Jewish World Review March 1, 2013/ 19 Adar, 5773
The unpopular party
By Rich Lowry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It is not just the winter of Republican discontent. It will in all likelihood be the spring, summer and fall, as well.
And more seasons yet after that. The national party is leaderless and nearly issue-less, but besides that, is thriving and in fine fighting trim.
It used to be that the Republicans were nasty people because they exploited “wedge issues,” which was the pejorative way to describe issues that were popular with the public but made Democrats uncomfortable. The phrase has been long-ago retired. Even if it hadn’t been, it’s not clear what Republican issue it would apply to anymore.
Once, taxes and national security were the party’s pillars, supplemented by domestic issues like welfare reform and crime and by symbolic issues like the Pledge of Allegiance and flag burning. Now, the pillars are in a state of despair.
Cuts in income taxes don’t have the same resonance because rates are so much lower than 30 years ago. Republicans formerly had political success with across-the-board tax cuts that reduced rates at the top and for everyone else. By focusing on raising rates on the top end, Obama has forced Republicans into the more awkward political space of defending “tax cuts for the rich.”
In theory, national security is still a Republican strength, but the party can’t get traction on it. It doesn’t have as much resonance as in the years after Sept. 11, and the country is war weary. Barack Obama is a weak foreign policy president, although not in ways likely to cost him politically. The key line of criticism from some Republicans lately is that he kills terrorists with drones with too much alacrity and too little due process.
The party’s premier new idea over the past few years is Medicare premium support, a worthy and creative center-right proposal and, as it happens, an unpopular one. Mitt Romney fought like hell just to keep it at a minor political liability.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Democrats leading on the following issues: looking out for the middle class, Medicare, health care, reducing gun violence, Social Security, immigration, taxes and the economy. The good news for Republicans is that they lead on everything else. The bad news is that everything else is only spending, the deficit and national security.
The problem with the deficit as an issue is that people care about economic growth more, and the problem with spending cuts is that people like them more in the abstract than in reality.
At times, it seems as if “we have a $16 trillion debt” is the sum total of the party’s argumentation. When party leaders say that they have to become the party of growth again, the policy they invariably advance to that end … is reducing the $16 trillion debt.
This necessary, but hardly sufficient message is almost all we hear from Republicans in Congress, where their majority in the House gives them responsibility without decisive influence. The House Republicans mainly have blocking power.
Woe to the republic if they didn’t. But if you block things, you’re easily labeled an obstructionist and wouldn’t you know it, people don’t like obstructionists.
Their only hope to deflect the nation a bit from its profligate budgetary path is confrontations coinciding with key fiscal inflection points, like the current March 1 deadline for the sequester. Although the structure of the sequester fight favors them — if nothing is agreed upon, spending gets cut automatically — they always ride into these fights badly outgunned by the president.
The McCain ad dubbing Barack Obama the biggest celebrity in the world back in 2008 was deadly accurate. What Republicans didn’t consider is that being a celebrity is a priceless asset in contemporary America. Celebrities are the gods of our pop culture. We let them play by different rules. We read about them in magazines and watch them on TV.
We obsess over them and identify with them.
Two hundred and thirty members of the House don’t have a chance against a president, let alone a celebrity. This won’t change anytime soon. It is way too early to have a presidential candidate or even a presidential field, so the party lacks a head and therefore a unified voice.
Of course, it wasn’t too long ago that Democrats seemed to be in dire straits. The party agonized over appealing to “values voters” after 2004. Little did they know eight short years later, they would run a successful reelection campaign partly on limitless abortion and free contraception. The Bush-era Democrats didn’t do much rethinking.
They just found a good presidential candidate and benefited from serial Republican debacles from Jack Abramoff to the financial crisis.
Events will again take a hand, as they always do. And since last fall’s election, top Republicans from Bobby Jindal (representative of a rising class of reformist governors) to Marco Rubio have been talking about a more bread-and-butter economic agenda that would have more appeal to middle-class voters. Fleshing that out, though, is a longer-term proposition. In the meantime, Republicans should prepare themselves for more discontent.
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© 2012 King Features Syndicate