Thoughts on last night from former VA 5th Representative Tom Perriello:
Friends-- Some extended reflections on the Election and the New Middle Class Populism.
This election was either going to be the final chapter of the old election playbook, or the first to reflect an American landscape transformed not just by new demographics but by the “new normal” when it comes to the economy.
In my three months of travelling 15,000 miles across ten battleground states and every corner of my home state of Virginia, I was constantly reminded that Americans think everyone deserves a fair shot. Whether talking about the economy, the voting process, or treatment of women and minorities, Americans react strongly against those who try to rig the system. The old ideological debates about the size of government lacked the urgency or depth of people’s deep desire to talk about how to rebuild the American dream of social mobility and economic security, how to be a more perfect union that celebrates our differences, and how to make sure that our elections reflect the will of all people rather than the agenda of the powerful.
Last night we witnessed the emergence of a powerful new middle class populism, propelled by an unlikely coalition of manufacturers in the Midwest, women, Latinos, and young people aspiring to economic security. The views that I heard on my travels converge into a consensus starkly different than the one inside the beltway.
The America I saw believes outsourcing is a serious problem, and thinks economic security for the middle class and re-inventing American competitiveness are more urgent causes than fiscal austerity. These voters rejected the conservative argument that government is irrelevant to job creation, despite heavy spending on the You Built That meme.
This new coalition respects success but believes the richest Americans should play by the same rules and pay at least the same tax rate as the middle class. This coalition believes Medicare, Social Security and that the safety net are important components of the American community and saw the 47% critique, long a staple of conservative talking points, as offensive.
This new American consensus across these states is not the halfway point between the two parties but a different agenda anchored in a new normal of economic insecurity and seemingly rigged economic and political systems. The Democrats seem to recognize this shift and would be wise not to abandon it now that the election has ended.
My second lesson from last night was that our political leaders shouldn’t be afraid to deliver results. In the Midwest and Rocky Mountains, the auto-recovery defined this election. Women and Latinos recognized advances in women’s health and pay equity, over 1 million DREAMers brought out of the shadows, and a Supreme Court that more closely reflects America. LGBT advocates showed up for a President whose leadership helped to turn a 0 for 32 record on marriage equality initiatives into a 4 for 4 night. And perhaps most notably, young people written off as fair-weather voters turned out massively after being engaged on student loan reform and access to health care. Give Americans a concrete reason to care, to believe things could get better, and they will rally.
I note this not to litigate past success but to suggest the hopeful observation that voters are smarter than the operatives and pundits (other than Nate Silver) think. Leaders in both parties would be wise to see that the cynical politics of obstruction and othering has a glass ceiling in American politics that is descending quickly. As we head into conversations about the fiscal cliff, immigration, education reform and hopefully climate change, I believe there are political rewards for doing the right thing, even in an era of extreme gerrymandering and 9-figure donations.
Four years ago, we elected a great man as President. Last night, we voted for a great idea – demanding a fair shot for every American. It was the political culmination of a vision that began on the streets of Ohio and Wisconsin, found its voice in a speech in Osawatomie and remains deeply rooted in the American promise of an economy that works for all of us, and a democracy that reflects all Americans, not just those who can buy the largest megaphone. That is our strength, and it was reaffirmed last night by those who stood in long lines to demand that America move forward together.