Karen Nussbaum has seen first-hand that the conventional wisdom that has erstwhile progressive candidates running with their tails tucked between their legs in the face of Tea Party rhetoric is just plain wrong.
She is the executive director of Working America, a labor-backed organization that has been doing research into the attitudes of, you guessed it, working Americans. That group’s canvassers have just completed interviews with nearly 70,000 people around the country., and what Nussbaum has concluded is that people are ready for a positive progressive message that addresses their deep anxieties about the economy. They just need to hear it.
In the interview I did with Nussbaum, she told me that many people are finding right-wing messages appealing right now because “it is about ideas, and what we need to do most is present an alternative set of ideas, an alternative explanation about why things are bad and what can be done to make things better.”
What she and Working America have learned through their conversations is that as many as four in 10 people they talked to are unsure what the nation should do about the unemployment crisis. What a majority will say when asked what is most important for growing and restoring the economy is that investing in jobs is the top priority, Only a tiny percentage will say “cut the deficit.”
In particular, outsourcing has emerged as the Achilles’ heel of the right, including the Tea Party candidates who are being bankrolled by the conservative political machine. Working America canvassers heard more calls for ending outsourcing in connection with the jobs crisis than any other single jobs-related issue. That suggests that progressive candidates should explain how policies endorsed by conservatives and their lobbyist backers—from trade agreements to tax subsidies—essentially encourage and reward outsourcing, even as they obstruct progressive legislation designed to rebuild the nation’s manufacturing capacity and funnel procurement dollars into American-made goods.
Nussbaum also learned that many rank-and-file workers, in spite of the constant barrage of “government-is-the-problem” rhetoric, understand that government can be part of the solution to today’s economic crisis. Messages that stress government intervention to create jobs, and funding to protect vital local services, wins more support than conservative messages that advocate cutting or privatizing services, the Working America canvassers have found.
There is also a real demand among working people to hold Wall Street accountable for the collapse of the economy—more proof, as if any were needed, that proposals such as a tax on Wall Street speculation and, more immediately, allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire at the end of the year, make for a winning political message.