"There's something happening here/what it is ain't exactly clear ..."
When Steve Stills wrote the dystopian anthem "For What It's Worth" in 1966, it resonated with listeners who understood that great if half-hidden transformations were underway. There's been a turn toward the dystopian in recent economic and social trends as well: Wall Street greed and criminality. The growing power of wealth over the political process. The rise of the Tea Party. The collapsing middle class. Growing inequalities of wealth. Lost social mobility.
But there were encouraging signs in 1966, as well as troubling ones, and that's equally true today. Take the movement for a minimum wage. Voters in the state of New Jersey and the city of Tacoma, Washington voted to increase the minimum wage in last week's election. These victories follow a series of polls which confirm that the general public holds strongly progressive views on issues which range from taxation to Medicare and Social Security.
Something is happening here.
Consider this: News outlets across the country declared Gov. Chris Christie the "landslide" winner in his re-election campaign. Christie was immediately touted as "the new face of the Republican Party" and a leading 2016 presidential contender. Journalists and commentators took his victory as a sign that "moderate" (i.e., pro-corporate) policies are popular (even though Christie's actual policy positions are neither moderate nor popular, according to the polls).
Yet in the same election, New Jersey voters approved a measure to raise New Jersey's minimum wage. Christie won with 60 percent of the vote to his opponent's 39 percent. The minimum wage measure passed by a virtually identical margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. So why was one victory called a game-changing "landslide" and the other treated as merely a footnote in the election coverage?
That's a rhetorical question, needless to say. Christie's victory was touted because it seemed to reinforce the dominant (and false) narrative of a "centrist" country whose voters are friendly to corporate-leaning policies from both parties.
But the minimum wage votes strongly suggest that this narrative is a hoax. Tacoma residents voted to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour, a figure which is the subject of a growing workers' campaign which originated in the fast food industry.
The Minimum-Wage Wave
Voters have been subjected to decades of right-wing propaganda -- propaganda which told them that economic growth is built on the backs of entrepreneurial "job creators" who function best with a minimum of regulation, restriction, and oversight. These erroneous ideas now completely dominate the Republican Party (it wasn't always so), and to a large extent the Democratic Party as well.
And yet, even without high-visibility advocates or political parties speaking for it, voters intuitively understand the importance of a decent minimum wage. A Gallup poll released only yesterday showed that more than three-quarters of American voters would vote for raising the minimum wage to nine dollars an hour, 75 cents more than the new New Jersey rate.
They understand that a healthy economy needs a robust middle-class which is capable of earning a decent income. They intuitively grasp the "facts on the ground" in the wage crisis we're currently experiencing -- that the real minimum wage has fallen drastically, and that this in turn has led to weakened wages and fewer job opportunities for all middle-class workers.
Democrats who want to capture the votes of working people would be better off riding this wave than fielding candidates who drop their "g's" and try to talk in a homespun way while at the same time pushing pro-corporate policies.
According to the pollin' folks, middle-class voters would go for that a whole lot more.