Schumer’s post-mortem: Democrats must ‘embrace government’

Greg Nash

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said the Democratic Party must make a better effort to win over the middle class if it is to rebound from the disastrous midterm elections.

Schumer, in a speech at the National Press Club, urged Democrats to embrace their identity of seeing government as a solution for stagnating middle class incomes. He warned that in defeat, the party must avoid recasting itself as a different version of the Republican Party.

{mosads}“Democrats must embrace government. It’s what we believe in; it’s what unites our party; and, most importantly; it’s the only thing that’s going to get the middle class going again,” he said. “If we run away from government, downplay it, or act as if we are embarrassed by its role, people won’t vote for our pale version of the Republican view.”

Schumer’s party lost eight Senate seats and its majority in the midterms, and could lose a ninth seat in next month’s runoff election in Louisiana.

He described the result as a “debacle,” and argued that failures such as the botched rollout of ObamaCare, the “mishandling of the surge in border crossers,” “ineptitude” at the Veterans Affairs Department and the federal government’s initial handling of the Ebola threat undermined public confidence in the federal government.  

“People lost faith in the government’s ability to work and then blamed the incumbent government party, the Democrats, creating a Republican wave,” he said. “Democrats lost in 2014 because the government made mistakes that eroded the electorate’s confidence in its ability to improve the lives of those in the middle class.”

He argued that Democrats can win again in 2016 by presenting a clear and cogent argument that government can improve middle class livelihoods by standing up to large economic forces that have put downward pressure on wages.

“People know in their hearts that when big, powerful, private-sector forces degrade their lifestyle, only government can protect them,” he said. 

Schumer’s speech, the first of three he plans to lay out on his party’s future, is meant to position him as a policy and messaging leader within the Senate Democratic Conference at a time when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has added Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a prominent new voice rivaling Schumer’s, to his leadership team. 

Democratic senators say more would have voted to replace Reid this month had he faced an opponent but Schumer, the most likely person to succeed him, declined to make a challenge.

Schumer has long aspired to become the first Jewish Senate majority leader and has been seen as Reid’s heir apparent.

But the longer he waits in the wings, the more potential challengers such as Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who recently took over as the new chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee.

Schumer was a principal architect of the Senate Democrats’ Fair Shot agenda, which failed to gain traction with voters this year.

On Tuesday, he didn’t back away from it, and argued that Democrats need to attack the same theme with gusto while broadening it out to motivate voters to show up at the polls.

“The best thing we had going for us was the Fair Shot agenda and we need to do more of it,” he told reporters after the speech.

He said proposals to help middle class families should be simple and easily explained but they should also be achievable.

“They have to be more than just messaging bills,” he said.

Schumer described his pro-government vision as one that could unite various wings of the Democratic Party, represented on the left by Warren, the center by Hillary Clinton and the right by West Virginia moderate Sen. Joe Manchin.

A major criticism of Senate Democrats this past year while they controlled the upper chamber was that they put bills on the floor with no chance of passing, intended primarily to give their candidates talking points on the stump. A criticism equally levied against Republicans in the House.

He said the new Democratic agenda should affect a “broad swath of Americans” and “cannot seem like a group of disjointed, specific policies but must fit together to create an effective theme.”

The last point addresses a concern raised by Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and echoed by other Democrats during a nearly four-hour closed-door meeting after the elections.

Cantwell later told The Hill that she was concerned that her colleagues did not spend enough time and effort during private meetings on crafting a focused economic message.

“I want us to … focus on an economic message and implement that. We have to dedicate time to doing that and not just going through the discussion of this bill and that bill,” she told The Hill earlier this month.

Tags Charles Schumer Democrats Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Maria Cantwell
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