The week began with one Democratic presidential candidate rallying supporters, and the week’s ending with a prospective candidate meeting with Nevada Democrats. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) arrived in Las Vegas earlier today to speak with Culinary Union members, then headline a small-dollar fundraiser for the Nevada State Democratic Party.
We listened in as Brown urged the crowd, “We need to restore dignity so that workers are treated with respect again.” Here’s how Brown intends to make that happen.
“We need to restore dignity so that workers are treated with respect again. […] You reward people who work and people who are trying to get ahead.”
– Senator Sherrod Brown
On Sunday, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) encouraged local supporters to “dream big, fight hard, and win” alongside her and her increasingly detailed policy agenda that includes such long-time progressive goals as “Medicare for All” single-payer health care, a variation of the “Green New Deal” to take on climate change, universal child care, student debt relief, a $15 per hour national minimum wage, and a “wealth tax” of 2% on assets valued over $50 million and 3% on assets over $1 billion to pay for these and other programs. Warren’s already been aiming to get a head start on the “ideas primary” over fellow Senators and candidates like Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), as she’s pinned her presidential hopes on voters opting for “big structural changes” over “little pieces here and there”.
Once upon a time, fellow Senator Sherrod Brown would have been considered another progressive firebrand whose platform includes plenty of “big, structural changes”, especially when it comes to workers’ rights, global trade policy, and broader economic justice. But now, he’s being described by national pundits as “less liberal than the liberals” due to his preferences for “little pieces” of policy change like Medicare buy-in for Americans aged 50-64, Earned Income Tax Credit expansion, and a more modest boost to Wall Street oversight over the more expansive policy plans being advanced by some of his rivals.
At Lovelady Brewing Company in Old Henderson, Brown had an opportunity to speak directly to national media pundits’ speculation and local Democrats’ contemplation over how to win next year’s election and what “winning” this election really means. According to Brown, that involves getting back to basics: “We need to restore dignity so that workers are treated with respect again.” He continued, “You reward people who work and people who are trying to get ahead.”
“I will beat Donald Trump in my state, where they know me best. And I will beat Donald Trump in his state, where they know him best.”
– Sherrod Brown
So how did Sherrod Brown reach his point of potentially embarking upon a presidential campaign? Following an introduction by his spouse, award-winning journalist Connie Schultz, Brown admitted that his own reelection last November, just two years after President Donald Trump carried the Buckeye State by just over 8%, got him thinking, “I will beat Donald Trump in my state, where they know me best. And I will beat Donald Trump in his state, where they know him best.”
Even before last year’s election, the party has already been in a tug-of-war over how to beat Trump in 2020. While Brown seems to be positioning himself as someone who can win back those “Rust Belt” states where Democrats collapsed, he also sought to reassure the attentive crowd at Lovelady that he’s not some “Republican-lite Blue Dog” or “mealy-mouthed moderate” who hesitates to draw a sharper contrast with Trump and his Republican Party.
As Brown described himself and his record, “I’ll be the only Democrat on this stage who voted against the Iraq War. I’ll be the only Democrat on this stage who voted against NAFTA. I’ll be the only Democrat who voted for marriage equality 20 years ago [in voting against the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act”]. I’ll be the only Democrat who’ll have a 20 year lifetime F score from the NRA.”
“You have to do it with blunt language. You have to not let him distract us from our economic agenda.”
– Sherrod Brown, on how to beat Donald Trump in 2020
So why should Democrats, here in Nevada or elsewhere, pick Sherrod Brown over the other Democrats who are already running? As Brown touted his electability, he made the case that he’s uniquely positioned to call out Trump’s broken promises to fix the economic problems plaguing communities like the ones he now represents.
Citing the recent news of General Motors’ plan to close multiple plants in the U.S. and Canada, resulting in cutting 15% of salaried workers, Brown noted, “Trump did better in the Mahoning Valley [in Northeast Ohio] than any Republican since [Ronald] Reagan. I will make the case that Trump betrays workers. He betrays workers with his cabinet, and he betrays workers with his policies.”
However, he then cautioned, “Democrats don’t spend enough time talking to workers, and that means workers of all races.” As he answered a question from the audience on how to beat Trump next year, Brown stated, “You have to do it with blunt language. You have to not let him distract us from our economic agenda.”
“I understand the appeal of ‘Medicare for All’, but I want to help people now.”
– Sherrod Brown
So what exactly entails the economic agenda Sherrod Brown wants Democrats to run? Well, we already noted much of it above. And when asked by someone in the audience why Brown prefers “small pieces” of improvements to the Affordable Care Act to the sweeping “Medicare for All” single-payer legislation that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and a few other prominent Democrats have rallied around, Brown cited practicality, as in the difficulty of getting any major policy bill through what will probably remain a closely divided U.S. Senate in 2021: “I want to help people now. I would pass Medicare at 50. I would pass a public option. I would fix the insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions. I would take action on prescription drug prices.” He then added, “I understand the appeal of ‘Medicare for All’, but I want to help people now.”
When asked whether Brown supports a universal basic income or a guaranteed job to address both the growing inequality crisis and the harsh reality of workers being displaced by technological advancement, Brown pivoted to reiterate his support for an expanded earned income tax credit, talk up a “freeloader tax” on corporations that pay low wages and provide low benefits that force workers onto social safety net programs, and demand international trade agreements that result in higher wages and better working conditions rather than just higher corporate profits.
Before Brown took the stage at Lovelady, I thought of how Brown probably would have been well within the left flank of Democrats running against then President George W. Bush in 2004, back when opposition to the Iraq War and support for some kind of universal health care agenda were considered “controversial”. Yet now, as Democrats hope to accomplish in 2020 what they didn’t in 2004, the party must decide whether they’re better off “going big” on progressive policies that excite more progressive minded voters than either John Kerry’s 2004 bid or Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid did, or by “coming home” in figuring out how to win back the voters who had already begun abandoning the party under Kerry and continued their exodus under Clinton. Brown seemed to be arguing the party can do both by being smarter in picking its policy battles, and he may yet have the next year to prove he’s the one who can actually make it happen.