Opinion | Americans need a populist that will fight for them

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran on his famous New Deal platform that included many economic reforms, public works and many other social programs.

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President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran on his famous New Deal platform that included many economic reforms, public works and many other social programs.

By Ethan Tessler, Staff Columnist

If you have been watching the news or keeping up with politics, then you know last week was the Democratic National Convention.

The main event of the DNC is the coronation of the Democratic presidential nominee and their running mate — in this case, Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. The whole point of these political conventions is to convince undecided voters to vote for their party’s platform.

In this year’s convention, the Democrats geared their platform toward the economically comfortable, older, white moderates — people who are receptive to cultural issues but remain aloof or indifferent to the Obama-era economic policies that helped get President Donald Trump elected president in the first place.

While many people were wowed by Biden’s speaking abilities and Harris’ feistiness, I’m afraid it didn’t do much to sway voters. Using FiveThirtyEight’s average of all major presidential election polls, we see that Biden’s lead the day after the convention was miniscule compared to what he was at before the convention — hovering at about 51% approval the night before the DNC and still at that number afterward.

What the Democrats fail to realize — or maybe they do, but just ignore it — is that the base to go after are the 100 million disaffected voters, the people who constantly get screwed over by the two-party system that controls America. For the most part, these people are struggling economically and have lost faith in the two-party system that mainly benefits the wealthy. Since the ’80s, the American Overton Window — a range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time — has left about a third of America in the dust.

The reason why there are so many disaffected voters is because they don’t have a presidential candidate who will fight for them. They need someone who will use American tax dollars for programs that actually benefit the many and not the few. America needs a populist president.

To clarify, populism is defined as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”

If you’re wondering what a populist running for president looks like, look back at our longest tenured president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He ran on his famous New Deal platform that included many economic reforms, public works and many other social programs. He smartly recognized that the Great Depression necessitated government action. He didn’t bail out big corporations like our government did — he bailed out the American people, following through on his populist principles.

Some people call Trump a populist. While he certainly campaigned like a populist, he didn’t follow through once he was in office. Trump ran on his famous “Make America Great Again” slogan and promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, cut taxes and of course, build a wall. Love him or hate him, he was able to rile up disaffected voters through economic promises that were popular among voters. Trump capitalized on the fact that Hillary Clinton pretended like the Obama years were perfect and didn’t leave millions of workers mostly helpless.

What people don’t seem to realize is that a vast portion of Americans don’t live comfortably. In 2016, it was reported that nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. If one of these Americans got a flat tire, a parking ticket or some other unforeseen cost, they’d be broke or on the verge of bankruptcy.

Mind you, this was in 2016 — I can only imagine what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to millions upon millions of Americans. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour — the same number as it was 11 years ago. Meanwhile, the minimum hourly wage to live in Arkansas — the state with the lowest cost of living — is $14.26, about twice as much an hour as workers currently get paid. The government expects people to somehow make this work in normal times, let alone during a pandemic in which tons of people lost their jobs.

With all of this in mind, it’s clear that the United States is not working for the people like it should. Most Americans pay too much in taxes to not see the government do anything with that money. Things will not fix themselves without the government intervening, and the people know that. That’s why people tune out when they hear Biden aides talking about limited spending options. Frankly, ordinary people don’t care about the deficit. What they do care about is putting food on their table and paying their bills.

Right now, the Biden/Harris ticket doesn’t go far enough for workers and solely bases election hopes on the fact that they’re not Trump. If Biden and Harris were to put overwhelmingly popular policies such as Medicare for All or universal basic income on the Democratic Party platform, more people would be very enthusiastic about them. Promising economic policies such as these would show Americans that the government would help them during this arduous time.

But the Democratic ticket currently isn’t doing much to answer the cries of the masses. It is this dismissal of populism that could ultimately be the party’s downfall during this election cycle. Most people don’t want moderate deficit hawks, they want people who promise to fight for them and make their lives better.

Even though Trump was unlikable for some in 2016, others wanted to roll the dice in the hopes that he would be able to break through the establishment. Unfortunately for them, he became one of Washington’s ultimate insiders. That’s why it’s important for a populace to remain vigilant and attentive — we need policies, not platitudes. Remember, the populace together has all of the power in this country — they choose who comes and goes on Capitol Hill. Hopefully they can come together to elect someone who actually will fight for them.

Ethan Tessler writes mostly about contemporary issues that don’t seem to get enough attention. Write to him at [email protected].

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