Tuesday’s Awards Gala Celebrates The Populist Revival

Dave Johnson

Politicians who make a case for regular people get regular people to come out out to vote for them. Unfortunately, very few are making a case for regular people, with the result that many regular people ask, “Why bother to vote?”

There is an American populist revival underway. After years of jobs being hard to find – resulting in wage and benefit cuts – the people are in a populist mood, and want action on jobs, wages, jobs, climate, jobs and … wait for it … jobs. They also understand that much of what government does is about making our lives better. Polls show programs like Social Security, maintaining the infrastructure, education, health programs, job training, scientific research, housing programs, the “safety net,” food security, and so much else are very popular. All are opposed by Republicans and unfortunately not strongly defended and promoted by many Democrats.

The “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party understands that a populist message reaches regular people and motivates them to show up and vote. Next Tuesday’s Celebrating America’s Future’s Awards Gala celebrates three populist heroes who understand that it’s the regular people of the country who are out there making the difference. This gala is important not just because of these three, but because of what they represent. It’s important for us to build momentum around their crusades.

Tuesday’s Awards

Gala-2014-logo-starBill de Blasio is Mayor of New York City, providing “leadership by example.” He ran and won on a populist agenda – a model for populist change,

… de Blasio had something his opponents didn’t have: a strong populist message, backed by an aggressive agenda that included universal pre-kindergarten education, affordable housing, an end to the “stop and frisk” harassment of minorities, and an increase in the minimum wage.

Saru Jayaraman is Co-Founder and Co-Director, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. She is “on the front lines” of a national populist uprising. Jayaraman has a message for working people,

… that the fight for low-wage workers is more than a fight over wages and benefits. “Are we a nation that is going to roll over and let corporations control our democracy and our economy, and even our bodies as women? Is this what we’re going to accept as a nation?”

Lee Saunders, President, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is a “disrupter” for working people,

“This is about who we are as a country, and what we are about,” he said at a March 2011 rally in Cleveland. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want to live in a country that wants to move wages downward, rather than increase wages upward.” He called on activists to “raise our voices like never before.”

Populism Is Popular

Pulling numbers at PopulistMajority.org show people want policies that line up with a populist, “for the people” approach. For example, on jobs:

  • 78 percent of millennials want the government to be more involved in creating jobs. (Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America/Harstad Strategic Research, 04/03/2014)
  • 72 percent of millennials want the government to be more involved in the economy. (Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America/Harstad Strategic Research, 04/03/2014)
  • 61 percent of Americans believe the federal government should encourage employment through laws, incentives and regulations. (YouGov, 07/07/2014)
  • 56 percent of small business employers say that raising the minimum wage would increase consumer purchasing power in the economy. (American Sustainable Business Council, 07/11/2014)
  • 55 percent of voters (Democrats, Independents, and Republicans) believe Jobs/Economy is their most important issue when deciding whom to vote for in the election for US Senate. (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 09/24/2014)

PopulistMajority.org on Social Security:

  • 76 percent of millennials want the government to be more involved in providing retirement security for seniors. (Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America/Harstad Strategic Research, 04/03/2014)
  • 94 percent of unmarried women oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare. (Voter Participation Center/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, 03/23/2014)
  • 69 percent are less likely to vote for a candidate that supports reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits to address the budget deficit. (NBC and WSJ /Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies, 03/09/2014)
  • 71 percent say the benefits from Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost of these programs for taxpayers. (CBS News/New York Times, 02/23/2014)

PopulistMajority.org on environment and climate:

  • 67 percent of Americans support (with 30 percent strongly supporting) the new EPA rules by President Obama limiting carbon emissions from coal-firing power plants. (WSJ/NBC News, 08/03/2014)
  • 52 percent of Americans think Jesus would support reducing carbon emissions. (YouGov, 07/02/2014)
  • 62 percent say they would pay more for energy if it would mean a reduction in pollution from carbon emissions. (Bloomberg News/Selzer & Company, 06/09/2014)
  • 70 percent think the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing power plants in an effort to reduce global warming. (Washington Post-ABC News, 06/01/2014)
  • 63 percent of Republicans agree that the government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing power plants. (Washington Post-ABC News, 06/01/2014)
  • 83 percent agree that we need to invest more in the development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. (Third Way/Benenson Strategy Group, 04/18/2014)

PopulistMajority.org on the safety net:

  • 52 percent favor extending unemployment benefits beyond the current term of 26 weeks. (Bloomberg, 03/10/2014)
    This is just a beginning.
  • 64 percent of Millennials support federal aid programs, such as food stamps. (YouGov, 06/02/2014)
  • 63 percent do not believe that providing the poor with food undermines their dignity. (YouGov/Huffington Post, 03/10/2014)
  • 61 percent want to see food stamp funding kept the same (33%) or increased (28%). (YouGov/Huffington Post, 01/28/2014)
  • 55 percent support expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. (America Votes /Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, 01/23/2014)
  • 64 percent believe that poverty is primarily the result of a failed economy rather than the result of personal decisions and lack of effort. (Center for American Progress/GBA Strategies, 11/26/2013)
  • 86 percent agree that the government has a responsibility to use some of its resources to combat poverty. (Center for American Progress/GBA Strategies, 11/26/2013)

And these are just some of the examples you can find at PopulistMajority.org.

To the extent that Democrats are campaigning on these things (and the voters know it) Democrats are doing much better in this election than expected. In places where Democrats are not, or where the message is not reaching voters who the Democrats stand for, they are not doing so well.

Many Republicans are using populist themes in their campaigns. It’s not progressive populism; they are using anti-Washington themes, running ads against things like first-class plane travel and Washington perks, saying their opponents have been in Washington too long or voted for a health care plan that helps insurance companies.

Some Democrats are actually running on cutting Social Security, for example, and then losing. In Florida’s special election for their 13th district last March, the Democratic candidate actually embraced cutting Social Security – in Florida. The Republican candidate embraced the Republican base. Republicans turned out, Democrats did not.

The Republicans ran “the furthest right a GOP candidate had run in the area” in 60 years. Meanwhile the Democrat tried to “reach across the aisle” to bring in “centrist” and “moderate” voters, and emphasized “cutting wasteful government spending” and “introducing performance metrics to hold government accountable for waste and abuse and creating the right fiscal environment for businesses to create jobs.”

Again, the Republican campaigned to the right, the Democrat campaigned “in the middle.” The result: Republicans showed up to vote, Democrats stayed home.

Thursday at Salon, Jim Newell writes about this problem in, “Centrists’ clueless obsession: Why do so many want to cut Social Security?

The common-sense rationale for a politician to pursue centrism would be that if you take the most broadly supported Democratic policies and the most broadly supported Republican policies and forge a broadly supported cross-party platform, you will achieve electoral success. Such a platform might be devoid of any consistent ideological thread between the positions, but oh well: you’ve taken all the positions that the vast middle supports, and for the opportunist, that’s a solid campaign strategy.

And yet there’s one issue where those who define themselves as “centrists” — the No Labels crowd, conservative Democrats, politicians running as independents to distance themselves from the taint of the “Democratic” or “Republican” party labels — gravitate towards the exact opposite of what the vast middle supports: Social Security.

In Alaska Mark Begich is running for Senate on a proposal to expand Social Security. He drawing a sharp contrast with his opponent, saying “They would reduce the benefits of seniors. I’m working to make sure benefits are preserved and increased to reflect the costs seniors face.”

Here Is How It’s Done

Rick Weiland is running for Senate in South Dakota using ads like this:

My vote’s not for sale or rent
I just won’t listen to the one percent
I’m not campaignin’ in corporate jets
I’m meetin’ voters in luncheonettes

On Tuesday, the Campaign for America’s Future will honor three progressive champions for their work to improve the lives of working people and advance a progressive populist agenda that will finally make our economy work for working people. It’s vital that we support what they stand for and encourage politicians who seek to represent us to follow their lead.

Get updates in your inbox