Perhaps every political party has to spend some time becoming a parody of itself in order to learn a lesson. Republicans certainly learned a lesson from 2012’s theme of “the 47 Percent,” a message that probably played a large part in ending GOP hopes for a single-term Barack Obama presidency. Democrats may soon have a similar reckoning.
The RNC responded with a lengthy mea culpa this past week for its neglect of voters in inner cities who tend to be more diverse and in many instances poorer--the latter thanks in no small part to near-total control of those areas by the Democratic Party.
RNC chair Reince Priebus announced a $10 million commitment to work on outreach to those communities – and not just in the final months of an election. He told the media, “We have become a party that parachutes into communities four months before an election.” Priebus says the project will make Republicans part of the community and will help them compete with the “authenticity” Democrats have established over decades. The permanent outreach effort will allow Republicans to offer specific and genuine policy alternatives to the failing leadership in the urban centers, and build support for the GOP at the grassroots level, at least eventually.
This issue of authenticity was raised both during and after the election by former Congressman J. C. Watts. At one time considering a run for Priebus’ job, Watts slammed the Republican Party in December for its “ad hoc” approach to outreach, calling it “a joke.”
“These old, tired, pathetic models of saying, ‘Okay, in the black [community], when there’s a presidential election, we will form an African-American Coalition for [Mitt] Romney or [Sen. John] McCain,’ I’ll never do that again,” Watts told Politico. “It’s window dressing to say, ‘African Americans for Romney’ or ‘African-American Coalition’ or ‘African-American Advisory Council.’ That’s insulting to the people that they ask to do it when you don’t put permanent infrastructure in place to give it credibility.” Priebus finally agrees, and perhaps will be taking more advice from Watts in the rollout of this project.
In the meantime, though, Democrats have embraced an old stereotype of their party--what Ronald Reagan called “tax-and-spend liberals--and practically declared it an ideal. This time, however, voters are not letting it pass without notice.
Ironically, the Democrats’ problems began with their biggest legislative victory in years. In January, Barack Obama and Harry Reid forced John Boehner to blink on higher tax rates for the wealthy after a status quo election, but also with large tax hikes across the board ready to hit, absent Congressional action. Instead of taking their own advice to balance the tax hikes with some budget cuts – real budget cuts, not just war-saving claims that were based on a budgeting assumption that the wars would continue indefinitely – Obama and Reid immediately began clamoring for even more “revenue.”
They steadfastly refused to countenance any real budget cuts, instead hyping the small 2.3 percent reduction of the sequester as a catastrophe for a federal government whose spending level jumped more than 35 percent since 2007. Spinning tales of doomsdays and disasters – including specious claims of teachers getting canned and airports getting clogged – Obama insisted that he had done enough budget cutting, and that Republicans only wanted to protect the rich.
When the world failed to come to an end, Obama reaped the harvest of his hyperbole. His approval rating has dropped sharply in every major national poll over the last six weeks. In CNN’s latest poll, Obama’s approval rating went from 55/43 to 47/50 since the end of January, a 15-point shift in the gap. Republicans have pulled into a virtual tie with Obama for trust on economic issues. He gets an abysmal 31/67 approval rating on federal spending, and 56 percent blame him for not doing enough to work with Republicans in Congress. His overall approval rating among independent voters has now dropped to 41/53.
But we don’t need CNN’s poll to demonstrate that Obama and the Democrats are chasing off the middle with their all-tax-hike-all-the-time strategy. David Brooks, the moderate New York Times columnist, issued an alarm on Tuesday over the “progressive shift” in Democratic policies. He looks at the House Democratic budget proposal, and notices that they want another tax hike – and a big one. Instead of pushing the top rate just to 39.6 percent, as they managed to do in January, Democrats now want a top rate of 49 percent.
“There’d be new taxes on investment, inheritance, corporate income, financial transactions, banking activity and on and on,” Brooks explains. “Today, especially after the recent tax increases, the total tax burden is already at historic highs. … In fact, the entire Democratic governing vision, from President Obama on down, is based on the notion that we can have a growing welfare state and pay for it by taxing the top 2 percent.”
Brooks isn’t the only commentator in the center making this point. After years of pushing the notion that Republicans are protecting the wealthy from taxes, the ultra-liberal Bill Maher finally decided to check on who actually “pays the freight” in the US. Surprise! It’s him:
"You know what?” Maher told his audience. “Rich people … actually do pay the freight in this country. I just saw these statistics. I mean, something like 70 percent. And here in California, I just want to say liberals — you could actually lose me. It's outrageous what we're paying — over 50 percent. I'm willing to pay my share, but yeah, it's ridiculous."
Republicans have finally done some long-overdue soul searching on their failure to expand their support and build on their message. That took losses in three out of the last four national elections, counting the midterms. Maybe Democrats need to lose a few elections before they really get the hint -- and if all they can do is talk tax hikes, those losses will come sooner rather than later.