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Friday, April 18, 2003  

TNR asks why it appears that the Bush Administration will pay only a small political price if it turns out that there are no WMD in Iraq. TNR argues that the answer is that the war went well.

Might I suggest that this is so because the anti-war folks conceded the point from the beginning? The anti-war argument went, "Sure, Saddam has WMD, but..."

If everyone thought Saddam had WMD, then no one will pay a political price for being wrong about it.
posted by Adam

5:03 PM/  

Adam, I think I misunderstood your previous post. I focused on the Halliburton v. tax cuts as the message, not the tax cuts won't stimulate the economy v. tax cuts for the rich. But, I think we need both messages because they appeal to different groups of people and because both statements accurately reflect Democratic positions. It is true that the current tax plan won't stimulate the economy but it is also problematic because it flattens out the tax curve in ways that do not help ordinary Americans. I would tailor the message to appropriate audiences, if possible. When preaching to the faithful, you might hit both, but when facing a wider audience or a more moderate audience, emphasize that the tax cuts won't stimulate the economy argument. The main problem with making only the "tax cuts won't stimulate the economy" argument is that you have to show why they won't. That leads you right to the dividend tax cut problem, the principal problem of which is that it only helps a very few who cannot possibly spend the additional money such that it generates enough demand to stimulate the economy, a.k.a., "tax cuts for the rich." You end up having to make it anyway.

I agree with you that in the course of an election the goal has got to be to create the greatest base of support. However, it also has to be an attempt to capture the philosophies of most of the voters. Sometimes that means moving the country and not being totally reactive. If we can make the "tax cuts for the rich" argument in terms of why progressive taxation is good and beneficial for everyone rather than in terms of "rich people are bad," then we are making real strides in capturing the personal philosophies of people throughout the country.

Again, I'm for argument that there should be no tax cut, demonstrating why tax cuts now will ensure that taxes have to go up in the future while services go down as a greater portion of the budget goes to debt services, and putting forth a better stimulus plan.
posted by Joshua

4:28 PM/  

More on the problems with populism here.
posted by Adam

3:35 PM/  

Amanda, funny you should ask. I didn't notice until now, but Blogger ate the second part of my post, which could have been titled, Why The Message Should Not be "Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Won't Stimulate the Economy."


I don't mean to suggest the two ideas are mutually exclusive in an economic or logical sense, but I think the "Bush's tax cuts are for the Wealthy" theme is not good politics.
I think this is so even if you assume the worst about Bush's motives, i.e. that he is really just giving more money to his cohort and doesn't care about anyone else. Further, I think this is so even if you assume the best about Bush's motives, i.e. that he really thinks his tax plan will stimulate the economy. Here's why:


Grant me these premises: (1) a good campaign message defines a candidate and distinguishes that candidate from the opposition. Such a distinction creates "the good guy" and "the bad guy." (2) One of the most important strategic decisions a candidate can make is how to drawn those lines of distinction between him/her self and the opposition. (3) The lines of distinction should be simple, clear, and reflective of the overall theme of the campaign. (4) The lines of distinction should be drawn so as to capture as much of the electorate as possible (or at least, a majority of the electorate) on your side of the line, and to isolate as little of the electorate as possible on the other side of the line. If anyone wants to argue these premises, let 'er rip, but otherwise, here's what I'm thinking:

The "Tax cuts for the Wealthy" message may be restated (fairly, I think) as "Democrats are for fiscal policy that helps the economy in general and Republicans are for fiscal policy that helps only the wealthy." It may also be restated as Al Gore's 2000 message: "I'll fight for you." It may be unfairly restated as "class warfare." This message satisfies the first criteria: it draws clear distinctions and defines the candidate. It is a simple distinction in construction, but I do not think it is simple in application. I also do not think this message "captures" a sufficient portion of the electorate.


Who is "the wealthy?" Where do you draw the line? I think that there are real problems here. This message risks alienating anyone who thinks they're rich, anyone who wants to be rich, anyone who works for someone who's rich, etc. Not all of these people are die-hard Republicans. Many of them are independent voters who could be persuaded to vote Democratic. In other words, I don't think this message is one which can capture a winning majority in a national election. (Yes, Gore won a majority in 2000. It wasn't a winning majority).

The "Large Tax Cuts Won't Help the Economy" message doesn't exclude anyone, really, except anti-tax ideologues. It is a message which is equally palatable to business and to all economic classes. It draws a particularly effective distinction between the Democrats and the Republicans in my opinion. It is the same distinction that the Republicans have drawn with their "family values" theme. I mean, is anyone really against familiy values? No, but the Republicans' message is that the Democrats in fact, are against family values. Similarly, the Democrats' economic message paints the Republicans as against something that no one is really against: a healthy economy. They have nowhere to go but to argue the evidence. And, I believe, the evidence is on the Democrats' side: job creation, stock market, etc. Yes, this is risky because the economy could turn around, but I think it is worth the risk.


To sum up, this message draws a distinction, draws it clearly and simply, and captures a majority of the electorate. Rather than making the rich the antagonists, it makes the Republicans the antagonists. I think the decisions on where to draw your distinctions and who to identify as the bad guy are more than rhetoric.


That's what I think is wrong with "Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Won't Stimulate the Economy."
posted by Adam

2:44 PM/  

I've got to go with Amanda on this one. The sweetheart deals angle is a good one for scandal purposes but the crux of our message should be that the tax cuts won't stimulate the economy. I saw Biden on CSPAN last week (yes, I know that I am a huge dork) asking the Senate where his Republican deficit hawks friends are now after harping through the 80's and 90's about the importance of balancing the budget and preventing future generations of Americans from shouldering the crushing debt load we have created and are continuing to create. I think that we should be capitalizing on the fact that 70% of Americans think that taxes are low enough right now to hold the line against all tax cuts (except possibly the marriage penalty) and instead come forward with a new economic stimulus package that doesn't involved tax cuts.
posted by Joshua

1:19 PM/  

Okay, Adam, but what's wrong with Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Won't Stimulate the Economy? I'm not sure that the divide between Old Dem and New Dem approach on this issue really exists anywhere other than on the rhetorical plane. If it does, though, see what's happening in New York City as Exhibit A in the case for government intervention.
posted by Amanda

12:12 PM/  

Tax cuts For the Wealthy vs. Tax Cuts Won't Stimulate the Economy


IMHO, this debate over which of the above Democratic messages would be more effective has been one of the more intereting ones we've had on the blog so far. I think it's interesting because it is a microcosm of the Old Dem/New Dem split. It is Al Gore's populism vs. Bill Clinton's centrism. It has policy and rhetoric implications at very abstract levels. I've been in favor of the latter approach, and Jeremy and others have preferred the former.


If I may call a witness in support of my argument, I call Michael Kinsley, who wrote of the American effort to rebuild Iraq:


[T]his is nation-building Republican-style, with huge contracts awarded in secret to politically connected companies. They now say that the "emergency" oil-field contract to Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney—and, gosh, who would have predicted that Iraq's oil fields might need to be repaired after a war?—is only worth $600 million, not the $7 billion originally reported. I suppose we should be grateful for that.

It's like getting one of those cards announcing that instead of a Christmas present, someone has made a contribution in your name to some charity you aren't interested in. "Dear American Taxpayer: We are pleased to inform you that in gratitude for all the billions you're going to be pouring into Iraq, the U.S. government has made a sweetheart deal on your behalf with a company you've never heard of." Eighty billion dollars—the size of just the first expense report the Bush administration has submitted to Congress—works out to about $1,000 that needs to be kicked in by each household in the United States. Of course we're putting it all on the credit card, to be paid for in the future, with interest. But it's still real money. If we made a contribution that big to our local public broadcasting outlet, we'd qualify for a CD recording by six, nine, or even 12 tenors. From the Bush administration, we don't even get a tote bag. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we share a $10 trillion economy with some smiling companies that are doing well as a result of the war.



Part of the reason I prefer the message that Bush's tax cuts will not stimulate the economy, is that they will not stimulate the economy. The Republican Party has styled itself as the party for economic growth. It has captured the language of growth, boom, wealth. It has been able to portray the Democrats as eternal pessimists who actually root for the economy to do poorly.

Clinton was able to flip the rhetoric our way, and here's why: The Republicans' cronyism often gets in the way of their economic agenda. As Kinsley describes, corporate giveaways and noncompetitive contracts are inefficient in every sense of the term. Although the President's control over the economy is often vastly overstated, why shouldn't the Democrats tie the Republicans' inefficiency to their tax cut? The Bushies have made the ridiculous claim that the average American family would save $1,600 under their tax plan. The Democrats should not let that statement go by without adding that that same family will lose $1,000 of the $1,600 cut because Bush thinks its a good idea for that family to support poor little Halliburton (2001 Annual Revenue: $13 Billion).


The Democrats are the better party on the economy because they believe the role of government is to help the economy work for everyone. We don't believe in underserved contracts, sweetheart deals, or tax cuts which do nothing to help the average family. I mean, Bush won't even let British companies in on the action in Iraq. Let's open up more contracts in Iraq to competitive bidding where competitive bidding will be more efficient. Let's figure out which tax cuts (payroll?) would actually help get the economy moving. Sometimes government intervention is the appropriate way to stimulate the economy. Sometimes it isn't. Clearly, however, sweetheart deals which cost the average family $1,000 ain't gonna help.


Jeremy, your witness.
posted by Adam

11:07 AM/  

Here's a story that combines my two current favorite themes: the tax cut and specious accusations of unpatriotism. At least one conservative tax cut lobbying group has declared war on the Republican legislators (Sen. Voinovich, Sen.Snowe and Rep. Houghton) who refused to support more than $350 billion in tax cuts, comparing them to countries who opposed the war in Iraq and branding them "Franco-Republicans." Hopefully, Daschle and Pelosi have all three on speed dial.
posted by Amanda

10:18 AM/

Thursday, April 17, 2003  

Check out CNN's piece on Nancy Pelosi today--it's worth a read.
posted by Amanda

11:57 AM/

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  

Is it still unpatriotic to criticize the President, or is it okay now that the threat level has been reduced again? Because W's claim that his tax cut propososal will create 1.4 million jobs by the end of 2004 strikes me as way beyond disingenuous. Either he doesn't believe it, in which case he's actually lying, or he does believe it, in which case he is ignoring virtually every mainstream economic analysis of the proposed cuts (see here and here) and is naive in a way that would be frightening in a kindergarten teacher, let alone the President. Either way, it's horrendous and the Democrats should put, somewhere conspicuous, a big chart in the style of United Way fundraising, showing how many of those 1.4 million jobs get created. Of course, there are two American families who are certain to benefit from the cuts... If the Democrats are serious about winning, they have to find ways of keeping W's unrealistic promises front and center.
posted by Amanda

10:57 AM/

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  

Liar Whack-A-Mole or Stupidity Dodgeball?

In the continuing chronicles of how conservative media pundits deliberately mislead their audiences, I offer the following.

On Monday, April 14, Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman from Florida, had a guest on his new MSNBC program "Scarborough Country" talking about a new lawsuit filed by the Rutherford Institute on behalf of American GI's serving in the Middle East and their families. Here's the story: American GI in Kuwait or Iraq (Dad didn't know which one) experiences a rekindling of Christian faith while serving in this war. Mom and Dad wanted to send GI some more material to read in addition to the Bible he already has. So, Dad called local Post Office to ask how to send his son in Kuwait some Christian religious material. (Incidentally, as a practicing Christian, I think this is great and I am in no way criticizing these folks for their faith.) The Post Office informed Dad that Kuwait prohibits anyone from sending liquor, firearms, pornography, or non-Islamic religious material into its country so the Post Office cannot send GI a package of religious material from Mom and Dad.

Here's the good part. Dad files suit through the Rutherford Institute to enjoin the Post Office from enforcing the regulations on mailing this type of material on the basis that the Post Office is discriminating against Christians. Scarborough then says, "All right, well, Jack, you know, the Postal Service rule was put into effect during the first Gulf War, as you know, to satisfy Customs regulations of Middle Eastern countries. And I want to read you what Kuwait prohibits. They prohibit alcohol, firearms, pornography and religious materials. Does it surprise you that the United States Post Office, which we both pay for and so do all other American taxpayers, actually compare the holy Bible with hard liquor and, let’s say, “Hustler” magazine?"

This was the part of the program where I almost head-butted the wall.

I mean, this guy is a former Congressman, for crying out loud. The Post Office isn't comparing the Bible to anything. The Post Office isn't discriminating against anyone. Kuwait is. The ultimate hypocrisy of this story is that the immediately preceding spot on Scarborough Country was an attack on CNN's journalistic integrity for leaving correspondents in Baghdad for the last 12 years knowing that the Iraqi regime was insisting that the journalists sanitize their reporting and that the journalists were in fact reporting something less than what was actually happening. I don't know if the story about CNN is true, but that a former congressman, who clearly knows better, would impugn the journalism of a highly respected news source and then deliberately mislead his audience in the very next spot is the height of hypocrisy. This type of misleading commentary, call it "Liar Whack-A-Mole" or "Stupidity Dodgeball," is exactly what the Republicans and their media sources have been doing regarding the justifications for the war in Iraq and the President's tax cuts over the past year, and it is the type of activity that Democrats must avoid in order to build and maintain the type of credibility needed to implement all the great ideas we have (this means you, too, Garofalo).

If you would like to learn more about the Rutherford Institute's suit against the United States Post Office, here's the link.

And if you want the link to the Scarborough Country episode, here's the link.

posted by Joshua

6:57 PM/  

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Illinois) announced this morning that he would not seek reelection in 2004. (Chicago Tribune coverage here.) Sen. Fitzgerald, who unseated Carol Moseley Braun in 1998, has racked up a fairly impressive record of standing up to the Republican leadership (state and national) on a number of issues, and it's hard not to view his decision as a sign that one more stake has been yanked out of the Republican big tent.
posted by Amanda

3:08 PM/  

Check out E.J. DIonne's op/ed piece from today's Washington Post. He expressed incredibly well (in my humble opinion) the true role of government in people's lives--that government is not the enemy of liberty, but the guarantor of it! Maybe I sound Old Dem about this (i.e. notions of pre-tax property are essentially meaningless because without government to give meaning to property, it's for the taking of the strongest, etc.). It's probably quixotic to imagine that these ideas could have any traction today, but a man can dream, can't he?
posted by Jeremy

1:39 PM/

Monday, April 14, 2003  

Worth noting: Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY) came out with a doozie on the House floor recently.
posted by Amanda

3:23 PM/
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