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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Message Guru

by digby

Well, sadly, it appears that it's not good enough that the Reagan myth is being stoked in a Democratic primary. It looks like we're going all in and adopting George W. Bush rhetoric now:

From TNR:

For those who haven't followed this issue, Obama has said he would consider raising the cap on the payroll tax, in order to put more money into the Social Security system. Presently, individuals only pay Social Security taxes on roughly the first $100,000 of their income.

It's a defensible measure on its own terms, since it would actually make the program's financing more progressive. Under the current system, a CEO pulling in several million dollars a year pays no more Social Security taxes than a profsesional making $100,000. It would also, as advertised, improve the program's long-term finances.

But in pressing his case, Obama has adopted the same right-wing frame -- of a Social Security crisis too politically perilous for most politicans to address -- that President Bush and the Republicans used when they tried to privatize the program. Although that effort failed, the fight is recent enough -- and myth of a Social Security crisis prevalent enough -- that merely echoing the language is enough to jeopardize the program (which, for the record, is most definitely not in crisis). And Obama should know better.

In this mailer, however, it's Clinton's rhetoric that's worrisome. It attacks Obama because "Nevada families need to keep more of their hard-earned dollars -- not less..." and "We need a President that will help hard-working families keep more of what they earn..."

Feel like you've heard that before? You have. Whenever Democrats propose a measure that would result in higher taxes, that's the argument the Republicans make. It doesn't matter how little money is involved -- or whether, as is often the case, it's only the wealthy who will be paying more. It doesn't even matter if, rather than imposing a new tax altogether, the Democrats are simply proposing to allow a recently enacted tax break to expire.

It's actually worse than that. It's repeating that stupid Bush mantra, "it's your money!"

THE PRESIDENT: If they have less money in their pocket, they may not come here. And so I worked with the Congress -- I want to thank Congressman Ehrlich, when he was in the Congress, now Governor Ehrlich. We cut taxes on people. It's your money to begin with, by the way. You've got more money to spend. And when you have more money to spend, it increases demand for a good or a service. And when that demand increases for a good or a service, somebody has to produce it.

And so the tax relief went for everybody, not just the favorite few -- everybody got tax relief. And it helped the economy. It also helped small business. You're going to hear from some entrepreneurs here. And, by the way, most new jobs in America are created by small businesses. We're happy to have the Home Depot job, don't get me wrong. (Laughter.) But the truth is, most new jobs are started by the entrepreneurs. And so you're wondering why we've got small business owners here, because I want you to hear from them. I want you to hear what it means to have a little more money in your pocket.

Granted, Clinton's mailer doesn't sound like it's aimed at fifth graders but after listening to that crap over and over again for eight years, to use those phrases plays directly into the underlying conservative notion that lowering taxes is the best thing government can do to help them have more money in their pockets. Even worse, it plays in to the idea that everybody in this country should identify with the "problems" of those with means.

I once heard a caller on Rush say he only made $30,000 a year, but he was glad to see his wealthy boss get a big tax cut because it meant the company might do better and then he might get a raise. The 250 million dollar man told him he was brilliant for understanding how the economy is supposed to work. That's some brainwashing.

Aside from not wanting to see social security become a campaign issues at all, I also disagree with raising the payroll tax because I know that it will actually affect a lot of middle class people in expensive states like California who would be seriously impacted --- particularly while this housing crunch and state fiscal crisis persists. I think it's a non-starter and unnecessary to even talk about, particularly since we have many, many more pressing problems that need addressing. But that's not a good reason for Clinton to use right wing phrases that were specifically designed to keep people from ever approving the money necessary to advance progressive government programs.

She, of all people, should know better. In 1993, it was pulling teeth to get a tepid tax increase on the wealthy passed even with a Democratic majority and "the deficit" boogeyman a primary issue in the campaign. I would have thought they'd learned something by that. If you don't get a specific mandate for new programs and "paying the bills" the Republicans will hamstring Democrats forever on this issue with just this kind of short sighted talk. They may anyway, it's a tough nut to crack, but part of leadership is figuring out ways to get people to take a different look at things when a political window opens up, not automatically trying to eke out some little advantage on the margin by using the other side's tired tropes.

Bush is a huge failure and movement conservatism is disorganized for the first time in decades. Now it the time to make new arguments. People know things have gone wrong and they are turning to Democrats to see if they have any better and different ideas for the first time in a long time. I don't actually think these independents and disaffected Republicans want to hear warmed over George W. Bush bullshit, but if that's what they get, they'll end up voting Republican. Why wouldn't they?

This is how the conservative movement wins even when it loses. If Democratic candidates will keep repeating their propaganda for them, they can just take a breather, infuse their movement with a much needed fix of victimization and martyrdom, count their money for a few years and then pick up right where they left off.

Between pushing Reagan myths and repeating Bush's anti-tax message, the big winner this week in the Democratic primary is Grover Norquist, the guy who said:

"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such.

I'm, awfully glad to see that guy doing the messaging for the Democratic primaries this year, aren't you?