Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, chatted at some length with Greg Sargent yesterday, offering some encouraging remarks about Democratic goals in 2012. Most notably, Schumer, far from being intimidated by “class warfare” accusations from Republicans, intends to focus heavily on economic inequality as a key campaign issue.

And while Greg’s whole report is well worth reading, I was especially struck by this exchange.

“Middle class incomes were declining,” Schumer said, speaking about the last elections. “But in 2010 Democrats were not seen as focusing on those issues, but rather seen as focused on health care, which was the right thing to do, but the benefits were not well understood by most voters. Republicans came in and said, ‘We can solve your problem by shrinking government.’”

“We tried their theory,” Schumer continued. “The American people resent government paralysis, but most of them would say that government is doing too little to help them, not too much.” Schumer added that Dems would make 2012 an “election of choice” in which Democrats are the ones focused on the “decline in middle class incomes.” […]

Schumer insisted that Dems had even managed to turn the deficit into a winning issue for them by insisting on shared sacrifice by the wealthy. “Even in the deficit argument, it’s swinging in our direction,” he said. “People want a balanced approach.” In other words, Dems can win on turf historically favorable to Republicans — the deficit — precisely because of the public’s growing preoccupation with inequality.

This is music to my ears — in large part because Schumer is saying what I and others have been emphasizing for months. Republicans have been getting their way on the economy; the GOP’s experiment hasn’t worked; and the American mainstream isn’t satisfied.

If Schumer’s perspective is a reflection of what we can expect to hear from Dems in 2012, the party is at least going into the cycle with an encouraging message.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.