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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Independents’ Day

Charlie Cook warns Democrats in his latest column that angry denunciations of Bush may make them and their fellow Democrats feel good.  And such denunciations are certainly helping fuel the surging candidacy of Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination.
But, if Democrats want to win in 2004, Cook argues, they need to reach independent voters, not just their fellow Democrats, and convince these voters to turn away from Bush and the GOP.  How to do that?  Cook cites June data from this Ipsos/Cook Political Report surveys that show that only 44 percent of independents approve of Bush’s handling of the economy (just 12 percent strongly approve), while 49 percent disapprove (29 percent strongly).  Similarly, an unimpressive 48 percent of independents approve of Bush’s performance on domestic issues (only 8 percent strongly) and 45 percent disapprove (30 percent strongly).
That suggests the Democrats’ potential sweet spot among independent voters.  But Cook is puzzled by the Democrats’ tepid efforts so far on the economic front, especially the fact that their economic stimulus proposals have tended to focus on tax cuts rather than public works spending.
Cook’s views on this puzzle are worth quoting at length:
Congressional Democratic leaders are vulnerable to questions as to whether they threw in the towel too quickly on tax cuts. There is a considerable body of evidence that voters see a more direct connection between government spending on streets, highways, bridges and school construction and the creation of jobs than the connection between tax cuts and job creation and economic stimulus.
The Democrats’ argument could have gone something like this: “President Bush wants to blow the deficit sky high by giving tax cuts to his rich and powerful friends. If we are going to drive up the deficit, at least do it by repairing our streets, roads, schools and other public spending that we would eventually need to do anyway and would create more jobs.”
It’s a virtual certainty that this argument would resonate better than the tax cuts did — which received tepid support at best.
Amen, brother Cook.
Read Jeff Madrick’s column today in The New York Times for followup.  He provides a good summary of recent economic data and surveys policy options for generating healthy job growth.  His conclusion is that the most effective means of generating such growth is not individual tax cuts, but government spending in selected areas, including an adequate transfer of money to the states (perhaps as much as $100 billion) and investment in education, health care and transportation infrastructure.
Madrick’s idea is not novel.  It is merely sensible and well-supported by research.  So where are the Democrats?  Independent voters might actually want to hear what they have to say about this one.