Harry Reid is still the Senate Democratic leader, but Chuck Schumer is unquestionably the party's chief message man on Capitol Hill.
So it was a significant moment on Tuesday morning when Schumer, New York's senior senator and a likely heir to Reid, called for Democrats to "embrace government" as they try to hold the White House and recapture control of Congress in 2016. "We must convince the middle class that the only way out of their morass is by embracing a strong and effective government, not demeaning or running from it," Schumer said during a lengthy speech at the National Press Club, which at times sounded like an analysis of political trends over the last 100 years. "We’re a pro-government party," he added in summation. "We have been all along. We can’t run from it."
Schumer argued that after a string of whiplash elections in which voters rejected Democrats and Republicans in succession, the Democratic Party must offer a cohesive vision and policy agenda centered on how government can be used to jumpstart stagnant wage growth and otherwise provide direct benefits to the middle class. The rise of income equality before and after the economic crash of 2008, he posited, has sparked a shift in voter attitudes toward government after the Reagan-era belief that government was the problem, not the solution. The "big tectonic plates" of political ideology, Schumer said, "are moving back in a pro-government direction."
"People know in their hearts that when big powerful private sector forces degrade their lifestyle only government can protect them."
This is not a new analysis for the political left. It has become a common refrain within the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, and it is one that President Obama adopted at times during his reelection campaign. But it is new for Schumer, who has long embodied the Wall Street-friendly Democratic establishment that has shrunk from embracing an activist government since Bill Clinton's famous 1996 declaration that "the era of Big Government is over."