Roosevelt Reacts: What Else Did We Need From the 2015 State of the Union?

Jan 23, 2015

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

In the face of strong Republican opposition, President Obama made his stance on many controversial topics quite clear. He outlined his views on topics such as the minimum wage, equal pay for women, LGBTQ+ rights, tax reform and more. These bold and somewhat ambitious goals for change in 2015 will require bipartisan compromise in Congress. It is likely, however, that there will be little correlation between President Obama’s bold vision for the future of the United States and Congress’ actions in the final two years of his presidency. No matter how wonderful or ambitious President Obama’s plans are for the country, the likelihood of any these issues being independently addressed by a Republican controlled Congress is very slim. Yet the president’s plans do not fall on deaf ears. President Obama’s speech gives Democrats in Congress and, more importantly, the American public, ammunition against the Republican’s inevitable inaction, which could potentially help set the stage for the 2016 election.

Chisolm Allenlundy, University of Alabama '16:

It was difficult to miss the amount of politics that happened on Tuesday at President Obama’s next-to-last State of the Union address. What might have been easy to miss, however, was the meaning of it all.

President Obama knows that his days of passing game-changing progressive legislation are over. This is a common position for 4th-quarter presidents to find themselves in, and Obama did exactly what such presidents do when they can no longer effectively push for policy change: they push for culture change.

But most Americans don’t watch the political process so much as they hear about it from media sources, which put their own spin on material. According to consumer watch company Nielson, 31.7 million people tuned in for the SOTU, and even that figure is at a 15-year low. While the president has attempted to set the direction for progressive politics for the next year, policy change will be a struggle, and he needs to reach many more Americans to steer the course on our political culture. 

Tarsi Dunlop, Middlebury College '09:

Middle class economics played a key role in the President’s 2015 State of the Union. He explained that middle class economics is about the policies needed for average American families to get ahead. These policies aren’t handouts, but they make daily life better, easier, more fulfilling. For example, what if students could graduate from K-12 with good grades and know they had the option of going to community college without the staggering cost of debt? Granted, there are certain investments that must be made to make sure that community colleges are, as an institution, prepared for the role the President wants them to serve for our nation’s youth.

The President also touched on other elements of middle class economics: key policy proposals that will help young people, new families, and the elderly. He emphasized affordable day care (right now monthly costs can run higher than a mortgage payment), as well as paid family leave and sick leave. Families shouldn’t have to choose between time with new babies and paid work, nor between working and staying home with a sick child. We need a vision and a budget to help the middle class thrive and it was great to hear concrete proposals in the President’s speech.

Hayley Brundige, University of Tennessee, Knoxville '17:

Obama's State of the Union Address illustrated just how far we still have to go in the fight for gender equality. I was ecstatic when Obama asserted that the right to quality childcare and paid maternity and sick leave are not just “women's issues” — as they are often brushed aside as — but a “national economic priority.” But in the back of my mind, I was dismayed that this concept that is so obviously a human right is still so far from being obvious to our elected officials. 

Noticeably missing from the speech was any mention of preventing sexual assault, especially on college campuses. This was particularly surprising seeing as the administration has made this issue a point of focus recently, creating a White House task force on sexual assault and investigating colleges for Title IX violations. Obama even had a readily supplied anecdote, as campus activist and sexual assault survivor Emma Sulkowicz was literally in the audience. As a college student, I applaud Obama's efforts to make community college more accessible, but it's disheartening for him to not address the importance of keeping our campuses safe. No president on record has discussed sexual assault in a State of the Union address.

Zachary Agush, Wheaton College '12:

Over the years, President Obama has always integrated personal stories into his annual State of the Union addresses to paint a visual about the troubles individuals may be facing or to explain how a certain effort can help spark further growth and development for others. I have always considered that a major strength. This year’s speech focused in particular on young families. The President knows that the new generation is quickly becoming the majority of the nation's population and that the lingering inequalities and economic hardships will definitely make it increasingly difficult for them to have the quality of life they desire. This generation is also going to struggle to maintain Social Security and Medicare for those entering these safety net programs in the coming decade. I think those stories in particular hit some members of Congress, even those of the new Republican majority, that something needs to be done to at least give the next generation a chance at success. I am cautiously optimistic that something may happen - but it will only happen if this Congress can actually stop and think about how their gridlock is directly affecting the next generation. Maybe then, there can be progress.

Sarah Hilton, Wheaton College '16:

President Obama made huge strides for education policy on Tuesday night; even raising the issue of rising college tuition is a positive step forward. However, the President hardly mentioned the K-12 system. He praised rising graduation rates and higher test scores then ever before, but ignored the staggering inequality and lack of student performance when compared internationally. Obama’s two-year community college plan, while economically beneficial for the middle class, shows that our base expectations for education continue to require more time and expense.

The focus instead should be on improving the K-12 system we already have by creating more diverse programs that train students for a variety careers from academic to vocational. Today, about half of students begin community college in remedial classes. We should be making our high schools more effective at reaching students. Vocational training for profitable and interesting jobs can be done in high school, and academic programs should be strengthen to reduce the need for remedial classes in community colleges. Strengthening the underlying K-12 system and increasing vocational training would have an earlier impact on our students’ lives.

Jas Johl, University of California, Berkeley '08:

The main rhetorical touch point for the state of the union was 'middle class economics.' Throughout the address, Obama repeatedly turned to that concept, presenting policy ideas designed to bolster it.  Of paramount importance to the ongoing success of middle class, he argued, would be to make the first two years of community college free for all. This proposal does address some of the symptoms of growing economic inequality, namely rising student debt. Nonetheless, it overlooks the underlying, systemic issues at the core of the problem: the broken state of our current education system. 

As The Institute for College Access & Success and the Brookings Institute have both argued, the majority of those attending community college are already getting their tuition covered through Pell Grants and other means of financial support. I’d argue the more pressing issue is the fact that many of the students who enroll in community colleges are ill-prepared for 4-year universities, and spend the first two years of college taking remedial college (read: high school) courses that they didn't do well in or even pass the first time. Free college doesn’t help a student who isn’t ready for it.

Obama makes the very valid point that making those colleges free would assuage the financial burden of a large number of young adults, and likely precipitate a better-prepared workforce. But a glaring absence in the president's speech was acknowledgement of the fundamental cracks in our institutions, namely, our already free K-12 educational system. Real middle class economics necessitate not just free education, but better education for all.

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Daily Digest - January 21: State of the Union Asks Congress to Actually Work on Policy

Jan 21, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Problem With Obama's Bold SOTU (MoJo)

David Corn thinks President Obama needs to advance a stronger narrative about the GOP's obstructionism preventing his policy agenda from becoming reality.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Problem With Obama's Bold SOTU (MoJo)

David Corn thinks President Obama needs to advance a stronger narrative about the GOP's obstructionism preventing his policy agenda from becoming reality.

In State of the Union Speech, Obama Defiantly Sets an Ambitious Agenda (NYT)

Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis call the president's tone "defiant" as he called on Republicans to join him in an extensive domestic agenda.

Rebounding Economy Gives President Breathing Room at State of the Union (AJAM)

Naureen Khan says President Obama was able to make his ambitious proposals because the economy is in the best shape it's been in his six years in office.

The Economy Has Improved. The GOP's Talking Points Have Not. (TNR)

The five Republican responses to the State of the Union show that the GOP is still claiming the president's major achievements will crush the economy – but they aren't, writes Danny Vinik.

Toward a New Solidarity (TAP)

Rich Yeselson says that if the "labor question" is to return to the forefront of political thinking, the labor movement's best shot is to fight for all workers, not just its own members.

Debunking the Chatter: The Truth About Wall Street’s Volcker Rule Assault (Medium)

Alexis Goldstein breaks down the Wall Street public relations apparatus's push against the Volcker Rule, pointing out inaccurate data and straight-up falsehoods in their fact sheets.

New on Next New Deal

The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help the Real Economy

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal looks at the data available on the 2003 dividend tax cut, which shows that the corporations affected disgorged more cash to shareholders, but didn't raise wages or investment.

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Van Hollen Tax Proposal An Economic and Political Home Run

Jan 12, 2015Richard Kirsch

By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need.

By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) proposal to tax Wall Street speculators and CEO millionaires to put money in the pockets of working families and the middle class, the engines of our economy, is a political and economic home run. It allows Democrats to focus on economic growth and fairness at the same time, sharply defining the debate on the key question voters ask: “Which side are you on?”

Leading politicians from both parties are all expressing sympathy for the stagnant prospects of the middle class. If you need evidence, here is Jeb Bush sounding like Elizabeth Warren: “Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach … that the playing field is no longer fair or level.”

Where the two parties split – and where the core debate that will define the next two years and the 2016 election lies – is on who is to blame and what to do about it.

Americans believe we need economic growth, but they are more likely to place the blame for stagnant wages on the super-rich and powerful who game the system at their expense. That is why they told pollsters they prefer “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points.

Van Hollen claims both grounds – growth and fairness. As he says, “What our country needs is a growing economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

The heart of the plan is providing a $1,000 tax credit for workers, phased out as income rises, along with an additional $250 tax credit when workers save. He would pay for that by taxing Wall Street speculation (with a tiny financial transactions tax) and closing loopholes that allow millionaires to pay lower taxes than average people.

It’s clear that this is great politics: taxing Wall Street gambling and the super-rich to put more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

Republicans tell another story, placing the blame for middle-class woes on government and focusing on lowering taxes and cutting government regulation to grow the economy. In opposing the Van Hollen proposal, they are forced to defend the wealthy and deny tax breaks to the middle-class, as we saw from Speaker John Boehner’s spokesperson's comment opposing the Van Hollen plan.

This is the economic argument Democrats want to have. Republicans say we grow the economy by taking the side of the Wall Street banks that wrecked the economy and the corporate CEOs who cut our wages and shipped our jobs overseas. Democrats say we move the economy forward by putting more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

Van Hollen adds another proposal, which is also brilliant politics and sharp economics. He would not allow corporations to get tax breaks for million-dollar executive pay unless they shared the rewards of soaring corporate profits with their workers. Van Hollen accomplishes this by proposing to end corporate tax deductions for executive compensation of over $1 million, unless the corporation’s wages are raised enough to keep up with worker productivity and the cost of living. Another way that corporations could deduct higher executive pay is by providing employees with ownership and profit-sharing opportunities.

With this proposal, Van Hollen puts the focus squarely on the corporate behavior that has driven down wages and crushed middle-class aspirations. His proposal would boost worker income, which drives the economy forward. When Republicans oppose this, the choice will again be clear to Americans: CEO millionaires or working families.

As Van Hollen recognizes, his proposal is not the complete solution to creating an economy of broadly shared, sustainable prosperity. He recognizes the need to raise wages and job standards, which directly turn today’s low-wage, economy busting jobs into economy boosting jobs. He reinforces the necessity of investment in infrastructure, research and education.

It will be important to do all these things. We need to raise wage standards and strengthen the ability of workers to organize, to make sure that every job pays enough to care and support a family in dignity. It is essential that we make huge investments in transportation, clean energy, communications, and research to build a powerful economic foundation for the future. That investment will take revenues, which can be raised from closing corporate loopholes, raising tax rates on the wealthy, or other progressive tax measures. We can also discuss whether some of the revenues Van Hollen raises would be better spent on infrastructure rather than tax breaks for upper-middle income people.

Simplicity is key to political communication. In its simplest terms, Van Hollen is saying that we drive the economy forward by putting money in the pockets of working families and the middle-class, not Wall Street and the super wealthy. And then his proposal invites Americans to ask their elected officials: “which side are you on?”

If Democrats around the country are willing to stand up to their big campaign contributors and ask that question with such a powerful proposal in 2016, they will triumph. And in triumphing, they will move the country toward an America that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Ten Years: Students Moving the Country Forward

Dec 18, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

Elections are a great time to shape the future of our country, but democracy is not something that happens every four years. We have a lot of work to do … we need to figure out how to explain what we care about in a coherent and convincing way, we need to develop a leadership network to match the conservatives of the next generation, and we need to keep public officials accountable to the issues that brought us all in.

In a follow-up email, he boiled it down to one simple statement: "I'm seeing a student-run think tank that will reinvigorate mainstream politics with a new generation's ideas."

In one of those rare occurrences that indicate that people might be on to something, others were incubating a similar concept. Two friends at Middlebury and Bates also felt compelled to respond to the political moment, and articulated their initial thoughts on a "think tank that unites college students across America under one political agenda aimed at taking back our democracy." Something similar was taking shape at Yale University.

The rest of the story is Roosevelt lore – the late nights, cross-country recruiting trips, the passionate debates about how best to position the organization to effectively elevate young people as a source for powerful ideas capable of policy change.

Yet what makes this particular story potent is that, ten years later, we celebrate not only that vision, but also today's reality. Thousands of students over the past ten years have worked tirelessly to actualize the initial vision that emerged from a bleak moment in our political history. We’ve published 600+ policy solutions that have been read over half a million times; trained thousands on how to challenge the fundamentals of our social, political, and economic systems; and catapulted young people as civic actors into key debates on the policy challenges of our day. Most importantly, the list of student and chapter successes on the ground is staggering in its breadth and depth of examples where young people have taken active ownership of their communities to bring about solutions with meaningful impact.

As a proud Roosevelter, I think we have much to celebrate. We took a few days last week to elevate our work in Washington, DC – a celebration that included a conversation with Representative Rosa DeLauro and members of Congress on how to look to best practices from Roosevelt’s model to effectively engage a new generation in policy and politics, a discussion on the Campus Network’s next ten years, and presentations at the White House featuring our student’s policy work. And of course, we hosted a party for 190+ alumni and supporters (a rockin’ one, according to keynote speaker Jared Bernstein).

Ten years is also a moment to look towards our future. It’s been a common refrain around our office and with our members that there are some unsettling parallels between the post-election reality ten years ago and the one we face today. Distrust of institutions is on the rise, policy priorities with high public support are thwarted by special interests, and our debate is seriously deprived (with a few exceptions) of a vision for what our country can build towards. We’re still in need of a shake up. The upside? Where things are happening, it’s often led or heavily supported by young people – from the ballot initiatives in the 2014 election to the sustained demand for accountability in our justice system.

It’s no secret that the political establishment is perplexed about young people. The media haphazardly jumps between two narratives, unable to decide if we’re self-absorbed, naïve and complacent in the face of our economic future, or the most civically minded quiet do-gooders since the Greatest Generation. Yet many of the major civic and political organizations are struggling with declining membership numbers. It’s not unheard of for organizations to develop “Millennial engagement strategies” to combat this problem.

We think the answer pretty simple: it’s about institutions and systems embracing the shifts instead of fearing them. From the moment they walk through the door, our members are asked to be a part of building something as equals. They’re given the tools to be the architects – and are instantly connected to a network of peers who support them. In a political system more interested in managing young people than tapping into their ingenuity and energy, Roosevelters come to us because they see the limitations of traditional pathways of engagement. As a result, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has remained a network that evolves and shifts as our students lead the way.

We aren’t, of course, the only ones – there is a vibrant ecosystem of organizations and movements that are also innovating and responding to the changing ways people of all ages are expressing their priorities. We could not be more proud of our alumni who have gone on to lead, participate in, and learn from these efforts.

Our successes also beg the question – what does this mean for the next ten years? How do we continue to amplify our strengths and evolve to reflect the moment, opportunities, and risks? That’s the conversation we’re having next – a conversation we want our alumni and supporters to be a part of. In 2015, the Roosevelt Institute will introduce our Alumni Network, which will focus on how to strengthen the Roosevelt community and its potential to influence social and economic priorities. If we are to respond to the call for an economic and democratic system that works for this century, it is going to take all of us.

It is now a Campus Network tradition to close any major convening or retreat with a passage from Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. It narrates President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the nomination at the 1936 Democratic National Convention. It’s a famous speech, most notably for his “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” quote. We start reading a little earlier – Smith sets the stage, with the country emerging from the worst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt walks to the platform on the arm of his son James. Smith details a powerful moment, where the President sees the poet Edwin Markham, author of Man with a Hoe, reaches out to greet him, and stumbles and falls. People rush to snap his braces back into place. He then proceeds to give the speech, which puts forward uncompromising and substantive statements on political and economic equality. It’s resolute, forceful, and clear – there are wrongs we must right, power that needs to be rebalanced, problems to be solved by the people.

I hope that our members take two things away from the passage. First, that every individual can’t do it alone. Second, that it is possible to stand for something that upsets the current balance of power – and to see the country move forward as a result. It’s a valuable reminder today, when all seems hopeless in the face of stagnation and entrenchment.

As we look to the next ten years, that’s the question Roosevelters will continue to ask, and will eventually answer. What do we stand for, and how will we move this country forward?

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Vice President of Networks at the Roosevelt Institute.

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The Budget Fight Was the First Skirmish in the War for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Dec 12, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats had the leverage to nix a deal that opens the door to more Wall Street bailouts, but they caved in to Republican blackmail.

Progressives lost the battle over the budget last night because President Obama and a minority of Democrats took the side of Wall Street. It is the first of many losses we will see in the next two years as Republicans relentlessly pursue their corporate agenda. The bigger question is whether progressives will lose the war in the Democratic Party.

Democrats had the leverage to nix a deal that opens the door to more Wall Street bailouts, but they caved in to Republican blackmail.

Progressives lost the battle over the budget last night because President Obama and a minority of Democrats took the side of Wall Street. It is the first of many losses we will see in the next two years as Republicans relentlessly pursue their corporate agenda. The bigger question is whether progressives will lose the war in the Democratic Party.

Blowing up this budget deal should have been easy for Democrats. They were handed a perfect message: the Republicans are willing to shut down the government so they can bail out Wall Street the next time it wrecks the economy.

Democratic votes were needed because a group of 67 right-wing Republicans opposed the bill on the grounds that it did not go far enough in opposing the president’s executive order on immigration. The Republican split gave Democrats the leverage to demand that the bank bail-out provision be stripped from the bill.

But with President Obama twisting enough Democratic arms (57 in total) to give in to the Wall Street-engineered Republican blackmail, that powerful, winning message was diluted.

Democratic negotiators also agreed to the deal to repeal a provision of the Dodd-Frank law that prevents government bailouts of banks who engage in a form of risky trading. Their argument was “Republicans made us do it; it’s the best we could do.” But of course, with all the Wall Street money going to Democrats, that’s a convenient excuse. They can turn around and wink at the lobbyists who deliver Wall Street campaign contributions, playing a game in which the dupes are the American people.

The bailout of banks and Wall Street speculators remains deeply and broadly unpopular. It is an issue that generates anger among grassroots activists on the left and the right. For Americans who see Wall Street billionaires getting richer by gaming the system while families struggle to meet the basics, there could be no clearer contrast.

Progressive Democrats fought back. In a rapid-fire display of the energy and nimbleness of progressive organizations and champions in Congress, the deal was quickly exposed.

Senator Elizabeth Warren laid it out clearly on the Senate floor: “We put this rule in place because people of all political persuasions were disgusted at the idea of future bailouts… Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to shut down the government if they don’t get a chance to repeal it.”

In the House, progressive Democrats joined the call. California Rep. Maxine Waters, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said, “We don't like lobbying that is being done by the president or anybody else that would allow us to support a bill that ... would give a big gift to Wall Street and the bankers who caused this country to almost go into a depression.”

The vigorous pushback from progressive groups and their allies in Congress convinced Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to break with the White House. Pelosi said that they were being “blackmailed” to vote for the bill, which she called “a moral hazard.” Still, Pelosi did not use her considerable powers of persuasion to get fellow Democrats to vote no.

For the next two years we will see Republicans do everything they can to deliver for corporate America at the expense of the American people. The only question is whether Democrats will enable them. Will President Obama continue to make compromise after compromise? Will Democrats in the Senate use the filibuster to block the Republican attack on working families? Will enough Democrats in the House keep coming to the rescue of a divided Republican Party?

We will see the same fight in the Democratic primary for president. Will Hillary Clinton break from the Wall Street wing of the party with which she aligned as a senator from New York? Will her challengers make the same sharp contrast that Senator Warren did, when she began her speech on the Senate floor by asking, “Who does Congress work for? Does it work for the millionaires, the billionaires, the giant companies with their armies of lobbyists or lawyers? Or does it work for all the people?”

As I wrote after the election last month, Democrats who used a populist economic message – who named the corporate villains and declared that “we all do better when we all do better” – won. Democrats who ran to the mushy middle lost.

But this is not just a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, it’s a fight for our very democracy. As Justice Louis Brandeis said almost a century ago, “We may have a democracy or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

Americans are yearning for champions who stand up for them. If we have any hope of changing the direction of our economy from enriching the rich at the expense of the rest of us and of recapturing our democracy from the CEO campaign contributors and Wall Street bag men, it will be because progressive forces and elected champions stand up not just to Republicans but to President Obama and any Democrat who takes the side of Wall Street against America’s working families.

It is clear that progressives and the American people will lose battle after battle in Congress over the next two years. The real question is whether we will lose the war. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - December 4: Fixing Overtime Will Boost the Economy

Dec 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

An Overdue Fix to Overtime (Other Words)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that raising the salary limit for mandatory overtime pay would help the underemployed, too, as they would likely get more hours.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

An Overdue Fix to Overtime (Other Words)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that raising the salary limit for mandatory overtime pay would help the underemployed, too, as they would likely get more hours.

Study Finds Violations of Wage Law in New York and California (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on a new Department of Labor study that finds that in 2011, between 3.5 and 6.5 percent of workers in New York and California were paid less than the minimum wage.

Even the Night Owls Need to Go Home Eventually (Pacific Standard)

Jake Blumgart looks at the Philadelphia subway system's shift to 24-hour weekend service, which was advertised as a nightlife service but has been heavily used by workers who get off late.

Legislator to Introduce Right-to-Work Legislation (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Todd Richmond reports on the Wisconsin GOP Assembly member who plans to introduce the legislation despite warnings from Democrats that it could lead to protests like Wisconsin saw in 2011.

Are Cities the Next Front in the Right’s War on Labor? (The Nation)

Moshe Marvit looks at anti-union groups' plans to push right-to-work laws on a local level, which has no legal precedent but is likely to be attempted anyway in labor-friendly states.

Democrats, It’s Time to Move On (WSJ)

Focusing on the could'ves and should'ves of the midterms won't deliver the economic momentum that American voters want, writes William Galston. Democrats need to instead focus on these next two years.

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Daily Digest - November 19: Why Do So Few Workers Get Overtime Pay Today?

Nov 19, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Whatever Happened to Overtime? (Politico Magazine)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Whatever Happened to Overtime? (Politico Magazine)

Nick Hanauer says that raising the earnings threshold for mandatory overtime pay would kickstart the economy by either ensuring workers have more money or forcing companies to hire more workers.

Can Republicans Shut Down the Government Without Actually Shutting Down the Government? (WaPo)

Paul Waldman explains the GOP plan to stop any executive action on immigration without shutting down the government. The strategy: to pass spending bills that exclude the offices that would work on that issue.

Over Bentley's Objections, Golden Dragon Plant Votes for Union (Montgomery Advisor)

The Republican governor of Alabama urged workers at a copper plant to vote against unionizing with a letter distributed directly to the plant workers shortly before they voted in favor of their union.

Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions (NYT)

Thomas Edsall points out that while Republicans demonize unions, and public sector unions in particular, the Democrats aren't doing much of anything to push back on labor's behalf.

When Mega Corporations Get Mega Tax Breaks, We All Pay (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's board of directors, says that closing corporate income tax loopholes could fund incredible projects, like national universal pre-K.

Here's Why Conservatives Will Never Give Up Their War on Obamacare (TNR)

The "partisan incomprehension" that follows the Affordable Care Act around in the news is primarily based in the fact that Republicans lost a highly partisan fight, writes Brian Beutler.

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News Flash: Progressives Have a Winning Economic Narrative -- and Democrats Who Used It Won

Nov 11, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats can connect with voters by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us.

The big post-election consensus is that Democrats believe, as The New York Times put it, they were missing “a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert some independents.”

Democrats can connect with voters by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us.

The big post-election consensus is that Democrats believe, as The New York Times put it, they were missing “a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert some independents.”

So what would that missing narrative be? The point of a narrative is to give people an explanation of what they are experiencing that includes what is wrong, who is responsible, and what we can do about it.

Take a look at two explanations of what’s happening that are very similar but different in important ways.

The first, from Republican message guru Frank Luntz, writing in The New York Times: “[F]rom the reddest rural towns to the bluest big cities, the sentiment is the same. People say Washington is broken and on the decline, that government no longer works for them — only for the rich and powerful.”

The second, from Democratic message advisors James Carville and Stan Greenberg, along with Page Gardner: “People believe that the rich are using their influence to rig the system so the economy works for them but not the middle class.”

The big difference here is how the common sentiment among Americans – that the rich call the shots – is framed to suggest a solution. By focusing on the government, Luntz sets up the Republican push for limited government. Or as successful Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst said in a debate, “When Washington is picking… winners and losers, it’s almost always our Iowa middle-class families that lose.”

For Carville, Greenberg, and Gardner, the focus is on the economy being rigged. Or as one ad for Oregon’s Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said, “It is Jeff leading the fight to hold Wall Street and big banks accountable when they prey on working families and small businesses. ”

Merkley won and so did Ernst. The explanation, according to progressive pundits, is that Democrats like Merkley who used a populist message – which means they connected people’s economic concerns to the rich and powerful who are responsible – were successful while Dems who ran away from that message lost. As someone who has been leading the Progressive Economic Narrative (PEN) project, I really wanted to believe that. But as it seemed too easy, I decided to look at some campaigns and see whether it was spin or the truth. It turns out to be the truth.

The first case I looked at was Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s campaign. After eking out a victory in the great Democratic year of 2008, Franken won handily this year, even as Republicans took over the Minnesota House of Representatives. Imagine my smile when I quickly found Franken ads based on the key value statement in our Progressive Economic Narrative, “We all do better when we all do better.” This was also a key theme of Minnesota’s great progressive senator, Paul Wellstone.

Franken’s progressive populism makes a key distinction when he uses the key word in that values phrase, “all.” As he says in another ad,  “I work for all Minnesotans. Wall Street wasn’t happy about that. But I don’t work for Wall Street. I work for you.”

The name of our Progressive Economic Narrative is “An America that works for all of us,” which is central to the aspirational power of our story. However, what is needed for that message to win is to make it clear who is not included in “all of us” (i.e., the wealthy). A poll of voters last spring found that voters preferred “growing the economy” over “an economy that works for all of us” by 10 percentage points. By contrast, voters chose “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points!

Merkley was also sure to name the villains of the economic story throughout his campaign, as in the Wall Street ad mentioned above.

So what about those Democrats who lost in purple states? I would have thought Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who founded the populist caucus when he got to Congress in 2007, would have run a populist campaign. Instead, Braley ran on working across the aisle to get things done in Iowa and not “letting the extremists from either party get in the way.” Because voters are skeptical about anything getting done for them in Washington, his message fell flat.

Braley listed progressive issues, but without a narrative to link them together. His only villains were the “Koch brothers and their extreme agenda,” but he didn’t say what made their agenda extreme. Contrast that with how Merkley described “the billionaire Koch brothers,” who want to give “more tax breaks to millionaires and reward companies that ship jobs overseas.”

What about Mark Udall in Colorado, another Democrat who lost in a purple state that Obama carried? Udall built his campaign narrative around a war on women by his opponent Rep. Corey Gardner. He, like Braley, ticked off a list of progressive issues – from minimum wage to pay equity to protecting Social Security – without providing any framing story to link them together. He left out who the villains are in the story.

Udall also committed the ultimate narrative sin: delivering your opponent’s story. Here’s the closing line of a Udall ad: “I’m Mark Udall. No one – not government, not Washington – should have the power to take those rights and freedoms away.” Voters who wanted the anti-government candidate chose the real thing!

Udall would have had a much broader audience for his “war on women” message if he framed it as part of a broader war on American families by the rich and powerful. It is easy to make opposition to pay equity or a woman’s right to make her own decisions part of this broader story, which speaks to Americans’ deep concerns about their families.

One part of the story I didn’t see in the candidate ads was how Democrats should address Luntz’s “blame government” narrative. The answer, as Hart Research pollster Guy Molyneaux explains in The New York Times, quoting almost verbatim from the Progressive Economic Narrative, is that “the important question facing America today is not how big government should be so much as who government should work for: corporations and the wealthy, or all Americans?”

As Molyneaux points out, “That is a debate Democrats can and will win.”

What even progressive Democrats need to do better is tell a story about how to create that economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy. This is a matter of both clear narrative and bold policy.

The core of our economic theory is, as we say in the Progressive Economic Narrative, “working people and the middle class are the engines of the economy.” Another version of this, popularized by the Center for American Progress, is “we build the economy from the middle-out, not trickle-down.”

The story we are telling is that people are the job creators, not businesses. That raising the minimum wage is not just about fairness, but about creating economy-boosting jobs that put money in people’s pockets to spend in their communities. “We all do better when we all do better” is not just a statement of values; it’s the progressive belief about how the economy works.

Our narrative connects to policy with the phrase “we build a strong middle class by decisions we make together.” Democrats need to step up with bold policies, many of which are already out there, waiting to be championed. Here are just three:

1.     A massive public investment to dramatically increase the use of clean energy  – which would at the same time tackle the challenge of climate disruption – with a requirement that all the jobs created pay wages that can support a family.

2.     A $15/hr minimum wage that grows with productivity, so that workers get their fare share of the wealth they create. 

3.     A robust system of public financing that would allow candidates to win office without taking big campaign contributions from anyone, addressing the public’s belief that the rich call the shots.

One thing Democrats had better not say is “Oh, what’s the narrative? What do we say about the economy?” Progressives have a powerful narrative and bold solutions to create an America and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. Candidates who run on this have won and will win. And an America that runs on these policies will do to what too many Americans no longer believe is possible: provide a better life for our children. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

2014 election results map courtesy of Politico.

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Expand Registration Efforts on Campus to Increase Youth Turnout

Nov 10, 2014Megan Ernst

A little-known provision of the Higher Education Act which creates a federal obligation for colleges to help with voter registration could be a key for youth turnout efforts.

A little-known provision of the Higher Education Act which creates a federal obligation for colleges to help with voter registration could be a key for youth turnout efforts.

After a disappointing election night, it’s time to start thinking about the effects of the collective decision our country has made. Despite the importance of Tuesday’s election for determining the direction of policy for the next two years and setting the tone for the 2016 presidential campaign, youth turnout was low – as it almost always is. Youth aged 18 to 29 made up only 13 percent of this year’s voting electorate, even though we represent nearly double that percentage of the population. Additionally, approximately half of 18-year-olds aren’t registered to vote.

Understanding and increasing youth turnout has been the topic of many policy papers and op-eds. The problem is twofold – we must register young voters in higher numbers, and then increase the number who show up to vote. Here’s the difference: often, it’s adults pushing registration and get out the vote efforts on newly eligible voters. What if, instead, we took the initiative to encourage our peers, create policy, and hold institutions accountable in order to get more youth engaged, registered, and voting?

Colleges have a federal obligation to “make the voter registration forms widely available to your students and distribute the forms individually to your degree or certificate program students who are physically in attendance at your institution.” If every “covered institution” made the broadest effort under this provision of the Higher Education Act, they would make sure every student at that university or community college was provided a voter registration form and the necessary instructions to complete it. Universities could also make registration change forms readily available to students who registered to vote in their parents’ district, but would prefer to vote in their school’s district. This would minimize the burden of voting on students as they could fulfill their voting responsibilities locally.

Here’s the first thing students can do: If students think their institution falls under this requirement, they should make sure it is fulfilling its obligation to its student body. If not, they should talk to administrators to try to find out what more the college or university can do.

In the state of Georgia, individuals are eligible to register to vote six months before they turn 18. Given the age range of most entering college freshmen, schools could provide voter registration forms at college and university orientation, as well as a time and place to complete the form and return it for mailing. This is such a simple policy change at the university level that could have significant impact. If students can prove to colleges that they are required to do this, and that they can fulfill this obligation in one fell swoop at orientation, why wouldn’t they?

Even if colleges have responsibilities to their students regarding registration, these institutions don’t necessarily provide unique opportunities to increase voting. Countless student organizations, nonprofits, and campaigns run get out the vote efforts on campuses, but universities themselves aren’t doing anything to increase turnout. Colleges could take responsibility for providing absentee ballot request forms in the same manner that they provide registration forms.

Some states provide special voting provisions for college students. Pennsylvania offers emergency absentee ballots for voters who could not apply for an absentee ballot by the regular deadline. One of the qualifications for receiving an emergency ballot is status as a college student. These ballot requests must be placed by the Friday before Election Day. States could help students (and other voters) apply for absentee ballots online, minimizing the burden on young voters to participate in this process.

Another chance to speak up: Students should talk to their colleges about what opportunities exist on their campuses to make voting easier. Students can help administrators devise or improve plans to offer absentee ballot request forms for students and could also develop policy proposals to take to their state government that argue for broader options in applying for absentee ballots.

Not all youth are in college, though, and a majority of engagement efforts targeting this demographic focus on college campuses. Even though there is significant room for improvement in those initiatives, we must also look at broader policy that could reach every eligible youth. The state of California opened online voter registration for one month before this year’s election. Though it was only open for a short time, the results are “striking.” Online registration appeared popular with all voters, but young voters in particular utilized this new method of registration. Thirty percent of online registrants were under 25, and this led to an eight percent increase in turnout in that age bracket.

Time for another action step: Roosevelt Institute Campus Network members should write policy proposals to bring online voter registration to their states. California’s success is an important metric to show lawmakers and stakeholders in other states that this form of registration is a viable option.

Colleges have historically been hotbeds of political activity and activism. It’s time to capitalize on the enthusiasm of young students and translate that into votes. Additionally, we should spread the spirit of political engagement on college campuses to youth outside the ivory tower. We need to be inclusive when it comes to youth registration and voting efforts, targeting nonstudent youth through statewide efforts. Expanding registration efforts, which by necessity involves talking to young people about voting, will make a big difference on Election Day 2016.

Megan Ernst, a senior at the University of Georgia studying journalism, political science, and public administration, serves as the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Senior Fellow for Education.

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With This Political Scene, Millennial Turnout Isn't a Surprise

Nov 6, 2014Alan Smith

Millennials aren't engaged in the current model of partisan politics, but true networks of engagement would bring far more young people into the political fold.

Millennials aren't engaged in the current model of partisan politics, but true networks of engagement would bring far more young people into the political fold.

As pundits predicted (Nate Silver really has taken the drama out of election returns) the Republicans swept to a classic 6th year victory, winning senate and gubernatorial majorities on the backs of disillusionment with Obama and low turnout across the board. Also as predicted, young voters’ share of the electorate dropped: from 19 percent in 2012 to 13 percent this year. This pretty much mirrors the turnout in the last two midterm elections, and we can safely call this a trend in Millennial political engagement.

I'm not going to spend time trying to debunk the notion of Millennials as lazy or disengaged. I don't buy those narratives, either anecdotally or statistically, but what's important today is that we've seen the confirmation of a very dangerous trend: this moment of low turnout is perfectly in line with an all-time low in people's faith in our institutions of government.  If what we want from voting is for people to engage more with the rules that govern their lives, we need to make the process of engaging much more meaningful that what currently passes as voting.

I can't blame us, either. The connection between voting and positive change has never been so tenuous. The elimination of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has opened the door for disenfranchisement movements around the country, and there will be more felons prevented from voting in Georgia then the entire Alaskan electorate (who, by the way, still got to pick a senator). Money, as the Daily Show observed, pretty roundly trumped ideas in this election. Even worse, zooming further out reveals a federal government that seems pathologically incapable of doing anything at all. Why should we care that the senate swung red, or a congressional seat remained blue? We have passionate debates about global warming, about immigration, and about how to fix a healthcare system and an economy that both leave out large numbers of Americans, but when we get to the ballot box those debates seem very removed. How do you know if your vote is a vote for a carbon cap-and-trade program, or against gun control? You don't, and you can't, because the systems that govern our democracy are simply not that responsive.

While I've heard plenty of arguments that yes, this is how representative democracy is supposed to work, it seems to me that we risk a generation of voters systemically having their worst fears and cynicism (and thus disengagement) re-enforced by real results.

It's a real problem. So what? 

My title at the Roosevelt Institute is “Associate Director of Networked Initiatives.” I often end up trying to explain to people what, exactly, that means. Sometimes I'm not sure myself. But if we know that traditional institutions - from Beltway politics to social structures - are crumbling, then how can we take that knowledge and make something positive from it?  So the challenge of my position at Roosevelt is to figure out how organizations that already exist, and those that are starting every day, can work independently while being a part of a network.

In this, there is a vision for how we think about political parties. Not as top down institutions, but as networks of people who support and push each other toward social change, and then are moved to vote as a part of the process they are already engaged in.  

We know that Millennials are civically minded from extensive polling. We are interested in starting our own organizations, and are passionate about many issues. This is not, simply put, a generation that has checked out on change. We're running divestment campaigns, we're starting non-profits, and we're throwing ourselves into the breach as teachers. But with so much re-inventing of the wheel, the Millennial generation's activism is not reaching the scale that we need.

For our Federal government to work at all, we need people to buy in as voters. We need people to show up, to use voting as a starting point, and to assist on projects for the greater good. What if, instead of looking for people to joining the organizations that already exist to build to federal levels of power, we were looking instead for an affiliation of organizations? We are, at this point in our technological history, capable of communications structures and consensus building that is far more complex and more nuanced than it has ever been. And we're also at a point where simply repeating the same tired political process is not just not working, it's actively driving people away.

I am not suggesting creating a loose coalition of organizations, where people sign off on national legislation, or add their votes to other people's petitions. Roosevelt is a network in the sense of communicating between different nodes: active sharing of ideas and information and resources, as well as shared problem solving, to go along with the combined sense of purpose, and shared values. Imagine with me, a party that recruited organizations that already existed, without trying to change their mission. Education organizations, environmental groups, crowdfunding platforms, and better business bureaus with a shared set of values, sharing their work and collaborating with each other. Imagine a network, in the truest sense, that takes what is the same about local problems and elevates the core issues to a national platform, while giving each local group the agency to tackle things the way they need to be tackled. Instead of making voting the core part of how we engage as active citizens, let's make it an end product for engaged people who realize that they've reached the logical end of what they can do locally, and thus need to pass some power up the chain to a Federal government that is ready and waiting. 

There was a glimmer of this process in last night, with organizations that were able to move important issues like minimum wage hikes in Nebraska and South Dakota and soda taxes in Berkeley. A network of organizations that supports local groups, finds candidates that share similar values, and passes on best practices? That sounds like a network that Millennials are already engaged in.

Today, America is angry at Millennials for not voting. Instead, I would suggest that we should be angry at an American government that has passed on actual democratic principles in exchange for the consolidation of power. I think Millennials are smart enough to see this, and that we're building different civic infrastructures, some of which will eventually grow to scale. 

Could political parties be one of these things? Maybe. But they would need to embrace the grassroots, and stop worrying so much if that means getting some grass stains on their message. 

Alan Smith is the Roosevelt Institute's Associate Director of Networked Initiatives.

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