Memo: A Summer To Do List for Democrats - Defeat COVID, Defend Democracy, Keeping Creating Jobs

While there is much on the plate of the new majorities, Democrats should consider making it clear they have three priorities for the summer – defeating COVID, defending our democracy and keep creating jobs.  By firmly establishing what we are fighting for and getting done now, Democrats will potentially be able to take on even more in the fall and winter, including tackling climate change, investing in infrastructure, long overdue reforms of our immigration system and other elements of the President’s economic proposals essential to the country’s future.  Let’s take each of the three summer priorities in turn: 

Defeat COVID– While we have made a great deal of progress here at home, COVID will not be defeated here in the US until it is defeated everywhere.   Democrats must continue to lead the effort to end COVID in America, while also launching a massive very American effort to end throughout the world.   

Creating a successful global mobilization against COVID has many benefits for the US beyond protecting our people (and allowing the economy to come back to life) and the obvious humanitarian imperative – it can help reinvigorate the global liberal order; strengthen American alliances throughout the world;  renew American soft power; and prevent societal and economic erosion in the developing world that will both set countries back for decades and can in some cases lead to destabilizing, extremist politics.  

For me, the moment Biden faces now is more akin to 1945-1946 than 1932-1933, or 1964-1965.  The world is suffering a collective trauma, and we must defeat the enemy and then do what Biden is so committed to doing – build back better, here, and throughout the world.  The opportunity for American global leadership here is immense, and should be seized by the heirs of FDR and Truman.   

Defend Democracy– Joe Biden has repeatedly said that we are now in a renewed and very American struggle of democracy versus autocracy throughout the world, and that America must demonstrate that “democracy still works.” And while the President will begin to further define his vision for what this means for American foreign policy in his European trip this week, the urgent front in this new battle is here in America, as a radicalized GOP/MAGA has launched an all-out assault on the world’s oldest and most important democracy, our own. 

Democrats must cobble together our various initiatives – HR 1, Jan 6thCommission, John Lewis Voting Rights Act, stopping the Republican sabotage in the states, redistricting, reforming the filibuster – and turn them into a clear agenda that we start talking to the American people about.  We simply must learn how to talk about what has happened to the GOP, and make sure all Americans understand both how dangerous Republicans have become, and what we are doing to prevent them from doing permanent harm to the country.  This is a hard conversation to have; this is not a fight Democrats thought they would be having now.  But it is a fight we must take on with extraordinary intensity, and we simply cannot lose.  It has to become seen as something as important to us as these other big priorities – defeating COVID, creating jobs, tackling climate, creating more equity in America - It is that important, and perhaps needs to be seen as foundational to all our other priorities.   

Like previous generations of Democrats, who signed up to defend democracy when called, we must now understand that this battle could be a long one, taking many forms over many years here and throughout the world.  But we’ve fought these battles before as a Party, and have prevailed. We must now do it again.  

Keep Creating Jobs – The economy has roared back this year because of Joe Biden’s ambitious and timely American Rescue Plan.  It provided the strategy and funds to defeat COVID, something that simply wasn’t a priority for Republicans; and it made critical investments in our economy and people which have led to very strong job and wage growth this year.  Democrats must make clear to voters that the recovery they are feeling is because of what we did, that not a single Republican supported the plan. 

While Democratic economic proposals have been broadly popular, the job of making sure that people understand the recovery has happened because of what we’ve done is not finished.  A recent Harvard CAPS/Harris poll found that only 46% of Americans give Joe Biden credit for the current economy recovery.  In a recent Navigator Research poll when asked who was better at rebuilding the economy, voters said 45% Biden, 44% the GOP.  These numbers suggest Democrats have work to do to get the credit they deserve for the economic recovery the country clearly understands is underway.  It also suggests that Republicans retain a great deal of credibility on economic issues despite their intransigence and long history of poor economic stewardship when in the White House.    

Democrats should learn from the Obama Presidency – we were never able to get adequate credit for economic policies which created a long-sustained period of economic growth, pulled the country from the Great Recession, raised incomes and wages, and reduced the deficit.  It would be politically reckless right now to move on to other parts of the Biden agenda before this basic link is firmly established in the public’s mind – the recovery that is happening is because of Democrats and the American Rescue Plan. A summer dedicated to telling that story above all other economic stories would be the smart thing to do now. These recent ads from Majority Forward are an excellent example of what the entire party can and should be doing this summer.   

And while we are telling the story of the success of the American Rescue Plan, we can establish that yes creating lots of jobs after GOP mismanagement of the economy is what Democrats have been doing for decades now.  Bill Clinton did it after the Bush recession of 1992.  Barack Obama did it after the second Bush’s Great Recession of 2008-2009.  Joe Biden is doing it now after the Trump recession of 2020.  During this era, the post-Cold War era, Democrats have excelled at creating jobs. Clinton and Obama created 34m jobs. Joe Biden has created 2.2m in just 4 months.  All three of these GOP Presidents created just 1.9m jobs over all three of their Presidencies.  Democrats have an incredible opportunity to help voters understand just how effective Democrats have been when in the White House these past 30 plus years, and just how much Republicans have struggled to do their part to keep the country moving forward – and why electing them again in 2022 would be so risky.   

As a veteran of the Democratic battles after our last two Presidential victories, I can tell you that power can be fleeting.  Despite our repeated electoral success, we’ve only held the White House and the House at the same time – something required to control the agenda in Washington – for 4 of the past 40 years.  Both Clinton and Obama came to Washington with bigger Electoral College/popular vote margins and Congressional majorities than Biden, and both still lost the House. This time, given what has happened to the GOP, losing the House simply isn’t an option in 2022.  And so yes we must be ambitious, and do hard things as a Party, but we must be smart, and first show the American people that we can be trusted with the power they’ve given us.  

If we can convince the American people that we’ve done what we said we would do – defeat COVID, get people back to work – more will become possible for us in the months ahead.  But if go too fast and neglect to provide a clear explanation for what we are trying to achieve, or if we get too far out ahead of the voters, or do things they don’t like, however well intentioned, and lose the House, we will all wake up in November of 2022 without the ability to move any aspect of our agenda, and will have allowed our democracy itself to be put at risk.  Our goal should be four years of controlling the agenda under Biden, not just two – so much more would be possible then, and it would be as many years of controlling the agenda as we’ve had over the past 40.  It would be an extraordinary achievement.    

So, let’s focus on defeating COVID, defending democracy and creating more jobs this summer – these are big things, potentially world altering things, things that we must do first in order for other important things to happen next.  And we can never, not for one moment take our eye of the most important political objective of the 2022 cycle – keeping the radicalized Republicans from retaking the House.