Elect More Women

This piece is part of the Prospect's series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here.

The right wing has been stunningly successful in creating a new normal. The idea of labor unions and the role they play in providing middle--class wages and a middle-class lifestyle, the idea of defined pensions and benefits—these are, according to the new normal, all so 20th--century and no longer appropriate. 

This new normal has reduced the parameters of reasonable expectation even within our own base. There’s a lack of confidence on the left about promoting or even defending the strategies and structures that brought us a strong middle class. We aren’t nearly as self-confident as we need to be in saying the ideas of unions and collective bargaining are not outdated, no more than Social Security and Medicare are.  

We have to educate people on the role of organized labor. The labor movement needs to be seen as consistent with 21st-century realities, with rebuilding a decent economy. Upper-middle-class Democrats can be pro-choice and strong environmentalists but may also believe that unions are outdated. Yet if we don’t figure out how to get middle-class wages for people, no movement for any progressive cause will be sufficient in itself or endure. We have to demonstrate that all these issues are connected.

These fights may come together more for women. One reason for the partisan gender gap is that women are offended by the shredding of the safety net. They see that as evidence that we’re not taking care of one another. A way to deal with our political problems is to elect more women—not just to promote items on the progressive agenda but because women operate differently. The Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics has found that women work more openly, more collaboratively, than men. They’re more inclined to work together than claim authorship—whether that’s due to socialization or genetics or whatever. Women have to be better listeners. 

We can’t acquiesce to this war on workers. I saw the Republicans embrace the Tea Party, but did you see the Democratic Party embrace what went on in Wisconsin in the battle to save collective--bargaining rights? There largely was lip service. We should have an infrastructure that’s prepared to take advantage of those situations—an infrastructure that can wage an unstinting campaign for labor-law reform or to make Social Security more sustainable. We have to break the shackles of this new normal. 

Other pieces in this series:


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