BATH — The Democratic Party has much to celebrate with recent elections and polling data. Doug Jones’ upset Senate victory in Alabama on Tuesday came on the heels of a string of legislative and gubernatorial wins for the party last month in states including New Jersey and Virginia. Democrats are preferred to Republicans in a generic congressional ballot by anywhere from 6 to 15 points, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average. Only 13.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. In 2006, Democrats retook control of the House with 31 seats when their generic lead was 11.5 percent.

Traditional Republicans are fleeing their seats: Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are the most visible departures, but key House Republicans are quitting, too. President Trump is also not growing his base. He has hit an historic low in popularity: 57.8 percent of the population disapprove of his performance after just 10 months in office.

But Democrats are suffering from a lack of enthusiasm. Small donations are down. There is a general sense of burnout and frustration with the traditional party. The Democratic Party needs to tap into the wellspring of energy that is represented by independent groups such as Indivisible and Resist.

The party lacks a clear message. “A better deal” – the current mantra of congressional Democrats – does not work. Democrats need to speak more clearly to people’s values and needs and the country’s problems. But it cannot be just a debate over policy and programs: Democrats have ceded the debate over values to the Republicans, who have won again and again by turning politics into culture wars.

Democrats have been portrayed by Republicans as the party of the dole, free handouts and welfare cheats. Democrats have often failed to counter this image by not articulating Democratic values in a way that can win support among independents and Republicans. Motivating those groups to vote Democratic is key if Democrats are going to win back some of the states lost in the last presidential election.

One way to do so is by calling for people to accept more personal responsibility for their lives, by speaking to a version of Yankee self-reliance that is given a boost by public policies such as health and child care that allow people to go to work. Single mothers working in Maine need affordable child care and transportation to jobs. But with benefits comes responsibility. Democrats are not always good at telling that people they need to shoulder some of the burden if they want the state to help them.

Democrats should also talk about corporate responsibility. It is sinful that the ratio of CEO to worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950. CEOs now make 204 times the pay of their average worker. No one is worth that much. Corporations need to increase their worker salaries and decrease CEO benefits.

The Republican tax package goes to the heart of this debate by claiming that if corporations get tax breaks, they will pass revenue increases on to their workers with higher wages. But corporations already have record profits without increasing wages or giving benefits to their shareholders. We are at full employment, and wages are not increasing. Something is rotten in the market.

Corporations should also be called to be more responsible to the communities they work in. Corporations play states and towns off against themselves in order to get lower taxes, but what do they do for their communities in return? We know it is not higher salaries. “Ask not what we can do for you but what you can do for us” seems the be the mantra of the modern American corporation.

Why is it that Republicans ask people to sacrifice and to do more with less, but they don’t ask corporations to do the same? Their tax proposals further reward the wealthy and penalize the poor and middle class. Republicans have made clear their values. Now it is up to Democrats to clarify theirs.

 

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