Monday, January 15, 2007

The Rise of Suburban Populism?

David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post who wrote a column recently quoting Rahm Emanuel, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2006 election. Emanuel referred to something he calls "suburban populism." Here is a quote from the Ignatius's column:

Middle-class voters are angry because they feel that their standard of living -- from education to health care to retirement -- is under assault. For a generation, GOP strategists encouraged these suburban voters to focus their anxiety and resentment on urban minorities, but Emanuel argues that isn’t working anymore.

“Today, the new welfare queen is corporate America,” he says. Suburban voters, like those in the inner cities, “are angry at powerful citizens who are getting a better deal than they are.” Thanks to this suburban populism, the Democrats picked up Republican seats in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and other states.

The Democratic leadership is fashioning a legislative programme that tries to respond to this public anger quickly and decisively. Pelosi’s agenda for the first 100 hours is a set of tight, doable proposals -- raise the minimum wage, ease terms for student loans, tighten budget rules on congressional spending, cut subsidies for the oil industry, cut drug costs.What’s interesting is that these proposals, so far, have been getting scores of Republican votes. For the rest of the year, Emanuel says, the leadership hopes to stress energy independence (with fuel-saving efficiency standards for appliances and cars) and a move toward better health care for children. (You can read the whole column by clicking on this entry's title. )

Now, readers of this blog may know that we believe that concentrating on economic issues is the way Democrats win elections. We think that the Sherrod Brown's successful campaign here in Ohio shows how this works. As a friend of ours pointed out, Sherrod was the first politician in a long time to come out and explicitly say he was going to fight for the middle class. The result was a stunning victory over an established Republican, even in counties like Medina County which usually votes Republican.

What progressives and Democrats need to do is sit down and come up with policy proposals that can be used in the 2007 off year elections to show suburban voters that electing Democrats at the local level will make their communities better. Perhaps what is needed is a conference that focuses on using local government, like township, village council, and city council positions to make life better for voters.

In a democracy political campaigns are about what is the proper role of government. That question is, or should be, at the root of all political campaigns. Democrats need to make it the issue in this year's local elections.

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