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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Economic Anxiety and Bush

The University of Michigan’s preliminary March reading of consumer sentiment shows consumer confidence dropping again, just as it did in February. All the more reason to pay heed to the findings of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll which indicate economic anxiety is likely to play a large role in the November election, and all to Bush’s detriment.
The poll has Bush’s approval rating on the economy at 45 percent approval/51 percent disapproval, down from 49/45 in January. In addition, the poll now shows more saying the economy has gotten worse in the last year (35 percent) than say it has gotten better (33 percent). That’s a substantial shift from January when 43 percent said the economy has gotten better and only 23 percent said iit had gotten worse.
And economic issues, such as jobs and economic growth, will be most important, according to respondents, in deciding their November vote (36 percent), followed by domestic issues, such as health and education (27 percent) and only then by national defense issues, such as Iraq and the war on terror (18 percent). That’s 65 percent saying they’re going to vote on the basis of Bush’s two weakest areas.
Ah, but do they hold Bush responsible for the state of the economy? After all, his favorite mantra these days is that continuing economic problems are just the lingering effects of 9/11 and the situation he inherited from the Clinton administration. This poll indicates those pesky voters may hold him responsible, despite his efforts to wiggle out of it: 30 percent say his policies are mainly responsible for the state of the economy and another 50 percent say they are partially responsible.
But the really bad news for Bush is has to do with the kinds of economic problems people are upset about and their attitude toward his tax cuts. The poll presented people with six controversial elements of the US economy and the three people said were most important to their evaluation of the economy were “the number of jobs moving overseas”, “jobs for lower-paid workers that lack health and retirement benefits’ and the budget deficit, all areas of very serious weakness for Bush. Moreover, when asked for their feelings about these economic elements and presented with four choices about that, ranging from very cheerful to very gloomy, only 4 percent selected the cheerful option (these elements don’t represent a problem today and in the future and America has the same economic security it always has had), compared to 47 percent who selected the gloomy option (these elements are a major problem today and in the future and America no longer has the economic security it had in the past).
As for the tax cuts, 59 percent still say they have either hurt the economy (23 percent) or had no real effect (36 percent). And, by 55 percent to 39 percent, people say the tax cuts are too large and should be repealed for those with over $200,000 in income (Kerry’s position), rather than that the tax cuts are the right size and should all be kept and made permanent (Bush’s position).
OK. That’s the playing field. But how can the Democrats take maximum advantage of Bush’s vulnerabilities in this area? As the typically insightful Ronald Brownstein put it in his latest Los Angeles Times column:
Many Democrats agree Kerry has to flesh out his own ideas for stimulating job growth (which now center on tax credits for manufacturers, grants to states, a tougher line on trade and reducing employers’ healthcare costs).
But even if Kerry holds up a blank piece of paper as his recovery plan, it will be tough for Bush to win an argument about the economy unless job growth revives.

He may be right about that blank sheet of paper. But I’d like to think we can do better. I’ll offer my thoughts on how to do this tomorrow. In the meantime, the floor is open for suggestions: how exactly should the Democrats address the jobs/outsourcing issue?

16 comments on “Economic Anxiety and Bush

  1. Bill Davis on

    I am from Kansas City, though an expat who chooses to live in Australia with my Australian wife.
    They have universal Health Care here, and no employer has to bear the cost of health care for it’s employees. It is a mixed balance, and has some downsides (I think America has the best health care in the world, if you can afford it), (and US doctors have to run more tests or they get sued, which happens only rarely here).
    But if people know they are going to be taken care of when they get sick, no matter what, you can focus on jobs in a much more efficient way. As an employer here in Australia, our firm added employees without the concerns you raised above even coming into the equation.
    The costs associated with universal health care here in Australia are 1.8% of income, up to the first $70,000. If tiny population of Australia can afford universal health care, surely we in the US can afford to do it.
    I don’t know how to turn that into an instant winner for Kerry though. I agree wth erasmus above. The issues that Oregon has addressed, (like when do we use public money to save a Down’s syndrome child? Heck how tough does it get?). It is a complex issue, and will probably take even progressives a while to solve the problem, changing the way we fund health care in America.

  2. Lynnell Mickelsen on

    RE: one of BC Inaz’ points: that we should be”HAMMERING the point that we are now living with the TAX and SPEND REPUBLICANS, and not much to show for the record setting deficits.”
    Actually, the current Republican model is much worse than Tax and Spend. It’s Binge and Borrow—binging on the Iraq War and huge tax cuts for the rich, and then borrowing it all from the next generation.
    A Tax and Spend Democrat is beginning to sound like the soul of prudence and wisdom.

  3. BC Inaz on

    IMHO, we need to reframe the whole, jobs, economy, tax cuts debate.
    1. BIG emphasis on the fact that they weren’t Tax Cuts they were Tax Shifts. Shifting the burden of government onto the backs of those who have less now and for a couple of generations of those who will have even less at the current rate of spending within this crony capitalist administration.
    2. HAMMERING the point that we are now living with the TAX and SPEND REPUBLICANS, and not much to show for the record setting deficits.
    3. If we can RECAPTURE some fiscal sanity, we can put a down payment on and begin investing in and creating jobs by aggressively trying to solve our energy dependency addiction to oil. Proportional investment in Solar/Wind/Bio/Geothermal technologies. Government spending on a scales as, say, building the Boulder Dam and other Depression Era projects. Same with Environmental restoration. George Bush is creating a level playing field of free trade by allowing the degredation of our environment and wages to the point at which WE will be competing for JOBS with workers in the THIRD WORLD. Isn’t the idea to lift people out of poverty?
    4. A true commitment to National Security would also start putting people back to work.
    The magic show is over, it’s time to turn on the lights and put the rabbit back in the hat.

  4. postit on

    Not on topic I know but …
    I would like to float the idea of organising a petition drive in support of Kerry’s call for regular monthly debates with Bush.
    We won’t get the debates of course but it will be effective in maintaining the initiative whilst keeping republicans on the back foot since they will have no option but to oppose it.
    A petition, whether or not it is succesfull, can offer several advantages for us. It will be very popular among democrats and equally unpopular among republicans allowing us to frame their reluctance to debate in a very bad light for them. It should be relatively easy to achieve and cheap. We can draw on the basic organising skills of a wide variety of movement organisations from unions, DNC, Kerry campaign, and especially online organisations like Move On. As the petition grows the media will have to report on it and continue reporting on it allowing the petition drive to be framed as a theme rather than a single non-recurring event.
    I could go on, any other ideas ?

  5. Rebecca Allen, PhD on

    Check out the Decembrist’s and Pandagon’s recent posts on this subject. Both highlighted rising health care costs as a significant disincentive to hiring permanent workers (costs that are of course born by government, rather than private industry, in most of our competitors). Pandagon had some good suggestions on how to address this thru tax policy.

  6. Tim H. on

    IMHO, retraining and tax incentives are losers. They’ve been put out as remedies for years. I think Kerry would be better to have specific proposals to stop job loss overseas, even if he gets labelled protectionist. With the steel tariffs, Bush has already shown he’ll go protretionist first if he sees any advantage.

  7. Vernon Bush on

    Remember what America and Americans have always done best. Impliment Technology! When steam power first became available it was the USA (and England) who lead teh world and sold these products to the rest of teh world.
    When man learned to fly it was the USA who lead the rest of the rest of the world in this industry and many jobs were created.
    When automobiles became available it was the USA who lead the world in manufacturing, creating many jobs and support industries.
    When computers first appeared it was the USA who lead the world in their integration into manufacturing and business cerating many jobs.
    AMERICA has always done best at the cutting edge of technology.
    Today the world desparately needs alternative sources of energy. Why is it Japan who is leading in hybrid automobiles? It should be the USA. Its inevitable that this is the wave of the future. Why is American clinging to all the old industries when there is a tremendous opportunity out there to become the world leader again in all forms of alternative energy and its innumerable applications.
    It will require bold moves and bold decisions but American can lead once again in the manufacturing base that arrises from technological inovations and applications. It requires vision….
    Vernon Bush

  8. Erik on

    Agree with Tom. Pushing forward alternative/renewable energy program. Whatever happened to the electric grids that need to be updated. That can be made into some type of “new deal-like” program, sort of along the lines of the highway buidling that FDR enacted, that forces energy companies to update their grids maybe tax incentives or penalties for not updating. Scholarship and training programs for students who enter these fields of study. A space program that promotes alternative/renewable energy. This also promotes new technology spinoffs the way the race to space did in the 50’s and 60’s. The countries that push forth alternative energy are going to make the new jobs that are being lost to cheap labor. The next economic power will be the one who creates and sees to it that these alternative fuel technology succeeds. This gives Amercia a goal, a vision, and something to challenge Americans. It offers a future of hope not seen since JFK. We need to be on the forefront of creating alternative fuels and moving away from fossil fuels. We do this and we continue our domincance as an economic power. Also lowering the trade deficit stops the bleeding from jobs being lost. Pledge to balance the budget along the lines of Clinton. Crush supply-side economics once and for all as a failure. It didn’t work during Reagan who rasied taxes four times during his eight years. And it is totally abysmal under Bush who just kept cutting taxes. Promote the idea that raising taxes for the wealthiest Americans the top 2% and forces them to pay there fair share America is able to balance the budget.

  9. Tom Geraghty on

    What about a substantial public investment program that would put people directly back to work?
    Something along the lines of the “Apollo program,” – spending $30 billion a year, for 10 years, on improving energy efficiency and sustainability, better transit, urban development, and so forth.
    One estimate suggests that such a program could add 3 million jobs to the economy over a decade, plus reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and other nice benefits.

  10. Paul C on

    Tripsarecopsem (sp?) hit one point right on when he said “But there’s a whole ‘nother side to it. If businesses are not required to cover employees’ healthcare, it’s apparently a big win for them. Even if they pay more taxes to cover the cost, it seems likely that it’s a net benefit for their bottom line. Don’t know if the numbers are there or not, myself; but I’ve heard the opinion from a number of people who ought to know.” As usual, Walmart is a good example. Since they offer no healthcare coverage and we taxpayers have to pick it up, they have a huge cost advantage over retailers who try to do the right thing by their employees. There are a lot of business owners who would love to cover their employees healthcare cost if they could afford it and if it wasn’t a one-way ticket to bankruptcy. (think “small businesses — a hugely Republican block) They would be a perfect audience for a healthcare plan that leveled the playing field regarding healthcare. They might not even care if they had to pay for it, so long as everyone had to pay for it.

  11. Frank Ruscica on

    The heavylifting has to be done by embryonic-going-on-fledgling providers of customized lifelong learning and career services (CLLCS). The federal government needs to appoint an “opportunity czar” who will preside over the crafting of appropriate policies to support the industry. Details (in ‘rough draft’ form) at http://www.opportunityservices.com.
    An excerpt:
    My Plan To Win A Spot On The Apprentice 2
    — By Helping You Win A Spot!
    Hello all,
    I’m Frank Ruscica, and in anticipation of being interviewed for The Apprentice 2 in March or April (I already submitted my application and the required videotape), I am preparing a presentation — Maximizing Return on The Apprentice 2 for Donald Trump, NBC and GE — that explains why:
    * Donald Trump, NBC and General Electric (NBC’s parent company) are best served if The Apprentice 2 is set at the White House, where the 16 apprentices would help President Bush’s then-newly appointed “opportunity czar” create more good jobs for Americans
    “George W. Bush is apparently giving the White House seal of approval to a television series, D.H.S.–The Series, a drama about the Department of Home Security being introduced Thursday night to prospective networks at an industry gathering.
    President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge both ‘endorse and contribute sound bites to the introductions of the series,’ according to the show’s producers.”
    E! Online
    February 26, 2004
    * Facilitating growth of the customized lifelong learning and career services (CLLCS) industry is the best way for the czar to create more good jobs for Americans
    “Frank, you are a good man. Have you thought about joining this team? Your only alternative, of course, is venture capital. But their usual models require getting rid of the ‘originator’ within the first eighteen months. With Netscape it took a little longer, but you get the idea.”
    Randy Hinrichs
    Learning Sciences and Technology Group
    Microsoft Research
    November 1998
    * CLLCS ‘1.0’ will synergize and build on Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephony, blogs, online social networks and, of course, reality TV

  12. tripsarecopsem on

    I think Erasmus nails it in several ways.
    First, he’s splitting it into short-term and long-term lines of thought. This is important. Bluntly, from the point of view of the Democratic party, short-term is about winning this election, winning it big, Kerry in a landslide with velcro coattails. Long-term is thinking about how to govern wisely and responsibly.
    In his short-term topic, he talks about healthcare. You (when I say “you” I mean “you Democrats”) may not realize how much of a political hammer you could swing if you get this one right. Sound, guaranteed healthcare is potentially such a winner. There are a lot of people who are uninsured or underinsured. A lot more are *worried* about becoming un- or under-, because not too many people are feeling completely, entirely, indifferently secure in their employment these days.
    But there’s a whole ‘nother side to it. If businesses are not required to cover employees’ healthcare, it’s apparently a big win for them. Even if they pay more taxes to cover the cost, it seems likely that it’s a net benefit for their bottom line. Don’t know if the numbers are there or not, myself; but I’ve heard the opinion from a number of people who ought to know.
    So, if you think this through and craft it carefully, you could get a lot of hardheaded CEOs saying that the measure is great for business, great for American competitiveness.
    Short-term, that’s a good one.
    Long-term… oh man. Here. Head over to Billmon’s Whiskey Bar (http://billmon.org/archives/001200.html) for a pretty good wrangle on the difficulties of dealing with the whole free/fair trade/protectionism issue. Erasmus gets some support there too. Disclaimer: other than the occasional troll, the place is filled with progressives. 😉
    And Maxcat has a point too, but advocating a swift withdrawal as part of an economic recovery plan is fraught. For one thing, I count myself among those who feel the Iraq War was a horrible stupid criminal blunder, but that we nonetheless have a collective responsibility to try to fix it if we can. Maybe we can’t, of course; but I’d not want President Kerry’s latitude to do the right thing for the Iraqis compromised by an economic plan predicated on running away from Dick and Don’s Excellent Adventure as fast as we can.

  13. Erasmus on

    First and foremost: let’s not be demogogues. Be honest: we may be able to slow job loss via tax incentives, but not prevent it.
    Short term:
    Focus on the chief worry about losing a job: portable healthcare for all and coverage for the working poor and their families.
    Yes, retraining for many will be required, as Bush has proposed (let’s not be against good ideas).
    Longer term:
    Then prepare for the global economy by making college available to children of both middle class and working poor.
    Trade agreements must strongly encourage sane labor and environmental policies.

  14. Maxcat on

    Well that’s a very complicated question but how about this for starters.
    Bring the troups home and instantly free up billions of dollars to rebuild America and put Americans back to work.
    Oh we can spend and spend in Iraq and who knows how many other places while Americans go without and we are doing it by mortaging our childrens future.
    Just think of what could be done with all that money here at home and at least we would have something to show for it.
    So sorry I jusy had to say that.


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