Crafting a Democratic Agenda on Income Inequality

When it comes to politics, efforts to solve the big challenges we face as a country are sometimes cast in two directions: (1) what will appeal to voters, and thereby, get your candidate elected, and (2) what will solve the problem? While coming up with answers to both of those questions is necessary, they are sometimes at odds with each other.

That was the thought that occurred to me as I read a couple of interesting articles recently. The first was about an interview Ezra Klein conducted with conservative Bill Kristol about Obamacare. The discussion reaches an interesting conclusion.

Obamacare’s political legacy is likely to be a fading negative for Democrats. At this point it won’t hurt them much, but it’s unlikely to ever help them much, either. In 2014, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Vox that Democrats were “not running on or from the Affordable Care Act,” and that’s probably going to be the party’s strategy after Obama, too.

Instead, Obamacare’s legacy will be its substance: it has permanently reshaped the social contract in America. It is now the federal government’s role to make heath insurance affordable and available to all its citizens, and any Republican president who seriously wants to repeal or reform Obamacare will need to propose a replacement that fulfills that basic bargain.

In other words, they are saying that Obamacare has been successful on #2, but will remain neutral (at best) on #1.

On another issue, it’s now clear that in 2016 even most Republican candidates are going to have to wrestle with the problem of income inequality in this country. Certainly Democrats have been there for awhile. Over the course of the campaign, we’ll see a lot of efforts to craft messages that appeal to voters on this one. In a rational world, whether or not those ideas will actually work to reduce income inequality would be the question voters ask.

It is in that spirit of optimism (or naivete – take your pick) that I point you to an article at TalkPoverty. They asked several experts to weigh in on their “10 Solutions to Fight Economic Inequality.” Of course all of the ideas are worth exploring. But I noticed where they overlapped. Of the six people who offered lists about federal initiatives, five of them mentioned these:

* Raise the minimum wage
* Raise revenue via tax reform
* Invest in infrastructure

Four people included these:

* Provide affordable childcare and/or universal pre-K
* Strengthen the bargaining power of unions
* Require employers to provide sick leave/paid family leave

Those won’t sound like rocket science to anyone who has been listening to President Obama, Congressional Democrats and Democratic candidates. And while there might be some differences over which solutions to prioritize, there is almost universal agreement among Democrats in support of those six ideas.

So if we want to tackle the problem of income inequality, there is your best answer to the #2 question about what experts agree will work. I suspect that it’s also a list that will appeal to most voters.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.