Democrats playing too nice with the GOP


At the beginning of the Colorado legislative session, there was a lot of cheerful chatter about bipartisanship. A fine idea in the abstract.

But if Democrats want to be the party of the working class majority, they need to be aggressive economic populists and not make nice with the Republicans.

“Raise a ruckus,” Robert Reich — economist and leader of Common Cause — told Colorado Democrats. He stressed that economic insecurity is widespread and unemployment stays high. He noted that “median household incomes continue to drop (adjusted for inflation) and that 95 percent of all the economic gains since the recovery started have gone to the top 1 percent.”

Government has to step in to help.

“Businesses won’t create new jobs without enough customers,” he said. “But most Americans no longer have enough purchasing power to fuel that job growth.”

He urged them to support a living wage, a major jobs program to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure and unions for low-wage workers. “More basically,” he stressed, “we need a national movement for better jobs and wages — a movement to reverse the widening inequality that’s destroying our economy and undermining our democracy.” That’s good advice. Colorado Republicans have used hot-button social issues like guns to divide working people. In a low-turnout election, they successfully recalled two Democratic state senators who supported popular moderate gun control measures. As a result, the Democrats have only a oneseat majority in the state Senate.

The anti-gun control forces are particularly vigorous and militant. If economic justice advocates had a similarly intense core of activists, we could transform our state. Labor unions are the major force for economic justice, but they are relatively weak in Colorado. With limited resources, they are cautious. They put a lot of money and energy into elections. The balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in Colorado has been close for many years. This is an important factor because the Republicans are consistent enemies of unions and working people in general, while the Democrats support boosting the minimum wage, increasing health coverage and investing more in infrastructure and education.

There are disagreements among Democrats on economic issues such as Wall Street reform, foreign trade agreements, the future of public schools, the role of unions, the privatization of government services and the willingness to cut social programs like Social Security and Medicare. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Cory Booker — a rising Democratic star — revealed a division that shocked many. On Meet the Press, he said the Obama re-election campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney and Bain Capital were “nauseating.” He declared,“Enough is enough! Stop attacking private equity.” (He was supposed to be representing Obama on the program).

As mayor of the impoverished city of Newark, N.J., Booker recruited financial support from the corporate elite. Booker supported vouchers for private schools and ending teacher tenure. His education programs received $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He was elected to the U.S. Senate last October and is favored by Wall Street/Silicon Valley Democratic tycoons. Conservative columnist George Will praised Booker’s public policy agenda, noting it was crafted in right-wing think tanks. Not surprisingly, Will also is enthusiastic about John Hickenlooper.

Last December, Obama delivered a major speech saying income inequality is “the defining challenge of our time.” The day before, an op-ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal by leaders of Third Way, a Wall Street-funded Democratic Party think tank that has been pushing for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for some time. They said the “economic populism” of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio is a “dead end” for Democrats.

This provoked a storm of protest by Democrats across the country. Warren’s scathing criticism of the banks has excited many, and there is grassroots pressure to get her to run for president.

A few co-chairs of Third Way disassociated themselves from the article.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania said the attack was “outrageous.”

Rep. Jared Polis, also a co-chair of the group, responded, “I like Elizabeth Warren. I like Third Way. I hope they can learn to get along better.”

But this isn’t about a clash of personalities — it’s about what direction the Democratic Party and the nation is going to go.

Respond: This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.