There are little points of light and heat detectable among social democratic movements at the moment. Chuck Schumer from the U.S. Democratic Party starts out some messaging today by setting it out in good old social contractarian terms:
There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.
But things have changed.
Today’s working Americans and the young are justified in having greater doubts about the future than any generation since the Depression. Americans believe they’re getting a raw deal from both the economic and political systems in our country. And they are right. The wealthiest special interests can spend an unlimited, undisclosed amount of money to influence elections and protect their special deals in Washington. As a result, our system favors short-term gains for shareholders instead of long-term benefits for workers.”
A complete breakdown of anything resembling a social contract. This is pretty much identical to the New Zealand Labour messaging:
The Kiwi dream depends on New Zealanders owning our own future. But the government is asset stripping the country. Homes bought by speculators. Land sold offshore. Public assets being stripped. They’re selling us out with their backroom deals, like SkyCity and the Saudi sheep deal.
We’re losing control of our future. We’re being treated like we don’t matter any more. People are telling us Bill English’s National Government is arrogant, and it’s out of touch.”
Is this approach enough to rescue social democrat movements worldwide? Oliver Hartwich the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Initiative, doesn’t think so. He doesn’t think there’s any room left for them, because despite the left introducing Clinton, Lange, Hawke and Schroder, who introduced comprehensive market reforms, “the Left’s grassroots have not made peace with such market oriented and yet often highly successful reforms.”
Hartwich is clear about what works and what does not.
Large-scale subsidies, for example, are firmly in the dustbin of history – and rightly so. High tariff walls have met the same fate. There is a broad consensus that tax systems work best when they have broad bases and low rates.”
So he recommends that Labour’s Jacinda Ardern occupy “the radical centre” and simply do what leftie politicians do and just talk about it to shape the debate.
Chuck Schumer is seeking to precisely shift the debate, but it’s not to the “radical centre” centre of U.S. politics:
(F)or far too long, government has gone along, tilting the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy and powerful while putting new burdens on the backs of hard-working Americans.
Democrats have too often hesitated from taking on those misguided policies directly and unflinchingly — so much so that many Americans don’t know what we stand for. Not after today. Democrats will show the country that we’re the party on the side of working people — and that we stand for three simple things.
I have this sneaking feeling we would have heard this kind of language if Joe Biden had been the candidate for President, not Hillary Clinton. So how do the Democrats propose to do that?
First, we’re going to increase people’s pay. Second, we’re going to reduce their everyday expenses. And third, we’re going to provide workers with the tools they need for the 21st-century economy.
This is not exactly the fire-breathing rhetoric of Huey Long. Hell, it’s not even getting to where LBJ was. But it is about the pay of workers. And their costs of living. With detailed policies to come, apparently.
Very slowly, the Democrats are beginning to learn the lessons of the Trump victory and to rebuild and clarify their messaging (they had to learn some time right?). I hope that they get as good as Trump at messaging on the campaign trails towards Senate majority, at least. Having said that, the Democrats got pretty close to the White House last time, without disgracing themselves by mirroring the Trump vileness.
New Zealand Labour are in a similar position to lots of Labour and social democrat parties worldwide. They are so low that they have nowhere to go but up. They will all find different ways out of it. They will all take a while to get there. They all start from different countries, different contexts of what is possible.
But what we do know, is that New Zealand Labour will not be occupying a “radical centre”. Jacinda Ardern shows all signs that she is part of a revival of the entire social democrat movement across many countries. And when you go through them, New Zealand Labour policies seek to do exactly that, and they express them in summary here:
Labour’s backed Kiwis for 100 years. When Kiwis need work, we create jobs. When Kiwis need homes, we build them. When Kiwis look for security, we help them save. When Kiwis take a stand, we stand with them. We revived the Treaty together. We went nuclear free together. We have a history to be proud of, and a vision for the future.
We’ll build thousands of affordable homes and crack down on foreign speculators.
We’ll back our businesses to build a stronger economy that delivers decent work and higher wages.
We’ll invest in our regions, so there are jobs and opportunities.
We’ll care for the environment so we can all enjoy it, now and in the future.
We’ll fix the health system by turning National’s years of underfunding around.
We’ll rebuild world-class schools that help every Kiwi kid dream big and succeed.”
That’s a long, long way from any radical centre.
It’s something different.
You’re watching the great rebuild.