Our Views: New focus on Main Street

My argument is what we are facing today is not just a cyclical downturn in our economy,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, recently declared. “We are facing a restructuring of the very nature of our economy. Many of the jobs that were the cornerstone of the 20th century either don’t exist anymore, because they’ve been automated or outsourced, or their wages simply no longer have kept pace with the cost of living. How can we get to the point where we’re creating more middle-income and higher-income jobs, and how do we help people acquire the skills they need?”

The GOP senator was quoted in The New York Times about the growing concern in the party for a Main Street policy instead of a Wall Street orientation — one of the political flashpoints in an increasingly contentious debate about how the White House was lost in 2008 and 2012.

For Rubio, the idea of apprenticeships — there are promising programs in Miami in construction and high-skill mechanics — is one thing that the party might embrace on a wider scale. But the wide array of new thinking about economic policy is just one manifestation of ferment on the political right.

Ironically, one of the shrewd political analysts of the 2012 debacle was Rep. Eric Cantor, of Virginia, who this year became the only House majority leader defeated in a party primary. Cantor was one of the promoters of the reform ideas in the party, but he was attacked by his primary opponent for his “Wall Street Rolodex.”

A group of reformist young Republicans dubbed the YG Network has published a set of essays on potential reform policies for the GOP. That is, like Rubio’s remarks, a sign that new thinking is percolating in the party. Yet the political season dominates the news.

Too often, the political rhetoric of the “tea party” movement is considered the root of the political clashes in the party, in Cantor’s race and in the brutal Mississippi Senate primary that we have watched up close in May and June.

In fact, in the duel between the insurgents and the “establishment,” there have been wins and losses on both sides, and the issues have sometimes been local rather than national.

Still, that easy political shorthand may obscure a middle-class squeeze around the country, including Louisiana, that the Democrats as well as the Republicans ought to ponder. They might be interested in specific policies like job training in schools or apprenticeships, but the parties would do well to focus on the Main Street voters who find the monthly bills a challenge and job insecurity part of everyday life. Those realities should be a point of discussion in Louisiana this year, as voters decide a U.S. Senate race and two House races.