Juan Williams: Democrats must fight and win on the economy

Selina Johansson

Here’s a smart move — Democrats start channeling Ronald Reagan’s famous question in the 1980 presidential campaign: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

If Democrats want to win in the 2022 midterm elections, voters need to hear Reagan’s question over and over.

Democrats have a great answer.

Yes, Americans are better off economically today than they were ten months ago when there was a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican in the White House.

The top issue for voters in last week’s race for governor in Virginia was the economy, according to a VoteCast exit survey by the Associated Press and Fox News.

The economy was named the top issue by 35 percent of voters, more than twice the 17 percent who named Covid, or the 15 percent who said education.

And here is the winning economic record the Democrats can talk about right now:

  • According to the October jobs report, released Friday, the national unemployment rate has fallen to 4.6 percent. More than 530,000 new jobs were created.
  • Also on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 all closed at all-time highs.
  • The economy is taking off as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19. In less than a year, Democrats have fully vaccinated 70 percent of adults. And 80 percent of adults are partially vaccinated. The FDA approved vaccines for children 5-11 years old last month, so the number of vaccinated people is about to go up, giving the economy a further boost.

If former President TrumpDonald TrumpFederal judge rejects Trump effort to block Jan. 6 docs Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority Trump endorses Idaho lt. gov. against sitting GOP leader MORE was still in office, he’d brag that this is the greatest U.S. economy in all history.

In fact, Trump constantly bragged about low unemployment numbers as a measure of his success before the pandemic sent unemployment sky high. Now Biden has cut unemployment drastically despite the pandemic.

All these economic accomplishments by Democrats are locked in.

On top of all that, House Democrats passed a major infrastructure bill late Friday, which Biden is expected to sign into law any day now.

If an even bigger measure aimed at expanding the social safety net passes too, Democrats will have more evidence beyond a roaring economy. They will be able to point to better health care, universal pre-kindergarten and subsidies for child care — none of which would have happened without Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.

The Democrats’ current economic record is compelling because they’ve done it alone.

Most Republicans in Congress refused to work on legislation to help the economy grow and lessen income inequality. But they had no trouble working with Trump to drive up the deficit by passing a big tax cut for corporations and the rich.

Now Democrats must start taking credit for the economy.

Terry McAuliffeTerry McAuliffeBiden appeals for Democratic unity at DNC event Sununu announcement hands Democrats lifeline Democrats must evolve their voter communication strategies MORE, the Democratic candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race, saw his advantage in polls fall away when Republicans shifted the debate away from economics.

The GOP got McAuliffe — and enough voters — to fixate on the bogus issue of “Parents’ Rights.” McAuliffe was trapped in ‘culture wars’ quicksand created by right wing groups — outrage at the idea that schools might enforce mask mandates, talk about racial injustice or be open to new pronouns for transgender students.

Democrats can get back on their feet by recalling the message discipline of four winning campaigns by President Clinton and President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden reverses Trump on owl habitats Telling the truth about critical race theory Better growth requires government to spend more money — on itself MORE.

In Clinton’s successful 1992 race, his top strategist, James Carville, famously coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” In 1996, the economic boom carried Clinton to victory.

Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns followed the same road.

Obama refused to be thrown off message by far-right culture war attacks. Those jabs began with claims he was not born in the United States — the ‘Birther’ movement — and were followed by accusations that he was a radical leftist, seemingly based on the fact that he knew a man who was once in the Weather Underground.

Later, there would be suggestions that the Affordable Care Act would sink the economy. Oh, and don’t forget the charge that Democrats backed a War on Christmas.

In the first campaign, Obama focused on ending the 2008 economic crisis. In 2012, he was all about bolstering the U.S. car industry and continuing the steady economic recovery.

But for some reason, today’s Democrats are constantly dragged off message by the GOP’s bellowing about divisive, culture war issues.

Clinton’s former strategist, Carville, has a theory about what befell the Democrats in the most recent elections.

“What went wrong is just stupid wokeness,” Carville told “PBS NewsHour” last week. “I mean, this ‘defund the police’ lunacy, this ‘take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools.’…We’ve got to change this internally in my view.”

Carville’s analysis is correct, but incomplete.

It is important base politics for Democrats to push for racial justice and cultural equality. But be alert — it opens the door for the GOP to appeal to white racial grievance. And the overall electorate cares far more about themselves and kitchen table, economic issues.

That’s why Democrats need to wake up and bang one drum loudly — “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. 

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