THE BLOG
09/26/2014 10:21 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2014

What Do Democrats Want?

Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

During the 2014 midterm elections Republicans have waged a negative "slash and burn" campaign, attacking President Obama and Democrats in general. The GOP strategy is to fire up their base, bamboozle a few independents, turn off Dems or prevent them from voting. In this hostile environment, most Democrats have been defensive and their message has been muted. Democrats must go on offense and tell voters what they stand for.

The core Republican message is deceptively simple: elect us because Obama is a tyrant. "Oppressed voters throw off your chains." Republicans believe that if they control the House and Senate, they can hobble Obama and the Federal government. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that if Republicans were in charge of the Senate, "We're going to pass spending bills, and they're going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy." McConnell said the President could either sign these Republican-sponsored bills or face a government shutdown. Nonetheless, beyond the hate, the Republican agenda is "leave things the way they are with rich white men in control."

Democrats may be disappointed with President Obama but they don't believe he is a tyrant. More important, Democrats actually believe in government. They believe that the function of government is to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful, the one percent. Democrats believe the cornerstone of our democracy is a thriving middle class.

Therefore, in response to Republicans, Democrats should focus on bread-and-butter economic issues. Their key promise should be to rebuild the middle class.

Theoretically, Dems have a strong message. Most economists believe the economy has grown under the Obama administration. It has added 4.5 million jobs, and experienced 47 straight months of job growth. (Some experts predict that the US will reach full employment by late 2016.)

However, Democrats and Republicans interpret economic news differently. A recent Pew Research Poll showed that Republicans were considerably more negative about the economy than Dems.

While acknowledging there has been economic progress under the Obama administration, Democrats should complain about a hollowing out of the middle class; the erosion of decent middle-class jobs. Dems note that during the economic recovery most of the proceeds went to the top one percent. This chart shows that during the Obama recovery (2009-present) average income growth was 6 percent. But the top 1 percent experienced income growth of 31.4 percent and the bottom 99 percent had a pitiful .4 percent.

A recent study by the Center For American Progress found that

for a typical median income married couple with two children, the collective cost of basic pillars of middle class security -- including child care, higher education, health care, housing, and retirement -rose by an estimated $10,600 between 2000 and 2012... but [the family] earned less than one percent more.

The core Democratic economic message should have five components.

1. Make the system fair. Democrats believe the US economic system is biased towards the one percent. They seek to ensure fairness by having corporations and the rich pay their fair share of taxes and by raising the minimum wage. Democrats also seek pay equity, guarantees that men and women will receive equal wages for equal work. (A major 2014 Democratic theme is when women succeed, America succeeds.)

2. Protect women. In addition to ensuring equal pay for equal work, Democrats seek to protect women by measures such as paid sick leave, and paid family and medical leave. (Democrats also seek measures to protect women from domestic violence including women who serve in the military.)

3. Manufacture in America. Democrats support the Make it in America campaign that seeks to encourage manufacturers to expand the number of decent-paying American jobs and discourage manufacturers from moving operations offshore.

4. Improve the Affordable Care Act. Most Democratic candidates have chosen not to run away from The Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," and to tout it's economic benefits.

5. Make education affordable. Democrats understand that education is the key to success in our modern economy. On the one hand the US must guarantee that every student has access to a quality education. On the other hand we must ensure that college is affordable. At present, college graduates are struggling to pay off $1.2 trillion in student loans. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other Democrats, have proposed a a plan to refinance old loans at current interest rates.

Despite what should be a strong message, Democrats aren't reaching persuadable voters. The latest generic congressional ballot showed Republicans up by 4 points. (Nonetheless, many voters prefer for Democrats to continue to control the Senate.)

A month before the midterm elections, there's still time for Democrats to reach voters with a positive message: "We believe in an America that works for everyone, not just the richest one percent."