President Obama can still lead Democrats to a landslide victory in 2012 by understanding the sources of the third great realignment in more than a century, which should have been realized after his election in 2008.
The first Gilded Age took place in the late 1800s, leading to Theodore Roosevelt. The second Gilded Age took place in the 1920s, leading to Franklin Roosevelt. The third Gilded Age remains today, which is why the Democratic victory in 2008 was aborted in 2010.
There is a great populist reformist majority in America. The realignment of the electorate has already occurred but remains untapped by politicians and ignored by media. The issues that drive this populist majority create powerful opportunities for House Democrats, as well as all state and national Democrats in 2012.
Americans want jobs, not attacks on collective bargaining. Americans want pay equity for women, not aggressive attacks on programs that benefit women, who offer a realigning power for Democrats. Americans want lower insurance premiums and, yes, the populist majority wants the public option, lower drug prices and prohibitions against insurance price-fixing.
Americans do not want Medicare destroyed by ideological crusaders a majority of voters believe are threatening and extremist.
The populist majority supports the kind of consumer protection offered by Elizabeth Warren, and does not want to be cheated on credit cards, home loans and mortgage programs for veteran heroes. The realigning constituency of consumers is gigantic because it crosses party and regional lines.
The populist majority wants immigration reform but not attacks from the right suggesting racism against Latinos, or partisan attacks from Republicans that undermine Latino voting rights or fair representation in Congress.
The populist majority wants strong support for American small businesses and venture capitalists who finance job-creating American growth companies, not windfall tax breaks for the super-wealthy or tax avoidance by job-exporting conglomerates.
If global firms want a tax holiday to repatriate a trillion dollars of foreign profits, let’s require them first to increase their American jobs, which would trigger their repatriation tax break.
The populist majority strongly opposes the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited secret spending by special interests trying to buy our democracy.
Populists should run against the Citizens United decision, run against nonpublic speeches by Supreme Court justices to conservative political groups, run against special financial relations between any justice and any large ideological donor, and run against allowing real Americans to be drowned out by “corporate persons” with foreign interests, foreign investors, foreign workers and alliances with foreign governments.
The populist realigning majority wants American jobs for American workers, and American elections for American voters.
Great populist majorities want police who are admired, firefighters who are respected, teachers who are valued, librarians who are supported. They do not want them fired by Republicans who promote tax cuts for multi-millionaires, windfall profits for insurers and gigantic benefits for oil companies and oil speculators who make us pay more at the pump.
These issues touch almost every segment of the American electorate. They all have majority support. They form the basis of the populist realignment that already exists, which can sweep Democrats to victory.
These issues work for Democrats and against Republicans. Consult leading sites such as realclearpolitics.com and consider the collapsing popularity of Republican governors from Wisconsin to Florida, from Ohio to New Jersey.
American politics today is in the third great Gilded Age realignment moment. These Gilded Age epochs were almost identical. Ostentatious wealth, enormous greed, adulation of moguls, extremes of speculation, economic injustice, vast corruption and media spectacles reminiscent of the fall of Rome, followed by financial panics, market crashes, massive unemployment and anti-incumbent backlash leading to new progressive populist eras.
The third Gilded Age continues today. The realignment is ready and waiting for Democrats to seize it.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at [email protected].