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NiLP Commentary

"A Better Deal" for Latinos? The Rebranding of the Democratic Party

By Angelo Falcón

The NiLP Report

As the Democratic Party leadership rolled out its ideas in a series of op-eds for its new priorities under the theme of "A Better Deal" ("Un Mejor Trato" in Spanish) it raised the question of their relevance to the Latino community as one of the most loyal constituents of the party. Many in the Latino community feel that, despite this loyalty (or because of it), the Democrats have been taking Latinos for granted and have not done enough to develop and promote Latino leaders in elected office and among its ranks. There are others who feel that in light of the Trump Presidency, there is a need to close ranks behind the Dems and hold such criticism until the party regains power in the future.

After its 2016 election failure, this current attempt to regroup and rethink its platform was expected to be more imaginative than it is. Even the manner in which it was presented, op-eds by Schumer and Pelosi, ignored the discontent with the current party leadership and the need for fresh blood not so tied to the party's current donor class. The image of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic comes to mind.

There is a fear by the party establishment that by moving the party much more to the left that it will negatively affect the electability of its candidates. This concern has resulted in a new party platform that largely mimics the Obama agenda and doesn't move much further beyond it. The use of tax credits to employers to promote job training, an amorphous commitment to a massive infrastructure program that would create jobs, a delayed anti-trust commitment, and other uncreative goals presented by a party leadership that embodies what is perhaps one of the ultimate electoral failures in the nation's history isn't particularly encouragings to most Latinos and progressives.

A better starting point for the party would have been the designation of new and fresher leadership. The current continuing connection to the Clinton neoliberal wing of the party via the party chairmanship of Tom Perez is not encouraging to Latinos who were so tepid in their support of her. No matter what these people say about changing the party's direction, it is hard to believe since they are so drenched in big corporate money.

In their announcement of "A Better Deal," they didn't address the need to redirect party resources to the Latino community and the rest of its base by building stronger local party organizations. By, for example, developing a greater grassroots Latino party network, they would give voice to local concerns that would better inform their organizing and identify more grounded candidates for office.

As a largely poor and working class community, the progressive Latino community agenda would I imagine more or less focus on the following set of priorities:

  • Universal access to health care ("Medicare for all")
  • Universal access to higher education
  • A full employment policy
  • Comprehensive humanitarian immigration reform
  • Affordable housing policies
  • Climate change policies
  • A renewed federal urban policy
  • Increased mass transportation support
  • Campaign finance and ethics reform
  • Increased commitment to civil and voting rights
  • A renewed commitment to women's reproductive rights
  • Debt relief for and the decolonization of Puerto Rico
  • The desegregation and greater support of public schools
  • Fairer trade policies and more significant foreign aid to Latin America
  • Decriminalizing and prevention of low-level addictive drug use
  • Improved policy-community relations
  • Protecting worker rights and strengthening labor organzing

Although incomplete. It is a long list of accumulated aspirations of so many Latinos that I speak to and that one can cull from the numerous polls done of our community, about the direct opposite of Trump policies. Many of these issues, of course, weren't even mentioned as part of "A Better Deal." Those that they included as part of their new agenda appeared in watered-down form and were presented with what can only be described as a tired rhetoric. This is the same way the Democrats lost ground on the gun control issue, and look where we are now on that one.

Of course, the first reaction to such an agenda is that it is unrealistic and way too expensive. But when we look at the Trump priorities, such as greatly increasing military spending, and Republican plans to shift wealth distribution upwards through changes in the tax code and failed attempts so far of dismantling Obamacare, such a progressive agenda does not look that far-fetched. What should be currently occurring within the Latino community is a robust debate on the priorities among these progressive policies and strategies for their promotion and adoption. Whether or not they sound socialistic, the bottom line should be the needs of our community, not some conservative illusion of a return to a non-existence perfect middle-class utopia.

Historically, changes such a Social Security, space travel, Medicare and others also initially looked like pie in the sky proposals and even socialistic. Given the Latino community's realities, these type of pie in the sky ideas should be coming from our leadership, pushing the current political discourse in an increasingly progressive direction. As we see in the present debate over the future of Medicaid, it hasn't resulted in socialized medicine but has become an indispensable health policy that even a Republican majority in both houses of Congress can't seem to derail.

When I first saw the new Democratic Party theme of "A Better Deal," my first reaction was that they needed something more inspiring like "Taking American Back!" But then I thought, America was not that great for Latinos back then, so why would we want to go there?

Latinos could be in a position to darle vuerta a la tortilla to the current political discourse. Maybe the Democrats should instead adopt the Young Lords slogan "¡Pa'lante! ¡Siempre Pa'lante!" Now that would be something to hear coming out of the mouths of Schumer and Pelosi!

Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He can be reached at afalcon@latinopolicy.org.


The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to editor@latinopolicy.org.