Democrats Shouldn’t Focus Only on Abortion in the Midterms. That’s a Mistake
As someone who has a lifetime 100% pro-choice voting record, and is outraged by the supreme court’s horrific decision to overturn Roe v Wade, there is no question but that Democrats must continue to focus on the right of women to control their own bodies. This is a fight that most Americans want us to wage and, given the Republicans’ extremist position on the issue, makes them genuinely vulnerable.
But, as we enter the final weeks of the 2022 midterm elections, I am alarmed to hear the advice that many Democratic candidates are getting from establishment consultants and directors of well-funded Super Pacs that the closing argument of Democrats should focus only on abortion. Cut the 30-second abortion ads and coast to victory.
I disagree. In my view, while the abortion issue must remain on the front burner, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered.
This country has, for decades, faced structural economic crises that have caused the decline of the American middle class. Now is the time for Democrats to take the fight to the reactionary Republican party and expose their anti-worker views on the most important issues facing ordinary Americans. That is both the right thing to do from a policy perspective and good politics.
We have more income and wealth inequality than at any time in the modern history of this country, with three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of our nation. Is there one Republican prepared to raise taxes on billionaires, or do they want to make a bad situation worse by extending Trump’s tax breaks for the rich and repealing the estate tax?
Today, 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and millions work for starvation wages. Is there one Republican in Congress who is prepared to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15 an hour?
The United States pays, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Is there one Republican prepared to allow Medicare to immediately begin negotiating prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and cut the cost of medicine by half?
We have a dysfunctional healthcare system which, despite being the most expensive in the world, allows 85 million Americans to be uninsured or underinsured. Is there one Republican who believes that healthcare is a human right and supports universal coverage?
We remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee time off for moms who have babies or need to take care of sick children.
Is there one Republican who supports at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave?
The list goes on: childcare, housing, home health care, college affordability. On every one of these enormously important issues the Republican party has virtually nothing to say to address the desperate needs of low and moderate income Americans. And what they do propose will most often make a bad situation worse.
Nevertheless, in poll after poll Republicans are more trusted than Democrats to handle the economy – the issue of most importance to people. I believe that if Democrats do not fight back on economic issues and present a strong pro-worker agenda, they could well be in the minority in both the House and the Senate next year.
And it’s not only the long-term structural crises that Democrats must address. It is the outrageous level of corporate greed that we now see every day that is fueling the inflation hurting so many people.
While the price of gas has soared over the last year, the five big oil companies made $59bn in profits during the 2nd quarter of this year alone, and are spending $88bn on stock buybacks and dividends to benefit their wealthy shareholders.
While global food prices soared by over 33% last year and are expected to go up another 23% this year, billionaires in the global food and agri-business industry became $382bn richer during the pandemic.
While we continue to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, 3 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in America – Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AbbVie – increased their profits by 90% last year to $54bn.
While 46% of Americans either skipped or delayed the healthcare they need because they could not afford it, the six largest health insurance companies in America last year made over $60bn in profits.
What do Republicans have to say about corporations that are charging Americans outrageously high prices, while enjoying record breaking profits? They talk a lot about inflation. But what are they going to do about it? Does one of them have the courage to consider a windfall, profits tax? Absolutely not.
You can’t win elections unless you have the support of the working class of this country. But you’re not going to have that support unless you make it clear that you’re prepared to take on powerful special interests – and fight for the millions of Americans who are struggling economically. Whether it is extending the $300 a month child tax credit that expired in December that slashed the child poverty rate by over 40%, or increasing social security benefits, or expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision or making childcare affordable, the Democrats must stand with the working class of this country and expose the Republicans for the phonies that they are.
None of what I am suggesting here is “radical”. It is, in fact, extremely popular. It is what the American people want. If we close this critical midterm campaign with a clear, unified vision to meet the needs of working families, to take on corporate greed, and protect a woman’s right to choose, we will begin to rebuild the trust between Democrats in Washington and the working families of this country.
And we’ll win the election.
[Bernie Sanders is a US senator, and the chair of the Senate budget committee. He represents the state of Vermont.]
In recent polls, American voters ranked “threats to democracy” as the most important issue facing the country. At a time of climate collapse, inflation and a pandemic, this is a remarkable statement on the fragility of America’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
The country is seeing a dizzying number of assaults on democracy, from draconian abortion bans to a record number of book bans. Politicians who spread lies and sought to delegitimize the 2020 election are pursuing offices that will put them in control of the country’s election machinery. Meanwhile, the supreme court is enforcing its own agenda on abortion, guns and environmental protections – often in opposition to public opinion.
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