A jobs agenda, cont’d

A JOBS AGENDA, CONT’D…. The Washington Post reported the other day that congressional Democrats, obviously nervous about the midterms, have some major accomplishments to tout and a reasonably good sense of how to defend their record. They have no idea, however, what to do next — the majority party has found itself “without a clear plan of their own to promote in the final 80 days of the 2010 campaign.”

Harold Meyerson notes that more government intervention is called for, but the political process is paralyzed, and the idea of additional governmental activism has been “discredited … with much of the public, and not just the far right.”

Meyerson does, however, have a suggestion.

If the Democrats focused on boosting manufacturing, with a corollary upgrade to our infrastructure, they’d tap into the only area in which the public wants a more activist government.

Several recent polls have called the Democrats’ attention to what should have been obvious to them: That helping America regain its industrial preeminence is one government activity that wins support across the board. One recent survey by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman found 78 percent support for having a “national manufacturing strategy,” while 92 percent said they supported infrastructure improvements using only American-made materials. Another survey from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg found 52 percent of respondents preferred government investment “in the future,” while just 42 percent favored the alternative course of large spending cuts.

The appeal of bolstering manufacturing and upgrading infrastructure cuts across lines of race, gender and class. Even a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh would have trouble characterizing them, as he did health-care reform, as “reparations.” Just as important, the public is right. Every bit of economic news confirms its apprehensions that by off-shoring our manufacturing, we have not only eliminated millions of good-paying jobs but we have also rendered ourselves incapable of regaining our economic health. The two major economies that are booming amidst the global bust are China’s and Germany’s — that is, the two major economies most oriented to manufacturing.

Of course, anyone who’s paid even the slightest attention to recent political debates knows exactly how this would be received. Republicans and their cable network would bash the idea of “additional spending” — even if that spending is popular, even if it boosted the economy — because it would add to the deficit.

But that’s where the recent GOP shift comes in. Over the last few weeks, the entire House Republican leadership team has, in public and on the record, argued that the economy is more important than the deficit. In context, that meant they’re prepared to add the price of tax cuts for millionaires to the deficit, but the larger point was the same — the deficit matters, but jobs matter more.

Democrats happen to agree with the sentiment, but not the prescription. So, why not have the debate? Present voters with two competing visions — Democrats want to take a pile of money, spend it on American infrastructure, manufacturing, and jobs, and add the total to the deficit. Republicans want to take a pile of money, hand it over to millionaires and billionaires in the form of tax breaks, hope that the money trickles down, and add the total to the deficit.

Two competing approaches, both expensive, and both increasing the deficit in the short term. Line the options up and let’s have the conversation.