Heading into the 2018 midterm elections, it’s clear that some Democrats hope to win by default. They are counting on deep public antipathy toward President Trump to produce a “blue wave” that sweeps us back into power.
We hope and expect Democrats to make significant gains this fall, but a purely negative campaign won’t get the job done in the long-term. To build durable majorities beyond November, Democrats must offer voters a fresh and hope-inspiring vision for renewing America’s economic and social progress. We need your help to develop such a vision.
On July 12, New Democracy held a symposium that featured pragmatic Democratic officials from across the country, top party pollsters and strategists, policy innovators, and private sector leaders who share New Democracy’s commitment to shaping a genuinely progressive alternative to populism.
Our leaders showcased bold ideas for spurring innovation and growth, and spreading digital opportunity to the people and places left behind by economic change; bringing our public schools into the 21st century; making college more affordable and creating a robust alternative path to acquiring skills for young people who don’t need or want college degrees; and, adopting smart fiscal policies that make room for public investment while reducing the nation’s debts.
This symposium also highlighted new strategies to help Democrats win on energy and climate; to finish the job of assuring affordable and high-quality health care for all Americans; for real tax reform that promotes work, asset-building and social mobility; for preventing China from systematically abusing free trade rules; and for ensuring the Democrats put security first.
Democrats need to offer voters a new narrative of hope and progress. We hope you’ll join us in this effort.
Below are some highlights. The entirety of the symposium can be watched on C-SPAN.
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In the morning program, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) discussed becoming a more inclusive party with a diverse coalition; former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) talked about outreach in rural communities; former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) discussed appealing to the political center as opposed to the more energized political left; and Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Brendan Boyle (D-PA) talked about the need for a pro-jobs, pro-growth message from the Democratic Party.
“If the next two years is just a race to offer increasingly unrealistic proposals, to rally just those who are already with us, our strongest supporters, it’ll be difficult for us to make a credible case we should be allowed to govern again,” Senator Coons warned.
“If we as a Democratic Party are going to move from a minority at every level that is dedicated to resistance, to a majority that is capable of governing, we have got to move from grievance to optimism,” Coons said. “And we’ve got to abandon a politics of anxiety that is characterized by wild-eyed proposals and instead deliver ideas and practical solutions.”
Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from southern Illinois who won a district also carried by Trump, said the party must focus “relentlessly on jobs and the economy” and avoid divisive issues.
“We’ve got a brand issue with our party,” she said, noting she is the only member of the House Democratic leadership from a rural, midwestern, pro-Trump district.“We value diversity of every sort except for the diversity I just mentioned,” Bustos said. “It’s okay to make sure we’re focusing every single day relentlessly on bread and butter issues.”
Bustos said Democrats have a good shot at winning a House majority in November, mostly because of moderate candidates who have the right biography and message to win in swing districts. She pointed to the 15 veterans who are running as Democrats in key House districts, along with a slew of compelling female contenders.
“We’ve got every opportunity to win back the House,” she said. “But I don’t want to win back the majority for one cycle,” she added, arguing that’s a danger if Democrats let the political pendulum swing too far left.
Secretary Vilsack gave a rousing speech on the need for Democrats to show up and spend time in rural and small town America, not just give lip service.
“You cannot affect change unless you govern. You cannot govern unless you win. You cannot win unless you talk to rural voters. It’s that simple,” Vilsack said. “As a party we operate at our peril if we decide to ignore the 15 percent of America that lives in rural communities. 15 percent is roughly the equivalent of our Hispanic population, roughly the equivalent to our African-American population. We would never ever — nor should we — consider ignoring those populations. Why do we ignore our rural populations?”
“As bad as the situation appears, make no mistake, you cannot beat something with nothing. Our party better understand the necessity of having a universal message.”
“You can’t govern if you can’t win elections … and you can’t win elections if one extreme is responding to the other extreme,” said former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, seen by some as a rising star in the party.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said the political center is in key in districts like his, where the decline of manufacturing has brought economic devastation. He said China was busy planning for an economic transformation while the U.S. is operating in a 24-hour news cycle dominated by political tactics instead of policy goals.
“We’ve got to get out of this who’s right, who’s left, who’s center,” said Ryan. “We need all hands on deck.”
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The discussion titled, “Making Our Economy Work for Working Americans,” focused on economic issues, including training Americans for the jobs of the future workforce. Speakers included former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Democratic House members Jim Himes (D-CT), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and John Delaney (D-MD). Representative Delaney is a 2020 presidential candidate.
“The opportunity is there to find a long list of things that strong progressives, centrists, independents, and disaffected Republicans agree on and put forth some real solutions rooted in where we have common agreement. That to me is the opportunity for the Democratic Party, because we have right answer as a matter of substance, but we also have the right answer as a matter of politics. And we should be running on that. We should be building this coalition and getting things done for the American people,” Delaney said.
“I think we are where we are today with the complete delegitimization of both parties, because both parties have failed to address the unbelievable economic anxiety that lives all over this country driven largely by economic disruption and the factors that lead to it. So we as New Democrats get very very excited about thinking what’s coming and how do we make sure that we are the ones there before disaster strikes — with legislation, with policies, with partnerships with the private sector, with solutions — that do away with that economic anxiety,” said Himes.
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“Why America Needs 21st Century Schools” was part of the symposium held to discuss how the Democratic Party can help build majorities and advance its agenda ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. Among the speakers on this panel were U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), Mayor Sly James (D-Kansas City, MO), former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute.
“There is no federal silver bullet, state silver bullet, or district silver bullet in terms of practices across schools that should be uniform and replicated,” said Polis. “That’s a strength of course, in the sense that we encourage innovation probably like no other country in terms of the framework for education we have. On the weakness side, it’s very hard to expand and replicate success.”
“It’s a matter of our political will, and it’s a matter of implementation, to make sure that we can scale and expand and replicate what works in public education and also have the courage and tenacity to change what doesn’t work.”
“The real challenge for us as Americans and a major challenge for the Democratic Party is politics right now is all about winning,” said James. “It’s about campaign promises, checking the box, so that we can run again and say, ‘I did what I said I was going to do.’ What that leaves behind is, we are unable and seem to be incapable of finding sustainable solutions to our chronic problems. Education is a sustainable solution to our chronic problems of poverty, and crime, and segregation.”
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Health care access and affordability and the opioid epidemic sweeping the country were other important issues discussed at the day-long event. Among the speakers were House members Ami Bera (D-CA), Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR).
“Health care is either the number one or number two issue driving voters today. Its something that touches every American, every family, every Member of Congress,” said Bera. “In America if someone gets sick they ought to be able to that doctor. If someone gets really sick they ought not to have to go bankrupt to get necessary care. If we start with that as a value goal, how do we get there? New Democrats have creative ideas and thoughtful solutions.”
“We know that what’s happening under the current Administration is the opposite of what needs to be done,” said Kuster. “I share the goal of universal coverage and I think one way to look at it is to bring in the employers with more of a concept of — instead of disability — ability, keeping their employees healthy and well.”
“Part of the impetus behind the ACA in its original form was about a population health concept. It changes the incentives in the health care delivery system to keeping people well, so treating them not just for injury and illness, but treating them in a way that they maintain they’re health and well-being.”
“Republicans mantra for the last eight years is to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Schrader said. “Interestingly, I sit on the Energy & Commerce Committee Health Care Subcommittee. When they started getting into this discussion they found very quickly that while many of their constituents in those red states around the country didn’t like Obamacare, they loved the Affordable Care Act. It’s the first time they ever had insurance.”
“In my home state of Oregon, 25 percent of my population relies on Medicaid or the Oregon Health Plan. People talk about Medicare for All — well, my folks can’t afford a 20 percent copayment. That’s the wrong road. We should try to create affordable access to every single American.”