Though it is late in the election cycle, Democrats still have one major strategic card to play. They can seize control of the economic conversation and turn it into a debate about what more needs to be done to help struggling Americans and the American economy.
That the Republicans have managed to turn this conversation from one about their own epic failures -- which produced the worst financial crisis and recession in 80 years -- into a critique of the major measures taken to address their failures, is a testament to how much work Democrats have to do.
But the GOP's financial meltdown and deep recession came at the close of what, according to the economic data, was a "lost decade" for most Americans. There is no quick fix, no silver bullet to fix the ailing American economy. Public opinion confirms that the American people know it took us a long time to get here and that it will take a comprehensive plan commensurate with our serious economic challenges to get us out.
Thus the Democrats need to close this election with a clear and powerful argument that goes something like this: The Republicans and their misguided economic policies got America into this mess; in the last two years, Democrats have made things better; Democrats have a plan for the future that will make things even better; the Republican plan has already been tried, has failed us, and will certainly make things worse. The Democrats should end the election with this simple contrast: their good plan for the future, versus the bad plan of the not-ready-for-primetime GOP.
In making this case the Democrats have to explain what their plan is. The good news is that they have one. They have rescued the financial sector, the auto industry and the overall American economy, bringing them all back from the brink-- and today all are showing significant signs of improvement; they have brought accountability and an emphasis on improved student learning to the forefront of educational reform efforts, improved the student-loan program, and begun a critical modernization of our education system; they have made our health care and consumer credit system more consumer-friendly; they have made substantial investments in growth-producing initiatives like basic R&D, infrastructure and the clean technologies of the future; they have supported the 50 states, so they did not have to lay off firemen, policemen and teachers critical to the health and safety of communities across the nation; they have maintained the social safety net during the downturn, helping ensure that millions of Americans did not fall even further behind; they have cut taxes for hundreds of millions of Americans, giving them a little more in their paycheck during this time of struggle; have committed to double exports; and they are fighting to make our tax system more just, beginning the hard process of bringing federal spending and revenue into better alignment.
What the Democrats have done in the last two years is remarkable. But the work is not yet done. The economy is not where we need it to be, and more must be done in the years ahead to ensure our successful transition to a more competitive and challenging economy of the 21st century. Among the things Democrats could campaign on is adopting a new national energy plan, to unlock the renewable revolution and lessen our dependence on foreign oil; undertake even more radical reforms of our education system, and do much more to help workers with outdated skills retool for the idea-based, digital economy of this century; finally fix our broken immigration system for workers at the high and low end of the economy; get serious about regional, place-based economic development and "new business" formation; do much more to address the housing crisis in the US which is doing so much to hold down consumer spending; launch an Infrastructure Bank, which would help create more investment capital to modernize our physical plant; pass a new telecommunications bill to set the rules of the road of the fast changing telecom landscape; forcefully advocate for a new round of economic liberalization throughout the world, pushing back against the slow creep of protectionism, which could darken an otherwise bright future; and help get our fiscal house in order, by reforming our interest-laden tax system, including rolling back regressive, job-depressing payroll taxes in favor of carbon and/or taxes on consumption.
As the old saying goes, every election is about the future, not the past. The Democrats have had a plan for improving America during a time of great economic challenge. The Republicans have gone back to the same argument -- reduce taxes for the wealthiest among us, reduce the size of government, and then refuse to actually cut spending, thereby exploding the federal budget deficit -- that contributed so much to the current economic challenges we face. The crazy virus that infected the more sensible party of Eisenhower and Reagan in the last decade has, if anything, grown more virulent in recent years, and has now left the Republicans in this time of great national challenge advocating for a strategy that would guarantee further national decline in the years ahead. It is a strategy and approach that must be defeated for the good of the nation.
The stakes this fall are high. America faces grave economic and geopolitical challenges. One party is attempting to face these challenges head on, has overcome extraordinary opposition to do big things these past few years, and needs more time to ensure its forward-looking and modern plan for the American economy succeeds. The other party is disappointingly offering nothing more than disproven and discredited political bromides, is retreating further into ideological crazyville, and is simply not ready or capable of doing what is required to ensure our future prosperity.
In these closing weeks the Democrats must go on offense, avoid "small ball" by making a big closing argument that lays out their plan for the future and defends what they have done, and more forcefully discredit the reckless and ill-conceived arguments coming from the other side. This long-overdue debate is what the public wants, and what our future so desperately needs.