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CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: GOP presidential candidates out of touch with the public

PAUL ORTIZ
YorkDispatch

The Republican Party doesn't seem to be interested in winning the 2016 presidential election.

Take my state, Florida, which is putting up two GOP candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush and current Sen. Marco Rubio. Both men are seasoned politicians. Both are also way out of touch with mainstream American opinion.

Consider the hottest economic issue of our time: the minimum wage. Every major poll taken from coast to coast demonstrates that Americans are widely in favor of raising state and federal minimum wage rates. A Hart Research Associates poll in January shows that 75 percent of Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020. This includes a majority of Republicans.

This data represents traditional American beliefs in fairness and a sense that the pendulum has swung too far towards the rich.

But candidates Rubio and Bush have refused to budge in their outmoded positions.

Rubio has said, simply, "I don't think a minimum wage law works."

And Bush stated, "We need to leave it to the private sector." Bush says state minimum wages are "fine," but he's against a federal minimum wage. "The federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education," he explained.

The American public disagrees. More and more people are left behind in our economy, stranded in low-wage, service-sector jobs that pay poverty wages. That's why the campaign to increase minimum wages has caught fire, from New York to Chicago, from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Bush is also out of touch with the basic facts about the minimum wage. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "88 percent of those who would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase are age 20 or older, and 55 percent are women." Workers' wages, adjusted for inflation, have stagnated for decades while their productivity has skyrocketed.

Why don't Rubio and Bush acknowledge reality on this issue? It would be easy to blame the political climate of the Sunshine State. With the partial exception of Bob Graham, Florida has never produced a viable candidate for president of the United States. What gets you elected in Miami or Pensacola does not play in Peoria.

But there is a deeper problem with Rubio and Bush: old-fashioned elitism. The think tanks and journals that furnish GOP candidates with their talking points are more disconnected from the average voter than ever.

For example, the conservative flagship publication National Review recently played pied piper to the GOP presidential hopefuls with its piece, "The Voters Want a Higher Minimum Wage, but the Voters are Wrong." The article rests on a thin evidentiary base that includes "anecdotal" evidence from San Francisco and American Samoa that increasing the minimum wage has caused unemployment. In the case of San Francisco, however, the piece ignored empirical studies that the 2003 voter-approved increase in the city's minimum wage without adversely affecting employment growth.

The old-fashioned American sense of fair play has translated into popular support for increasing the minimum wage. And the people are wiser than the editors of the National Review. This is good news for our nation's economic future but bad news for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

— Paul Ortiz is director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: pmproj@progressive.org.