Dems also face murky future

Republicans tend to receive more attention than Democrats on the topic of their future. But perhaps it might be instructive to examine what the Democratic Party faces in President Barack Obama’s second term. While the GOP is constantly scrutinized, it is important that the Democrats are also held under the political microscope.

Obama can point to some achievements. The Affordable Health Care Act is at the head of the list. But other Democratic priorities – generally those that strive toward economic issues or what some on the left would call social justice – have been unaddressed. Unemployment remains stubbornly high and incomes stagnate. With the 60-vote threshold in the Senate and a Republican House of Representatives the forces of austerity are very much in control.

But Democrats may be getting restless with the second administration that has lip-synced the party philosophy without supplying a genuine voice. Parts of the party have been allowed to stagnate – notably organized labor. Labor membership is a pathetic 7 percent of the work force. For almost 50 years, the Democrats have neglected an important part of their coalition while cozying up to investment bankers and capital exporters.

What the party faithful have gotten is a steady diet of social issues. While gay marriage, civil rights and women’s rights are important, they are not the only factors keeping Democrats viable. Immigration helps to keep some voting for the party but it will not sustain it in really bad times. The same goes for all the other constituent groups.

Obama has not made a major economic speech for some time, preferring to emphasize gun safety and assorted social issues. Those workers seeking some relief can easily be tempted by Republicans, who preach supply side. Employment is better even if it comes with wage stagnation as its price.

Since the 1960s, Democrats have been as addicted to consumer spending as the prime vehicle of economic growth as any Republican. The 1964 tax cut spurred tremendous growth, but it did it at the expense of investment in planning and long-term consideration. Certainly Ronald Reagan’s tax cut of 1981 did the same thing. Essentially there has not been a dime’s worth of difference between either party on the economy. Stimulus either directly or by the Federal Reserve is consumer pump primary and not a good guarantee of long-term growth.

However, there is a crucial difference. Republicans do not necessarily depend on wage earners’ votes, Democrats do. As Mitt Romney says, the “47 percent” are not disposed to Republicans. But as Reagan proved in 1980, if they get desperate, workers might try any path that works.

For Obama and the Democrats, keeping them home is their great challenge.