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December 22, 2006

Dems' Stupid Positioning on Minimum Wage

As a followup to discussing why politicians need to appeal to a broad consensus, it's worth emphasizing that it's easier for them to do this when non-politician leaders and advocates are pushing for even bolder goals-- thereby allowing the politicians to position themsevles as "centrists" and consensus builders.

Which makes Dem leaders' positioning on the minimum wage, at least as detailed in this NY Times story a few days ago, look absolutely stupid. Apparently with the Dem leaders pushing a position of raising the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour, the Economic Policy Institute was pressured to drop a public recommendation for the rate to be raised to $8 per hour:

Trying to push the populist case, the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research center, posted a statement in late November calling for an increase in the minimum to $8 an hour in 2009 instead of the $7.25 proposed by the party leaders. That recommendation was quickly withdrawn, however, under pressure from the leadership. “Our friends on Capitol Hill said our statement would be heard as criticizing the Democrats,” said Ross Eisenbrey, the institute’s policy director.

Let's be clear-- many states have already raised the minimum wage above $7.25 per hour. Back in 1968, adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage had a value of $9.50 per hour. So the Economic Policy Institute was making a pretty basic progressive argument that $7.25 per hour was not adequate.

The Dem leadership should have just said that they recognized the need for greater wage increases for the working poor, but in the name of consensus, they were willing to compromise with the GOP at $7.25 per hour. But slapping down EPI means that the Dems have cut off their left flank and positioned themselves on the left of the debate, not in the middle-- a very stupid move.

In reality, Dems should welcome criticism from progressive organizations, since the stronger grassroots messaging for more ambitious social change, the more "moderate" the Dems can portray themselves as in pushing their more consensus positions. Especially when $7.25 per hour is so clearly a pathetic wage and far below the historic rate, Dems should be happy to have voices arguing that a higher rate is justified to make the inevitable GOP complaints look all the more pathetic and nasty.

So the Dems slapping down EPI is just bad message positioning by the Dem leadership.

Posted by Nathan at December 22, 2006 01:16 PM