Democrats must focus on kitchen-table issues to win the White House

Democrats must focus on kitchen-table issues to win the White House
© Stefani Reynolds

The Democratic presidential candidate who connects with American workers on kitchen-table economics will win the nomination and win the general election in 2020.

The political campaigns of 2020 will end at the ballot box, but they must start at the kitchen table. That is where elections are won and lost, where we meet the real issues of concern to Americans struggling to join the middle class. And the central issue today is economic anxiety in an era of plenty for the top 1 percent of America.

Candidates must present solutions to our economic problems that are concise, stated in clear language, and appeal to the aspirations of most working-class Americans who want to achieve the American Dream. This is true whether you were born in this country or have sought out our nation in pursuit of a better life for yourself and your family.

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Our political turf should be focused on a strip of land sacred to most Americans: from the doorstep to the kitchen table. That is where we win hearts and minds, and win elections. This is where people live. Reality is in your house, not the state house or the White House, and it’s kitchen-table issues like health care, income inequality, job creation and neighborhood safety.

As such, when candidates for president speak about highbrow policies, that’s fine — but it is more important for them to talk about issues in a way that real people experience them.

The dominant issue for most Americans is the economy and how to make ends meet. Striving to achieve the economic security of the middle class — to see your kids do better than yourself — is the central motivator that binds us across race, religion and origin. 

Our economic wellbeing starts with staying healthy. Medicare for All is a noble aspiration, but people are losing their health care now; we need to first fix the system we have. The Affordable Care Act was a decent start, but much more must be done. Let’s champion basic fixes like the guarantee to keep your health care, the guarantee not to be discriminated against due to a pre-existing condition, a guarantee that no one will go broke or be forced to choose between health and rent, and a guarantee not to impose a 40 percent excise tax on health benefits.

Next, and related, is income inequality. With all due respect to our friends and allies, we should want our people to aspire to join the middle class — and it will take a lot more than $15 an hour. It takes education, fair worksite rules, public transportation, and a national embrace of the union movement, if we truly are to address the anxiety that a majority of Americans have about who wins and who loses in today’s economy.

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Nothing screams inequality and generates economic anger quite like the pay gap between the economic elite and the rest of us. We know from our own experience, organizing our workers at Disney World in Florida, that it is just plain wrong and immoral when the CEO of Disney made $66 million in 2018 and we have to threaten a strike so our workers can make $15 an hour. If Disney heir Abigail Disney finds this CEO pay disturbing, imagine how you feel if you are a worker.

One job should be enough for any American to earn a living. And when the economic elites point to the soaring economy and low unemployment, they choose to overlook the pressure on family budgets from the rising cost of health care deductibles and premiums, high rent or mortgage payments, and pathetic wage increases for most American workers.

Finally, let’s stop with the cheap demonizing of immigrants. It is beneath the dignity of our nation to think we can solve real issues of immigration by dehumanizing people who are here and contributing to our economy and our communities, even serving in our military without legal status. Immigrants are a central part of our nation’s history and of our country today and we should not look away, look down upon, or otherwise pretend that immigrants don’t make enormous contributions to our economy through hard work and commitment to their family and community.

As a country that helped win two world wars and put a man on the moon, we ought to be able to find some straightforward solutions to bring people out of the shadows, get them legal, and lift up their lives and the lives of every America worker.

Our advice for Democratic candidates: Focus on what makes America work – its people. Start at the kitchen table and take it from there. The current president and his party have demonstrated whose side they are on. Now we must define what it is we are fighting for.

Democrats aspiring to the presidency need to fully understand the deep economic anxiety faced by most Americans. Talking over them just won’t work. They have to do better.

Donald “D” Taylor (@DTaylorUH) is president of the UNITE HERE union (@unitehere), created in 2004 with the merger of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers (UNITE) and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) union. Elected in 2012, he previously served as the union’s staff director, secretary-treasurer and general vice president, and led its largest local, in Las Vegas. UNITE HERE was the first union to endorse candidate Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAssange hit with 17 new charges, including Espionage Act violations Progressive commentator says Obama was delusional thinking he could work with Republicans Obama makes surprise visit to Washington Nationals youth baseball program MORE in the 2008 presidential election.