Monday, July 16, 2007

Ohio, The Myths of Free Trade, and the Next Democratic Agenda

NEW YORK – Has the fulcrum of the Democratic Party lurched leftward on the always prickly topic of trade? New York Times' Robin Toner reports that, in the sprint toward 2008, the DLC's dogmatic devotion to unfettered free trade might be wavering with the realization that elections are not won on the coasts with appeals to the educated élites, but instead fought in the rusting ramparts of places like Mahoning County, Ohio.

Led by freshman senator Sherrod Brown, the buckle of the Rust Belt is poised to tip the long-held Blue Dog Democratic belief that free trade functions as a rising tide that lifts all boats. Apparently, even Senator Hillary Clinton is on board with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the incessant free trade nostrums of the early and mid-1990s no longer hold true for the working people of middle America. Admitting that the global economy, as moderated by the Bush administration, might be “trickle-down economics without the trickle” for America's working class, Hillary Clinton has made a sharp left turn in her philosophical journey from Goldwater Girl to Centrist Democrat to Leading Contender for an increasingly "progressive" Democratic presidential nomination. For those who follow every nuance of American politics, this is either big news – or an indication that the old "New Democrat" tropes are not playing well in the Heartland.

Iowa frontrunner, former Senator John Edwards, has long understood the domestic costs of globalization. Toner notes, with former Representative David Bonier of MIchigan helming his campaign, Edwards make no bones about the downside of America's dramatic overall economic expansion, in which “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent" over the past two decades.

The Times also cites Barack Obama's observation that “People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs... and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”

Why are the Democrats finally taking to heart what the Progressives have been taking them to task for since the passage of NAFTA? Could it be that Democratic leaders are looking at the foreclosure epidemics sweeping metros ranging from Cleveland and Detroit, to Seattle and Birmingham, Alabama and asking, "What gives?".

In the fall of 2001, this author asked the question, "With the greatest economy in generations as his foundation, why couldn't Gore win in a landslide? Why did he win Michigan and not Ohio?" On the macro level, all was well. But, a deeper look at the numbers demonstrated something else: Gore won the states that faired well in the New Economy and lost in the states where median household income had dropped during the previous election cycle.

Interestingly, Gore's campaign caught fire toward the end, when his "people versus the powerful" message caught the attention of working people and indpendents. If he had simply "gone populist" a month earlier, he might have won in the landslide that history would have predicted. A little class warfare didn't hurt Andrew Jackson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt either. It might not hurt the Democratic class of 2008.

As Republican wordsmith Frank Luntz argues in the Los Angeles Times piece, "A GOP Comeback Strategy," that "No Republican can win the White House without winning Ohio." We agree. If, as Luntz maintains, "A successful Republican candidate in Ohio will have learned how to articulate a culturally conservative message fused with government accountability and economic opportunity specifically tailored to voters in the industrial heartland," then, to us, the same holds true for the Democrats. "Without the support of the anxious working class," Luntz asserts, "Ohio will also turn deep blue. And so will the United States."

To this, we offer a more resolute spin. The party that captivates the support of the anxious working and middle class middle-Americans of Ohio (on election day and in the voting booth) – and ensures their votes are counted – will not only prevail in gaining the White House, they'll likely pick up Congressional seats from coast to coast.

1 comment:

Dan Dimendberg, Contributing Editor said...

This post shows an interesting Catch -22 of the Democratic political operational coalition. With organized labor no longer being in position to provide the political and financial support the Democrats needed- they turned to big business for contributions and to the educated elite for votes (with some success - alligning formerly Republican areas such as Fairfield Co. Connecticut and Montgomery and Bucks Counties PA to the Democratic colum. However, they have lost their edge in states like Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin due to the failure of the free-trade economy supported by the DLC and their big business doners. Will they be able to turn their back on business in order to recapture the working class voters who are no longer excited by the party - or have they been bought, packaged and sold by the REpublican rhetoric on abortion and Gay marriage. I think the miserable economic failure of the Republican government since 2001 leaves Democrats a great opportunity to mend those fences and reclaim their lost industrial working class coalition partner.