycle in the United States. In fact, George Packer [ht: mfa] argues,
2016—even more than the historic election of 2008, during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression—looks like a year of major political recalibration.
As Dan Roberts explains, business-friendly and economically conservative New Democrats are not happy about the growing attraction of more populist, anti-inequality themes in the Bernie Sanders campaign (and, to a degree, in the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley).
At Columbia University in New York this weekend the Progressive Policy Institute, which helped Bill Clinton and Tony Blair pioneer so-called third way politics in the 1990s, held a closed-door strategy session for congressional staffers that was designed to find ways of promoting growth.
“There is no question that the prevailing temper of the Democratic party is populist: strongly sceptical [sic] of what we like to call capitalism and angry about the perceived power of the monied elite in politics,” says PPI president and founder Will Marshall.
“But inequality is not the biggest problem we face: it is symptomatic of the biggest problem we face, which is slow growth.”
Republicans, too, have been attempting to promote a pro-growth agenda (via, e.g., the collection of essays in Room to Grow [pdf]), a kind of GOP reformist version of Bill Clinton. As Packer explains,
The essays don’t upend Republican orthodoxy. They argue that government should intervene on behalf of poor and middle-income Americans, but in ways that apply market principles to public policy, taking power away from Washington and giving individuals more options. Some proposals are familiar: school choice, health-care savings accounts. Others are more daring—for example, having college education underwritten by private investors, then repaid over the next decade as a predetermined percentage of graduates’ earnings. A few ideas, such as a wage subsidy that would increase the pay of workers making less than forty thousand dollars a year, building on the Earned Income Tax Credit, could easily garner bipartisan support.
“Room to Grow” contains a striking description of the American economic landscape: children born into poverty with little chance of escaping it, and middle-class families overwhelmed by the rising costs of health care and education while their incomes stay flat.
Their reform candidate was supposed to be Jeb Bush; now, of course, official attention has shifted to Marco Rubio. But the reality of the campaign has been quite different, especially after Donald Trump. The fact is, the return to white-identity politics has been accompanied by a set of economic policies that consists entirely of wishful fantasies of higher growth but real promises of tax cuts to major corporations and the very wealthy on the part of all the Republican candidates—from Trump to Bush and Rubio.
That’s a recipe for class warfare that upends Republican attempts to attract the votes of American workers—such as the 2,200 steelworkers who, as Packer describes, have been locked out from their jobs.*
East of Canton, there’s a small steel mill owned by a Pittsburgh company called Allegheny Technologies, Inc. On a strip of grass outside the mill, around a dozen locked-out steelworkers were picketing under a white tent, with American flags, water bottles, and defiant signs: “Unfairly Locked Out for 32 Days”; “Greed, Power & Control Rule A.T.I.—Lockout Proves It!” The Canton area has a history of racial prejudice, but the picket line was one place where it was possible to find black and white men hanging out together.
A.T.I. had been requiring some of the hundred and thirty workers at the mill to put in twelve-hour shifts or seven-day work weeks. Families were showing the strain. In June, A.T.I. offered the union representing the employees, the United Steelworkers, a new contract, asking for a hundred and forty-five concessions. The company claimed that it was under pressure from foreign and nonunion U.S. competitors. However, executive pay had risen more than fifty per cent during 2014, and the total compensation of the chief executive, Richard J. Harshman, had risen seventy per cent, to nearly eight million dollars, in spite of the company’s poor performance. (Nearly half of A.T.I.’s shareholders had voted against the compensation packages.)
“I read those hundred forty-five items and got sick to my stomach,” Kurt Reynolds, a burly maintenance worker with a Hemingway beard, said. “I told my wife, ‘If this is what they want, they’re trying to break the union.’ ”
In August, A.T.I. made its final offer. Before the United Steelworkers could bring it to a vote, plant managers escorted employees from the mill and brought in replacement workers. The lockout began. Union workers were girding themselves for a long battle. “It ain’t nothing but corporate greed,” Rick Jones, who has worked at the mill for twenty-two years, said.
Neither party’s growth agenda was likely to speak to these workers’ concerns, Republican tax cuts for the rich even less.
*The lock-out is now in its twelfth week—and it’s likely workers “will lose their health insurance benefits at the end of the month.”