Democrats need to put forward a positive program that appeals to all Americans and that does not generate the backlash inherent in “identity politics” and emphasis on social issues. The foundations of a positive program should be three ideas that almost all Americans support.
1) A positive Democratic program should call for an expansion of social security not reductions of coverage and benefits. Democrats gave the country Social Security in 1935 and it remains overwhelmingly popular. It now supports 60 million retirees, survivors and disabled Americans and is the only income half of Americans have after they stop working. It ought to be expanded so that all Americans can look forward to an adequate retirement.
Republicans led by Ryan, McConnell and President Trump want to cut social security which they sneeringly call an “entitlement.” Adding insult to injury they want to use "savings" taken from social security to fund tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that are rolling in money. Democrats should pay for expanding social security largely by increasing taxes on the top 1 percent, i.e. those making more than $390,000 year, whose incomes have soared since 1980.
2) Americans want better, less expensive healthcare. A positive Democratic program should call for the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid-like health coverage, programs that Democrats pushed through in 1965. The two healthcare programs cover about 130 million elderly and low-income Americans. The unfairness in this is that it leaves 170-190 million working and middle class Americans to the tender mercies of insanely expensive private health insurance created for the benefit of insurers and providers who have created monopolistic webs that make American healthcare by far the most expensive in the World.
The myth that supports this self-serving private insurance system is that it is paid for by employers. It is not. It is paid for by employees in the form of lower pay checks, grotesquely bloated premiums and deductibles and rising out-of-pocket payments that people in other countries don’t pay.
Democrats should propose to gradually shift the trillion plus dollars that middle class Americans now spend annually on private insurance to a Medicare/Medicaid-type system. This is in effect what countries like Canada and Germany do.
Citizens of these countries pay 30-40 percent less (12 percent of GDP vs. 18 percent) for better health care than most “insured” Americans get. Studies suggest that shifting to Medicare/Medicaid-type health care for all would put $500-700 billion a year in the pockets of middle class Americans.
3) Infrastructure was the essential job-creating part of the Democratic Party’s New Deal and should be the third leg of a positive Democratic economic program in 2018. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) brought electricity and progress to a vast swath of the Appalachian South once inadequately served by Wall Street-owned electric monopolies. The Hoover and Bonneville dam complexes by the same token brought electric power to the West and made large areas prosperous.
Millions of struggling Americans were employed in constructing roads, highways, public buildings, schools, water systems, parks, conservation projects and more all over the country that are still in use. People in the South and West forget that these Democratic programs helped the South and West catch-up with other parts of the country and were supported and promoted avidly by Southern and Western Democrats.
What Democrats should be proposing today is the modern equivalent of these popular public works programs. They should include a modern national power grid and modern environmentally beneficial generation facilities, better road, rail and air infrastructure, world beating Internet, modern water, energy and environmental systems. These would do for 21st century Americans what earlier Democratic public works programs did for the country. All could be paid for easily in an economy that is awash in cheap money.
Summary: This three-legged Democratic program --- better social security, better and less expensive healthcare, World beating public works --- can fit on bumper stickers and appeal to all Americans, white, black, brown, male, female, middle class, rich, poor, urban and rural, big and small business, organized and unorganized labor, gay and straight, religious and secular. All three would especially benefit middleclass and working people.
These three programs are what Americans should think of when they ask “what do Democrats stand for.” These three fundamental Democratic commitments should be invoked in every speech, conversation, town hall, and interview.