That Old ‘Which Side Are You On?’ Thing

Mike Lux – Author, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be Posted: 04/20/11 05:20 PM ET

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and the House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, have done progressives and Democrats a huge favor. We are more unified than we have been since Election Day 2008, and it is a great feeling. Because Republicans want to destroy — just utterly destroy — unions, Medicare, Medicaid, and pretty much the entire safety net, the progressive movement and the vast majority of the Democratic Party leadership are on the same side. There are still differences, which I will talk about in a minute, but on the core issues, which Democrats and Republicans will be fighting over in the coming months, we are pretty unified. The president has picked a fight with Ryan and is getting into campaign mode, and progressives I have talked to are excited to be fighting on the same side about such fundamental issues as the future of Medicare and Medicaid in this country. The progressive movement is gearing up into full battle mode for an epic showdown with conservative Republicans who want roll back the progress of the last century.

This will be a very good fight for our side. Seniors are the most important swing bloc of voters in the election next year, and in 2010 they swung hard — a 22-point margin — against Democrats. The rest of the country doesn’t want to be messing with Medicare or Medicaid either: They want it for their elders, and they want it for themselves when they retire.

Given the size and stakes of this budget battle and the favorable politics of it, and given the incredibly far-right positioning we will be seeing in Congress, among Republican governors, and in the Republican presidential primary, I would normally be feeling pretty confident right now about Democratic electoral chances next year. There is one pretty important thing holding me back, though, and that is the shape of this economy. The stock market has had a pretty good run, and both corporate profits and the GDP are growing nicely, but this economy is still beating on our country’s working middle class like a drum. The unemployment rate is finally dropping, and new jobs are finally being created, thank God, but at a snail’s pace — and youth/Hispanic/black (Obama’s core constituency) unemployment rates are still through the roof. There are still way too many people working at part-time or temp jobs for far below what they used to be paid, and there are several million still too discouraged to look for work. Gasoline prices, utility prices food prices, out-of-pocket health care costs, tuition costs — the staples of middle-class existence — all continue to soar, but wages are stagnant. Housing prices — the main wealth asset for middle-class families, continue to drop — which puts ever-increasing pressure on underwater mortgages.

Understandably that puts working middle-class voters in a pretty foul mood. And if you are in a foul mood, and you don’t see either party delivering for you on the issues you face every day, you tend to dislike politicians from both sides. As Stan Greenberg wrote in a recent memo on the disappearing middle class, voters “believe both parties are complicit in strengthening the alliance of money and power.” When voters are in a bad mood about the economy, especially if they perceive that no one in the establishment is on their side, they tend to want to throw the party in power out on their butt. That’s why we have had three elections in a row w