Democrats Need to Focus on the 5 Core Promises of the American Dream

The soul-searching has begun for Democrats who now face the prospect of a GOP-controlled White House, both houses of Congress and about two-thirds of the states. For a nation that is increasingly blue in population, we are increasingly red in our politics.

The election speaks to much more than missteps by the Clinton campaign. It's really a failure of the modern Democratic Party to stand for something clear, relevant and straightforward.

For the last 25 years, we have been zig-zagging among issues to embrace a range of legitimate but unaligned agendas: environmentalists, women, labor, the tech sector, free-trade, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, gay rights, gun control, school choice, etc.

What's missing is a unifying philosophy and a governing theory based on a thriving private sector and an active public sector. Republicans believe you can't have the first with the second. Democrats must show how the public sector is needed for the private sector to work for everyone.

We can still take positions on global warming, gun control and immigration reform. We can still fight for marriage equality, criminal justice reforms and student debt relief. We can stand up for a woman's right to choose, more affordable child care, and workers' rights.

These are all valid issues, but we've turned each of them into an applause line instead of a brick in a larger foundation. Our stump speeches have become laundry lists of promises that leave people unclear what we really believe, let alone unconvinced that we can deliver.

These issues can't be what defines us because we can never be all things to all people. Instead, Democrats must be one thing to all people and that one thing boils down to this: Restore the middle-class American Dream of a job, home, education, health care, retirement.

The basic promise at the heart of the American Dream is you can have these five core things if you are willing to work hard. In recent years, however, the promise has eroded. Jobs pay less, health care and education costs more, home values stalled or collapsed in 2006 and have yet to fully recover, and retirement remains increasingly at risk.

This isn't a Monday-morning appeal to Trump's white working-class voters to restore a way of life that's been lost in the new global economy. It's an appeal to working-class voters of every race and background--urban, suburban and rural. It's an appeal to the poor by showing them a way to climb the economic ladder. It's an appeal to young people that they have a viable future. And it's an appeal to seniors to protect them in their old age.

The policies that address these core issues are not complicated, but they do require more spending and more regulation. If we are to address income inequality and promote economic mobility, we need to do all of these things at every level of government--federal, state and local.

There are reasons for Democrats to be hopeful and the most important is this: Republicans will never provide these five things even to people who work hard. They don't believe in a robust public sector to balance the private sector's inclination to consolidate wealth. Instead, they will follow their instincts to cut taxes and shrink government and they will go too far.

When it comes to jobs, Republicans won't push for higher wages. When it comes to housing, they will side with the lenders, not the homeowners. When it comes to health care, they will side with the providers, not the patients.

When it comes to education, they will put local control ahead of equity and they will do nothing to shrink college costs because they don't believe that's government's role. And when it comes to retirement, they will take the same approach they have always had: You're on your own.

So the work of Democrats is crystal clear. Unite behind a coherent governing philosophy focused on realizing the five core promises at the heart of the American Dream: a good job, an affordable home, decent health care, quality education and a dignified, secure retirement.

We must help the diverse members of our coalition understand that many issues can peacefully co-exist under a common umbrella but we can only win elections by making the American Dream a reality for more people. Above all, remember that what unites is far more powerful than what divides us.