Economic populism still works as always

Just another reminder that economic populism still works:

Of all the negative campaign messages that Democrats have used this midterm election, the most effective one is a time-tested line of attack: hitting Republican businessmen for being exorbitantly wealthy while outsourcing jobs overseas and laying off employees. It was President Obama’s central argument in his reelection campaign against Mitt Romney, and it is being put to devastating use again in a handful of close gubernatorial and congressional races this year.

More than any of the other well-worn Democratic arguments—Republicans want to restrict access to abortion, they’re beholden to the agenda of the Koch brothers, and so on—this argument is successfully persuading undecided voters in close races.

It’s frankly a good argument in any election cycle, as it has been since at least the days of Teddy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But it has special resonance at a time of record income and wealth inequality, aided and abetted by a noxious flood of unregulated money buying elections.

It’s also a good argument when most Americans haven’t seen their wages increase against inflation, and an extremist cabal of ideological conservatives stands fast against even the preferences of rank-and-file Republicans to raise the minimum wage:

A Hart Research Associates poll conducted last year found that 80 percent of Americans surveyed—including 62 percent of Republicans—favor a $10.10-an-hour wage floor. Those numbers appear to have influenced even some top Republicans; 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney now says he’s for a hike, as is former Senator Rick Santorum, who warns his party, “Let’s not make this argument that we’re for the blue-collar guy, but we are against any minimum-wage increase ever. It just makes no sense.” Some GOP candidates in tight races have taken note. In Arkansas, Senate nominee Tom Cotton says he’ll vote yes on his state’s referendum, as does Alaska Senate nominee Dan Sullivan.

When you see conservative Democrats shrink away from the economic populist messaging, it isn’t because they don’t think it will work. It’s because they’ve either bought into a wrongheaded and counterproductive supply-side view of economics, or because they’re more afraid of big money corporate attacks than they are desirous of appealing to the wishes of the electorate.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.