(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Can a progressive Democrat win the presidency in 2020?”)
WASHINGTON — In 2016 a billionaire, who shows open contempt for people who are not rich, managed to win the votes of the white working-class — often workers without college degrees — by a margin of close to 30 percentage points.
Undoubtedly racism and sexism played a role in this huge victory, but it also mattered that many workers felt that Hillary Clinton sided with the rich and powerful against ordinary workers.
There was some basis for this view. She was associated with trade deals in Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably NAFTA and China’s admission to the WTO, that cost the country millions of manufacturing jobs.
The explosion of the trade deficit in the last decade cost the country 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs and devastated communities in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. All four of these states flipped from Obama to Trump.
Clinton also was associated with the deregulation of the financial industry. This made many of her political allies very rich, but the excesses of the industry helped to inflate the housing bubble, the collapse of which gave us the Great Recession.
For a Democrat to win in 2020, they will have to retake some of the white working-class votes lost to Trump in 2016. This means pushing an agenda that promises real benefits to workers. The outlines of this agenda are already well-known and being pushed by several announced or likely candidates.
At the top of the list is health care. Polls show this is a top concern for voters. While the Affordable Care Act extended coverage to tens of millions of people, many are still not insured. Furthermore, premiums and co-pays often place an enormous burden on those with insurance.
Most of the Democrats considered leading contenders have proposed measures to extend coverage.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the way with his push for Medicare for All, although he knows this is not likely to be accomplished in a single step.
To get closer, he has proposed lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55 or 60 and allowing people of all ages to buy into the program.
Sanders, along with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has also pushed a variety of bills that would lower prescription drug costs.
Drugs are the most rapidly rising component of health care costs.
Other areas that will need to be addressed include the cost of college and child care. There have been a variety of proposals put forward by Democrats to make public colleges either free — or at least affordable, to the poor and middle-class. The same is true of plans to make daycare affordable for low and moderate-income families.
The United States also needs to catch up with the rest of the world in providing paid leave for sickness, childbirth and family concerns, and vacation time. Here also, there have been a variety of proposals that would move us forward in these areas.
The United States needs to take stronger measures to slow global warming. Proposals for a “Green New Deal” would create jobs in retrofitting homes and businesses as well in developing solar and wind power and other clean sources of energy.
This a partial list of areas where the Democratic candidates will have to propose progressive solutions, but a big part of the story will be convincing working-class voters both white and non-white that they are on their side and not working for — the rich and powerful.
Several prospective candidates, including both Sanders and Warren, as well as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, are well-positioned to make this case.
All three can point to decades of standing up for ordinary workers. Perhaps other candidates will pass this test as well. But, if Democrats fail to take a clear stand against the rich and powerful in 2020 they will likely achieve the same result as in 2016.
Dean Baker is a co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Ave, NW, # 400, Washington, DC 20009.