Pluralistic: 16 Aug 2022

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A kicking mule in the colors of the Democratic Party logo; it is wearing a Zorro-style mask. It is standing on a background of radiating, multihued stripes.

How Democrats could win more elections (permalink)

My fellow Americans…if I may call you that? I've only been a US citizen for five weeks, but I think I may have identified a key weakness in the Democrats' electioneering strategy, and I wanted to bring it to your attention because it would be great if the forced birth/martial law/mass incarceration party didn't win the next election.

If Democrats want to win more elections, they should try:

  • Enacting popular policies, preferably ones that materially improve the lives of potential voters;

  • Making sure those policies take effect before the next election; and

  • Telling people about them.

As a bonus, they could also publicize when Republicans want to enact policies that:

  • Aren't popular; and

  • Materially worsen the lives of potential voters.

I know, I know. Don't teach granny to suck eggs! High-paid Democratic Party consultants have forgotten more about this stuff that I'll ever learn, etc etc. But you guys, I think I could really be onto something.

Take Social Security. Created in 1935 by FDR, Social Security is one of the most popular government programs in US history – and it's especially popular among old people for some reason, and you know, old people vote a lot!

A Data for Progress polling data chart entitled 'Voters Are Very Concerned About the US Government Cutting Social Security Benefits.

80% of US voters want Social Security expanded. Not 80% of Democrats – 80% of voters, from a June 2022 survey from Data For Progress:

And yet, a July poll found that 70% of voters hadn't heard that the GOP wants to "sunset" Social Security – that is, get rid of it, over the next five years. 71% of Republicans didn't know this – and neither did 76% of independents (who might, you know, vote Democrat if they found out), nor did 64% of Democrats.

This is just me spitballing here, but what if someone like Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or Chuck Schumer were to call a press conference and announce that this was the Republicans' plan? I mean, it's a long shot, but maybe if they were to tell voters what specific, material, important changes the next election could bring about, voters would find that interesting or even motivating.

I know, I know, I'm not an expert here. But when 81% of all likely voters support indexing Social Security to the cost of living, Democrats could actually do that, and also point out that Republicans won't?

A Data For Progress chart entitled 'Voters Strongly Support Imposing Payroll Taxes on the Wealthy to Expand Social Security Benefits.'

And while pay-fors are bullshit (the US Treasury is a currency issuer, not a currency user, and it is not monetarily constrained), if the Dems wanted to do pay-fors to fund Social Security expansion, they could tax the rich. 76% of Americans want higher taxes on people earning $400k or more/year, including 76% of independents and 65% of Republicans.

As Jessica Corbett writes for Common Dreams, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is onto this, and is spreading the word, primarily via CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but the Democratic party leadership is effectively silent on subject:

This despite the fact that there is already proposed legislation to enact this extremely popular policy that would hearten Democrats, please independents, and demonstrate to the majority of Republican voters which party has their interests at heart.

Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust is a bill introduced by Rep John Larson, intended to end the 50 year neglect of Social Security:

And then there's the Social Security Expansion Act, introduced by Bernie Sanders and Rep Peter DeFazio, which increases contributions by the wealthy and expands benefits to match increases in the cost of living:

But the Dem leadership isn't pushing for these bills and they're keeping the GOP's intention to zero out Social Security very quiet. It's hard to say why, but maybe it has to do with the corporate wing of the party's hatred of Social Security, which has found its expression in Biden's nomination of the anti-Social Security ideologue Andrew Biggs to the Social Security Advisory Board:

Biggs has spent his career advocating for Social Security cuts and privatization – two ideas that are both cruel and wildly unpopular, especially among old people, who, as noted, vote a lot. Biggs is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, an organization whose illustrious career includes a key role in denying climate change and promoting the interests of tobacco companies:

Biggs says he no longer favors privatizing Social Security – he's switched to another boondoggle, creating investment accounts for Social Security savers that would let them give their retirement savings to Wall Street to gamble with.

As Matthew Cunningham-Cook writes for The Lever, Biggs's career includes work on GW Bush's plan to privatize Social Security and shift its investments from T-bills to "high-fee, high-risk 'personal accounts.'"

This wasn't a temporary lapse: Biggs has spent his career writing editorials and papers calling for Social Security cuts and privatization, claiming, for example, that Social Security privatization would make seniors "not only richer, but also happier, healthier, more familial, smarter, and more active citizens."

Biggs's career is a Zelig-like tour of catastrophic privatizations and cuts – for example, in 2016, he became part of the unaccountable board that seized control over Puerto Rico, sidelining its elected leaders with the mission to make sure that Puerto Rico kept paying out to Wall Street bondholders, irrespective of the human costs:

Not only are Biggs's ideas terrible – they are also wildly, fantastically unpopular among voters. Voters do not want this. Social Security privatization is the pet project of a minuscule minority of fantastically wealthy dilettantes, and if it comes to pass, the party responsible for them will be deservedly punished in elections.

Now, the Democrats are, in fact, capable of creating policy that is both popular among voters and the sort of thing that will make material improvements to their lives. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act contains modest, but meaningful, controls on pharmaceutical prices.

Here too, however, the Democrats have managed to absolutely snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The drug price controls in the IRA don't take effect until 2026 – that is, long after the next two elections.

Writing in The American Prospect, David Ddayen points out that while negotiating prices takes some time, this is an outrageously, pointlessly, self-defeatingly long timeline. Medicare itself was implemented in a single year:

And at least some parts of the drug price controls could go into effect tomorrow – but are still not going to be implemented until long after the next two elections. The $2000 cap on seniors' annual out-of-pocket drug spending doesn't go into effect until 2025.

Again, I'm just a humble Canadian, newly welcomed into America's bosom, but it seems to me that if you want to win an election, you should do things to make life better for voters before that election rolls around. Implementing the out-of-pocket cap requires "tallying up patient out-of-pocket costs, which are fully transparent, until they hit $2,000, and then stopping them."

What's more, as Dayen points out, delaying the Medicare pharma price negotiations actually makes this bill cost more – every dollar that is negotiated down in pharma pricing is a dollar that can be used to offset the out-of-pocket cap (though again, offsets are bullshit).

The Dems are planning to run on these price caps for the midterms, but, as Dayen says, Dems are going to be claiming to have fixed something that is still broken, as in, "Vote for me – I fixed something for you four years from now!"

Dems gain nothing by this delay. Pharma-backed dark money groups are already blitzing out ads that lie shamelessly about the Medicare improvements in the bill, claiming that Dems have "cut Medicare by $300m" (meaning that Dems have told pharma they're going to cram $300m in savings down their shareholders' throats and use that money to help patients):

I realize that I am not a high-paid Democratic Party consultant here, but I remain convinced that the party could improve its election prospects by doing good things in a timely fashion and then telling voters about them – while also letting voters know about the awful things the Republicans are promising to do.

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Carnegie-Mellon offers course on DRM

#15yrsago AllOfMP3 founder not guilty of copyright infringement

#15yrsago US schools ask 14-year-olds to declare a major

#10yrsago The Coming Civil War Over General Purpose Computers

#5yrsago Fox and other conservative sites hastily scrub posts urging vehicular murder of left-wing protesters

#5yrsago David Byrne: The secret appeal of technology is that it takes away the need to talk to people

#5yrsago Uncanny Japan: a podcast highlighting “all that is weird from old Japan”

#1yrago Housing, money laundry, speculation and precarity

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

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