Ralph Nader: Democrats Need to Ditch Corporate Consultants and Listen to the Public

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the minority leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, just had her political consultants send out a mass mailing to women asking for money and responses to an enclosed survey of their opinions.


The mass mailing duly recites the truly horrible House Republican votes against a variety of women's health, safety and family protections and seeks to survey women's priorities for the congressional Democrats' legislative agenda. Under the category "Employment," there is no mention of restoring the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which Rep. Pelosi supports. The closest option to check was "inadequate/or no salary increase."

The Pelosi mailing, uninspiring and defensive, is another product of the party's political consultants who have failed them again and again in winnable House and Senate races against the worst Republican Party record in history. These consultants, as former Clinton special assistant Bill Curry notes, make more money from their corporate clients than from political retainers. Slick, arrogant and ever-reassuring, these firms are riddled with conflicts of interests and could just as well be Trojan horses.

The full restoration of the federal minimum wage to make up for the ravages of inflation since 1968 would take it from the present, stagnant $7.25 per hour and beyond the proposed $10.10 to $10.90 per hour. Over 30 million American workers—two-thirds of them women and two-thirds of them employed by large low-wage companies like Walmart and McDonald's—would benefit from this wage restoration, and in turn would be able to strengthen the economy by increasing their consumer expenditures. There are a lot of votes out there if the Democrats go beyond lip service and push for a major media and grassroots campaign against the Congressional Republicans who are blocking a vote on this minimum wage bill.

Three of four Americans favor a restored minimum wage. Some cities and states have already taken their state minimum wage toward $9 per hour. They're feeling pressure from distressed workers, from growing street demonstrations and from holding their fingers to the political winds. This is an issue whose time has come. A few months ago, even Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and other out-of-office Republicans who are not raising money from their corporate paymasters, declared their support for increasing the minimum wage.

Bill Curry flatly says the Democrats can retain control of the Senate and take back the House by making raising the federal minimum wage a top 2014 campaign issue. The many human interest stories about the plight of underpaid workers are compelling and would motivate more voters to turn out.

After being too inactive in 2010 and 2012, the labor movement has touted a restored minimum wage, lobbied at some state legislatures for a raise, and organized demonstrations of workers, backed by SEIU, in front of fast food and other big box chains. AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka has been at demonstrations and has put out materials demanding that Congress act on H.R.1010 to take the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

However, organized labor can do more with multimillion-dollar organizing drives and ad buys (as they did in 1996). More demonstrations in more congressional districts and more pressure on nervous Republican incumbents to sign the pending Discharge Petition to force Republican House Speaker John Boehner to let the House members vote on the bill could make a difference on this important fight.

Boehner is on the wrong side of this politically popular issue, but up to now he hasn't thought the Democrats can turn this into enough votes to discharge his speakership after November. At the very least, the AFL-CIO unions should prepare a big mass media buy soon, since there are less than 100 days to the elections.

The key discharge petition in the House, to bring the modest $10.10 over three years to a vote, is assumed to have all 199 Democrats signed on. Only 19 Republicans need to sign it to get to the decisive 218 tally. Six Republican incumbents pushed for the last minimum wage raise in 2006 saying that "nobody working full-time should have to live in poverty." These six went on to vote for the raise in 2007.

The trouble is that since the discharge petition was filed by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) in February, there has been little publicity for it by either the Democratic House Leadership or the White House (see timeforaraise.org).

And what of President Obama, who is reportedly desperate to win back the House? On April 30, he held an event with some minimum wage workers and criticized Republicans. On June 12, he announced the details of the executive order to raise wages for federal contract workers. But he is not barnstorming on this big proposal that resonates with so many people in their hard-pressed daily lives. He does, however, barnstorm around the country to attend exclusive high contributors' fundraisers. How can he not understand that, with his bully pulpit and hard-working Americans by his side around the country, he could raise real political heat under the Republicans whose refusal to bend on this issue could result in their breaking? The mass media, after all, covers the news-making president everywhere.

I've often said that the Democratic Party cannot even defend the country against the demonstrably cruel, anti-worker, anti-consumer, pro-big business/Wall Street-over-Main Street Republican Party. The voting evidence in Congress is fully accessible. The Democrats compiled, but did not adequately deploy a report on some 60 outrageous Republican Party House votes during the last Congress that, if really driven home to voters, would have resulted in a landslide Democratic win against the GOP. Instead, the Democrats allowed the GOP to cover its truly vicious tracks with flowery rhetoric that kept their day of reckoning from seeing sunlight.

My message to Democrats is: Dump your corporate consultants. Just campaign for the necessities of the people. And publicize those Republican votes crisply, widely and repeatedly.

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