When it comes to messaging, Democrats are like a heard of illiterate lemmings, and Republicans are like pack of disciplined wolves. In their campaign to stop the Republicans tax scam, they never settled on a single argument, and the one thing they did say in unison over and over again is likely to backfire on them.
Democrats kept trying to convince folks in the middle class they wouldn’t get a tax cuts, when the reality is, 80% of Americans will get one – albeit many of them will see their cuts erode or disappear entirely after ten years.
But people don’t think that far in advance, and even when they do, research shows that they routinely discount future savings, costs and benefits over current ones. In fact, discounting is an integral part of economic analysis, and the Republicans have made it part of their political calculus.
So come February, the majority of Americans will see less money taken out of their paycheck and the Democrat’s campaign will look alarmist at best, completely false at worst. And because today’s benefits count more than tomorrow’s costs, people are likely to celebrate the cuts, reject the Democrat’s criticisms as partisan carping and reward Republicans in the polls.
The reason Democrats failed to mount an effective fight against the “tax reform” is the same reason they’ve been losing elections for several decades now: to wit, their dependence on campaign contributions from corporations, the rich and the elite has made it impossible for them to truly represent the people.
There are valid criticisms about Republican “tax reform,” some of which some Democrats raised. For instance, it basically provided cover for a grab bag of unpopular Republican initiatives, including drilling in the pristine ANWR preserve; ending subsidies for renewable energy; and gutting the Affordable Care Act; among others.
Not only did Democrats distort the bottom line on the “reform,” but they never settled on a uniform message on why the reforms were a bad idea for most of Americans. Again, there were some Democrats who were quite eloquent and accurate in their criticisms, and one Independent (Sanders, of course). But by and large there was less harmony and accuracy in their message than one might find in Kindergarten Christmas carol.
There are two overarching problems with the “reforms.”
First, they will generate huge deficits which Republicans will use as a pretext for cutting popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Second, the cuts will exacerbate the most serious economic problem we have – the growing disparity in wealth and income between the top 10 percent and the rest of America. And the further up the income and wealth ladder you go, the worse it becomes. The top 1 percent … and the top .1 of 1 percent are walking away with the vast majority of gains.
This issue threatens our democracy; indeed, the Republicans insistence on a tax-cuts-for-the- rich “tax reform” is itself a symptom of this wealth disparity. Our political institutions have been purchased; our press is a subsidiary of corporate America; our democracy has been vanquished.
It also threatens our economy. As I’ve noted before, there is no correlation between tax cuts for the rich and economic growth. In fact, empirical data at both the state and federal level suggests that every time we try a “trickle-down” deregulatory approach, it not only fails to deliver jobs or economic growth, it presages serious recessions. And then of course there’s the question of why Republicans are hell-bent on providing an economic stimulus in the midst of a robust recovery with full employment.
But the real reason behind the Republicans’ tax scam was to eviscerate government. It is the culmination of a four decades long war against the idea that government can be a force for good, with the corollary argument that markets will provide all good things by pure serendipity. It has been the stated purpose of Republicans to shrink government through starvation -- to the point that it can be drowned in a bathtub, in the words of Grover Norquist. The fact that corporations have this much power over both Parties is prima-facie evidence that they’ve succeeded; government has been neutered, if not shrunk.
The Democrats are still trying to oppose this tax scam by telling us what’s wrong with it. Because they, too, have been essentially taken over by corporate interests they have been reluctant to offer the other side of the argument – a strong defense of government’s role in assuring a just, equitable, safe and sustainable society.
Americans would respond to such an argument – the polls overwhelmingly show that people strongly favor progressive policies designed to rein in Wall Street and big banks; reduce or eliminate the influence of money in politics; end subsidies to oil and gas companies; support single payer health care; support a living wage and unions; protect the environment and act to prevent climate change … this list could go on and on.
Democrats are salivating over the prospect of running against the Republican’s tax reform in 2018. They shouldn’t. When Americans get a few more dollars in their paychecks their negative arguments will evaporate, and absent a positive message about the role of government – and the need for it – in a modern society, they’ll be left scratching their heads on November 7th wondering once again why people didn’t show up at the polls to support them, and the unhinged 27 percent of Americans who have been duped or who are simply so angry they’re willing to toss a Molotov cocktail into our nation’s heart, will once again control the election’s outcome.