For the last few months the country has seemingly been paralyzed over Russian connections and conspiracies, curbing the public policy aspirations of the Trump administration. But over this period another narrative has arisen—that the Democratic Party has become the Party of “No” (demonstrations, obstruction and resistance) rather than one of ideas or a positive vision for the future. Democrats may be dwelling on Russia because they simply have nothing else to say.
Yet if one considers the official political platform of the Democratic Party just as recent as 2000, let alone other, more left-leaning institutions, the reason why the party might be in a lull for new ideas is likely because almost everything they have stood for has already been achieved:
We cannot expect our children to learn all that they need to know in classrooms that are overcrowded, with teachers that are overburdened, and with textbooks and technology that are out-of-date. We need to invest in our schools and our childrens’ futures.
Today, federal “investment” in education is 10 times higher in real terms than it was in 1965, despite math and reading achievement scores on standardized tests remaining flat. Yet the Republican Party no longer campaigns on abolishing or reducing the size of the Department of Education. Instead, their most recent legislative victory has been to massively expand it. With spending seemingly a non-starter, Republicans have pivoted to championing school choice. Democrats 1, Republicans 0.
We won the battle for increasing the minimum wage. Now we must do more.
In 2007, Congress raised the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour through the Fair Minimum Wage Act. Many states, such as Arizona, Colorado, and Connecticut, as well as numerous localities, such as Seattle and Los Angeles, have recently established even higher minimum rates. The narrative in Washington and the mainstream media has shifted to matters of a living wage, and this past year Hawaii passed a bill to establish a universal basic income in their state. There seems to be little to no push to either reduce or eliminate the minimum wage. Democrats 2, Republicans 0.
We should guarantee access to affordable health care for every child in America. We should expand coverage to working families, including more Medicaid assistance to help with the transition from welfare to work.
The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, greatly expanding Medicaid and requiring insurance companies to offer insurance to those with pre-existing conditions. Despite some major shortcomings of the program, including skyrocketing premiums and deductibles, there’s no longer any real debate among Republicans whether the government should provide subsidies or access to care. Repealing the Affordable Care Act is proving difficult this year, even with a Republican controlled Congress. With few voices pushing for market solutions in health care, the question in Washington increasingly appears to be: how quickly will the country move to universal care? Democrats 3, Republicans 0.
[Make] Social Security safe and secure for more than half a century by using the savings from our current unprecedented prosperity to strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund.
That is to say, resist raising the retirement age, personal accounts or benefit reduction. In effect, Democrats have been successful―Congress has done little on the matter and the default appears to be kick the can down the road. Democrats 4, Republicans 0.
In summary, the lesson is that it’s easy for free-marketers to get distracted from the big picture. The joint sum of these “achievements” can be seen, in part, by the growth of the federal government, which now accounts for 21.3 per cent of GDP, up from 17.6 per cent in 2000. Throw in political victories on hate crime legislation, protections for same-sex individuals, spending on light rail and clean energy, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Democratic Party is taking its time wondering what to do next.
Todd Gabel is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas (Arlington) and senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, a Canadian-based think-tank.