I have to admit that I felt a chill of fear run down my spine when I caught the wicked simplicity of an enormous Republican billboard on a heavily-traveled stretch of Wisconsin freeway: “Huge deficits=higher spending+lost jobs.”
Is another right-wing surge about to explode at the polls in November? Could we be facing another 1994-style Republican avalanche that would block any sensible spending programs designed to create jobs and end the recession?
The answer is “Yes” — but only if the Democrats continue to respond to fundamental economic and social crises with halfway measures further watered down by the Wall Street. And “Yes” again — if the Democrats try telling people, as they did in 1994, that “You’re better off than you think you are,” as progressive political operative Steve Cobble astutely summed it up.
The Democrats will need to come up with a far bolder economic strategy than has emerged thus far from the Wall Street-minded economic strategists who have set the tone of the Obama Administration. They will also need a much more appealing political message than, “Things would be worse with the Republicans.”
It’s obvious by now that essentially, Republicans are trying to re-cycle the 1994 anti-spending game plan they used so successfully to unseat long-standing Democratic majorities in both houses. Under the script perfected by pollster Frank Luntz, the Republicans evade the question of exactly which programs should be cut and keep the focus on government spending in general.
It turns out that Republican strategists understand that almost all domestic government programs for education, health, housing, and relief for the poor — as long as they are not specifically labeled and stigmatized as “welfare” — have majority support. (Too bad so many centrist and right-wing Democrats fail to recognize this reality, as repeatedly backed up in numerous polls, as described in detail by progressive author Paul Street and in Noam Chomsky’s Failed States.)
So, for example, on “Meet the Press” Sunday, arch-right-winger Rep. Mike Pence (R‑Indiana) tenaciously resisted every attempt by host David Gregory to specify which programs the Republicans would cut in the wake of their attacks on government spending.
The Republicans, however, overplayed their hand on extended unemployment benefits, insisting that they be offset by reductions in other domestic spending while the extension of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy be exempted from such a requirement. Their fundamental class loyalties were thereby exposed.
But are Democrats read to seize the chance to show where the two parties really stand in terms of fundamental loyalties? That question remains to be answered, but Democrats should feel emboldened by most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll that shows a solid majority in favor of more government spending to stimulate job growth, in line with the longer-term public support cited above toward what Chomsky calls “social-democratic” policies that too many Democrats in Congress won’t touch.
As Joe Conason points out, the new survey reported 60 percent support “additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy,” with fewer than 40 percent opposed. Conason argues that the survey expresses the need for a stronger Democratic stance on job creation:
For Democrats hoping to stem their expected midterm losses in November, that poll contained an important message. Fully 83 percent of Democratic voters and 52 percent of independents said that they support a second round of stimulus spending — while 61 percent of Republicans were opposed.
But Conason very helpfully notes that the lesson is particularly important among white working-class males who have increasingly drifted into the Republican fold:
The Republicans who favor more spending, nearly 40 percent, are most likely to be white working-class males who have lost their jobs or fear losing them. Why are Democrats in Congress and the White House missing the opportunity to motivate their own base, while appealing to independents and disaffected Republican workers?
In case the Democrats keep trying to blot out the potential for public support for job creation and an end to imperial adventures abroad and mass incarceration at home, a national march set for Oct. 2 will make them feel grass-roots pressure from the Left which has been largely lacking thus far in the Obama era.
DEMANDING ‘THE CHANGE THEY VOTED FOR’
In case the Democrats fail to acknowledge the potential for public support, the AFL-CIO will be supporting mobilizing its members for the October 2 march on Washington to demand “jobs, economic security, comprehensive immigration reform, a safe and renewable energy policy and a reversal of national priorities from making wars to meeting human needs.”
NAACP President Ben Jealous, in announcing the October 2 march, explainined that “marchers will demand the change they voted for when Barack Obama was elected,” and emphasizing the urgent need to “create jobs and stop moving money out of education and into wars and prisons.”