It's good to see Democrats go on the offensive. Over the years, it has felt like conservatives have consistently been on the attack, and it's all we can do to beat back bad ideas. Organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have helped the right wing push a coordinated agenda, and often progressives find themselves in the position of negotiating to keep bad from getting worse.
With the recent push for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a progressive and important idea is actually driving the debate — promoting the critical principles of pay equity and access to recourse in cases of injustice, and forcing conservatives back on their heels. In a year when the War on Women has been fought on multiple fronts, this campaign to recognize women as full and equal citizens is a refreshing change.
The Act — which sadly has already been shot down by the Tea Party-controlled House — is going to face a tight vote in the Senate. It's been defeated in that chamber when a minority, including all the "moderate" Republicans, prevented 58 votes from carrying the day; with even fewer votes, Democrats are unlikely to prevail this year. But it's purpose — to enable women who typically make 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same jobs as men — is widely popular; not because it's a feminist cause or a workers' cause (though it is both), but because it's just an obvious wrong that our country should make right.
You wouldn't think that equal pay would be controversial, yet that's how far the debate has shifted in this country. If progressives can force all members of the House and Senate to say where they stand on the belief that women and men should be compensated equally for equal work, that could help make clear to the ever-desirable swing voter just what kind of repellant influences have seized the Republican Party.
As much as this is a good campaign issue for Democrats, it's not enough to use overt discrimination for an electoral edge. It would be better to actually improve the situation facing so many working Americans and the families that rely on them.
After Paycheck Fairness gets shot down, progressives shouldn't just point and grimace and campaign; they should put forward another piece of legislation that will help the same constituencies. And if that gets shot down, then put forward another. They should keep coming with bill after bill in DC and in state capitals around the country — an increase in the minimum wage; a strengthening of paid family leave; local measures to support living and prevailing wages; further protections against sexual discrimination in promotion and harassment in the workplace; a renewed call for the Equal Rights Amendment — that will keep conservatives on their heels.
Conservatives don't fight on one front at a time; they hit us from all sides. Progressives fighting for working Americans, equality, and to strengthen the support of our families should do the same. Sooner or later, something will get passed...or a statehouse somewhere (look to Madison) will flip and become the incubator for these good ideas.
Last week's court decision on DOMA showed progressives were pushing, not just reacting, in the courts. Paycheck Fairness is an example of us pushing in the legislature. Now if we can see the Obama Administration pushing — not just in tough-talk about banks and rhetoric about evolving values, but in real actions including executive orders for fairness and equality; departmental measures on environmental and worker protections; and serious investigations and prosecutions of the financial industry — we'll have a full court press shaping the debate, electrifying the election season, and promoting a more progressive America.