Friday, September 24, 2010

The Democrats surrender

The Senate is leaving town without taking up the question of extending the Bush tax cuts.
After all the bold talk, it’s a remarkable turnaround — and loss of nerve — that all but ensures that the House also won’t act before going home next week.

Senate Democrats feel the sting more because they had been at the forefront in wanting to elevate the issue with President Barack Obama before November’s election. The goal then had been to combine small-business relief with middle-class tax breaks in a powerful one-two punch; instead, the party now risks being seen as an aging boxer in the crouch, dodging blows rather than going on offense.

As recently as Tuesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had told POLITICO he was “working hard for a vote,” most likely next week. But the mood grew more negative Wednesday after meeting with his committee chairmen and, by the end of Thursday’s caucus, the outcome was clear.

Indeed, taxes have always been a third rail for Democrats, and Reid found himself warned away from proceeding unless he was convinced he would have the 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster.
The Democrats thought that they had such a surefire wedge issue by making the whole fight about extending the tax cuts for those earning over $200,000. They could return to their favorite class warfare arguments about how the Republicans are all about the wealthy while the Democrats are for the little guy. But they don't have the votes within their own caucus.

So they've surrendered. They've decided that it is better to go home and face arguments about how they can't do their job - pass budget appropriations and keep people from experiencing the huge increase in their taxes if the Bush tax cuts aren't extended. They have a job and can't do it so they're hoping that they'll be reelected to continue passing bills that the Americans hate and not do the things they're expected to be able to do.

Why aren't their usual class warfare arguments working? They love talking about how the Republicans are the party of the wealthy plutocrats and the Democrats are the only ones out there who care about the little guy. They thought they had a surefire advantage this election because the Republicans had nominated so many candidates who have a background coming from business. Kimberley Strassel looks at the reflexive criticisms that the Democrats have been rolling out to criticize these Republican candidates because of their business background.
Entire campaigns were crafted around the approach, no more so than in Ohio. Within hours of Mr. Kasich's nomination, Ohio Democrats declared the race between him and Gov. Ted Strickland "a battle between Wall Street and Main Street." Democrats poured millions into the theme, with Strickland ads asking: "Does Ohio really need a congressman from Wall Street for governor?" One Reuters article declared Mr. Kasich's opponents had painted a "scarlet 'L'" (as in Lehman) on his chest.

Democrats (incorrectly) credited Mr. Toomey with being the "Wall Street wheeler-dealer" who had helped "pioneer the use of derivatives" that "wound up nearly destroying our economy." Ms. Whitman and Ms. Fiorina are routinely described as "ex-CEOs." Mr. Rossi is accused of love for "corporate" lobbyists. The fat-cat, robber-baron slur has been a staple in most Democratic campaigns.
Well, those attacks haven't worked. Kasich and Toomey are comfortably ahead and Whitman and Fiorina are making a race of it in deeply blue California. So why isn't it working any more? Why can't the Democrats make their usual progress demonizing the Republicans as the party of the rich?
One reason for the failure has been the ease with which Republicans have been able to shift the debate back to their opponents' toxic records. But the fact that many GOP candidates are actually touting their business experience suggests they are reading a turn in the polls. A recent survey, from Independent Women's Voice, found 63% of independents said they'd prefer a businessman who has new ideas to an experienced politician. A Bloomberg poll this week found that 77% of U.S. investors find Mr. Obama "anti-business."

What's behind this shift? Call it a supercharged dose of Democrats and failing liberal governance. As Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist notes, the country has been witness to "pure, distilled government." It has been led by an administration staffed with career politicians and academics who have insisted that government can solve all. It hasn't worked. "When Washington fails, what's the alternative?" asks Mr. Norquist. "It's people with real-life experience, who can do real-live things." Business folk have real-life experience.

Americans have little tolerance for redistributionist policies, especially in periods of economic hardship. Voters see not an administration focused on jobs, but one obsessed with ballooning government and with taking from some and giving to others. Growth, they think, would be nice for a change. Business folk create growth.

Mike Connolly of the Club for Growth—which is backing some of the GOP entrepreneurs—notes that voters realize all businesses, not just the Fortune 500, are hurt by Obama policies. "Small business is hugely popular. And when these guys start having to lay off people, it's not chalked up to corporate greed," says Mr. Connolly. "Voters are understanding this is about health care, and regulations and taxes."
Which type of person have the ordinary people more likely to have had contact with? Academics and career politicians or someone running a business? We've had a good look at how those academics and career politicians do when they're in charge and the result is not pretty. Maybe it's time to have some people in office who know what is involved in making a dollar. People who understand the effect of all these regulations and government interference in the market might know better what to do to turn around this dismal economic situation. Remember the appeal of Ross Perot when people thought that having a guy who had made billions might make sense as a chief executive? When we see the tea partiers protesting spending and regulation, we're seeing Perotism redux.

What will the Democrats do if they don't have their class warfare arguments to fall back on? They can't run on their record and they can't brag about the competence they've demonstrated in running the whole shebang. Their choice has been fear-mongering or all the wonderful things they've done for so many groups of people. But it just doesn't work anymore.

So what's their solution? Leave town and hope people won't notice. Now that's a selling point! At least for the Republicans.