Democrats tend to leave simple points on the field out of a misguided sense of humility, the term Joe Biden recently used when recounting his experience at the Obama White House. By refusing to ride a “winning lap” and shouting about his achievements, President Biden argued, Barack Obama failed to maximize the political gain from his actions.
Political scientists call this the art of Credit claim: Convince voters that you are the reason something good happened. Biden himself missed an opportunity when he refused to put his name on the 2,000-er, me my $ 1,400 economic aid checks sent out earlier this year like Donald Trump had. Liberals tend to view this type of politics as cheesy, and of course it is. It is also important and necessary.
There is nothing wrong with doing the layup and pursuing the most basic interests of voters. With control of the White House and Congress and the predictable setback to Biden’s planned infrastructure spending ending his honeymoon, Democrats could make an easy game of flattering voters by creating new federal holidays.
Sure, some of the same people who are now loudly complaining that “nobody wants to work” will oppose the idea that Americans work less for some reason. But it’s hard to imagine that the bottom line would be anything but a net political gain. (The lack of surveys on “Do people like vacations?” Suggests that the answer is not complicated.)
The creation of a federal holiday requires a vote in Congress. Presidents can declare holidays unilaterally, but only for a single, non-recurring date (for example, if July 4th falls on a weekend and another date, such as July 3rd, is given temporary holiday status). The worst scenario, politically, for a united Democratic House and Senate proposing new holidays would be to force the Republicans in the Senate to defend, using their various obstructive tricks to prevent passage. If Democrats cannot collectively win a rhetorical “We voted to give you more vacation, they refused”, then politics may be the wrong path for them.
There are obvious candidates for additional holidays – June and Election Day – but it is worth remembering how little most Americans use holidays for their “official” purposes. Is Labor Day really used to solemnly commemorate victories and sacrifices of the labor movement? Or is it just a three day weekend at a point on the calendar when most of us could really use one? Growing up in Illinois, I learned firsthand that taking Casimir S. Pulaski Day off from work or school was comfortable even for the majority of people who neither knew nor cared who Pulaski was.
While the number of public holidays in the United States is less than our peer group, but roughly comparable to our peer group, the lack of paid vacation (or the meager amounts for many who have it) penalizes American workers when it does that’s what leisure is all about. And the message that leisure is good, that quality of life is important, would be effective. With all of the political posing around the joys of work, most of us are thrilled to take a day off when the opportunity presents itself.
To make matters worse, the inequality between employees and employees exists on an hourly basis, as the latter are often not paid on vacation. But the hourly wage on public holidays is often one and a half or better, which gives the holiday-friendly group an argument that people can still benefit economically, if not in additional free time.
The usual suspects like the Chamber of Commerce will whine and rip their clothes over any new federal holiday proposal, and right-wing media will try to turn it into a culture war theme, whether Congress is Juneteenth or National Corn Dog Day (the third Saturday in the March, of course). Let her. The counterpoint – “Wouldn’t it be nice to have another three-day weekend?” – is impressive.
Expanding the holiday calendar is not the nation’s top priority, but that is exactly what it is about. With other, more difficult, non-consensus issues still on the table, and with Republicans constantly inventing issues that belong to their base (“campus cancel culture”), Democrats need to find issues that will enable them to to pose yourself. To argue that Americans work too much and earn a few extra days off has very limited downside.
It’s okay to do some politics. I promise. Democrats should learn to pick the low hanging fruit when it is available.