For the benefit of younger readers, “the economy, stupid” was a maxim posted by campaign guru James Carville in Bill Clinton’s 1992 headquarters to keep that presidential campaign focused.
It’s still relevant, to say the least. And as Democrats across the country brace for the midterm backlash of the economically anxious, it’s time for them to re-up Carville’s wise advice and update their compliance with it.
Consider the closing message of two embattled Michigan Democrats, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Rep. Elissa Slotkin. According to Politico, both women – facing tightening races after a summer of surfing the backlash to the Supreme Court’s gutting of Roe v. Wade – are now explicitly linking abortion rights to the local economy. “I hear from businesses all the time that they are feeling the weight of the ‘she-cession,’ meaning women leaving the workplace,” says Whitmer. “If we want women to come back into the workplace in Michigan, we better not take away their right to be full citizens and make decisions about their own health care.”
Adds Slotkin: “Businesses don’t like backward-looking states. That doesn’t help them attract young people. That doesn’t incentivize kids who go to U of M for four years to stay in the state when they graduate” – a major issue here in Massachusetts as well.
No wonder Gov. Charlie Baker was ready after the court moved on Roe in June with an executive order protecting abortion rights. “There may be a big opportunity for Massachusetts to encourage some employers to either come here or expand their footprint here because we are a state that takes this issue seriously and will be there for their employees when they need those kinds of reproductive services and supports,” he said.
Ditto Maura Healey. “To me, it’s as much an issue of economic empowerment…as an affront to women’s dignity and the economy,” she said.
If out-of-state Democrats are serious about a comeback after their looming midterm wipeout (or, here at home, warding off a future resuscitation of the GOP corpse), this ought to be at the center of their pitch.
It may please a few ideologues when Boston Mayor Michelle Wu waves off concerns about persistent crime at Mass. and Cass by claiming “criminalizing addiction and poverty…. doesn’t work,” but that could prove politically disastrous if the failure to drive out the predators down there instead drives out the few remaining businesses.
With imbecilic opposition to COVID precautions and grandstanding attacks on “woke” corporations, Republicans have given Democrats a golden opportunity to seize the pro-business high ground they used to hold. A 2019 McKinsey study found $350 billion worth of millennial and Gen Z spending power is held by people “seriously concerned with social and environmental causes” who “back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favoring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t.” These voters are also among the most frustrated and threatened by our economic problems.
Thirty years on, Carville’s nostrum has morphed from cliché to political axiom. And progressive Democrats don’t have to compromise their principles to get on top of this wave.
What’s good for business and the economy can be good politics too. And the political leaders who internalize that most wisely will be the ones who survive and prosper – right along with their constituents.
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