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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Message of Misery

By Anne Kim, Adam Solomon, and Jim Kessler
$23,700. That is the household income level at which a white person became more likely to vote for a Republican over a Democrat in congressional races in 2004. That’s $5,000 above the poverty line for a family of four, less than half the median income of the typical voting household of all races, and an emphatic repudiation of all things Democratic among the white middle class. Obtaining a sustainable Democratic majority in either house will be impossible unless there is a significant change in this economic tipping point.
To solve this problem, Democrats must first realize that they have a problem – no, actually a crisis – with the middle class. Democrats – the self-described party of the middle class – have not won the middle class vote in at least a decade. Among all voters with $30,000 to $75,000 in household income, Bush bested Kerry by six-points and congressional Republicans won by four-points. Democrats continued to win nine of ten black voters of all income levels, but Hispanic margins have decreased as their economic situation has improved. And as noted above, we got slaughtered among the white middle class.1
The second step is to admit that our deficit is as much due to economic disconnects as cultural and national security disconnects. That may be harder for Democrats to swallow. Many believe the middle class have been duped by a what’s-the-matter-with-Kansas scheme in which clever conservatives trick the beleaguered middle class to vote against their own economic interests through the use of irresistible cultural wedge issues and national security concerns.
Of course national security and culture matter, but in 2000, when national security was a b-list issue, both Gore and congressional Democrats lost the middle class. In 1996, before the culture wars were fully ignited, Clinton also lost the middle class to the combination of Dole and Perot, as did congressional Democrats.
At Third Way, we not only believe the what’s-the-matter-with-Kansas analysis is wrong, but that it represents a dangerous red herring for Democrats. In a report we co-authored called The Politics of Opportunity, we isolated five areas of disconnect between how Democrats talk about the middle class and view the economy and how the middle class view their own economic situation and that of America.
Disconnect one is optimism versus pessimism. Whether it’s the “people versus the powerful” Al Gore’s convention speech or John Kerry’s “Benedict Arnold companies” where American workers see their factories “unbolted, crated up, and shipped thousands of miles away,” the Democratic economic message is pervasively pessimistic. Democrats see the American Dream fading, the middle class being squeezed, jobs disappearing, schools crumbling, and wages stagnating.
That is not the way middle-class Americans view their own lives. Days after 9/11, 80% of Americans expressed optimism about the year ahead.2 Two months after gas hit $3 per gallon, 73% said they were optimistic about their family’s finances.3 In 2004, 78% said they were doing “fairly well” financially.4 And only 22% believe they will not “earn enough money in the future to lead the kind of life [they] want.”5
Voters may feel that the economy is heading in the wrong direction at a particular point in time, but they consistently view their own outlook as better (think of voters who hate Congress, but like their own representative). And they are turned off by a message of gloom and doom.
Disconnect two is economic decline versus economic strength. Democrats have become the “falling behind” party. America is falling behind China and India in innovation. Our kids are falling behind in math and science. Our middle class is shrinking. And by the year 2062 our GDP will be half the size of Burma’s.
Fortunately for America, and unfortunately for Burma, this does not reflect economic reality. Most economists who advise investors seeking to earn money (rather than those who advise politicians seeking to win votes) are confident in America’s future. Most see America winning the competition against India and China, just as we did over Japan in the 1980s and Germany in the 1970s. They know that our economy boasts strengths unmatched by other nations, including flexibility, resiliency, strong capital markets, financial and political transparency, legal protections for intellectual property and an unparalleled university system.
It is true that our national prosperity is threatened by the Bush policies of high debt, tax giveaways to the most affluent, a theocratic faith that corporate America will solve our health care and energy crises, and the growing income inequality found in our country. Yet even with six years of wrong choices behind us, the bursting of the tech bubble, the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and sky-high oil prices – America’s vital economic signs are fundamentally robust.
Disconnect three is economic security versus individual opportunity. Democrats rarely talk about individual aspirations of greatness or success; they mostly talk about people’s economic status or about their economic fears.
As Americans have grown more affluent — and with a few blips along the way, American households have steadily grown more affluent over the past 60 years — they have come to care less about economic security and more about economic opportunity. In the past, individuals were far more likely to aspire to a job that offered modest pay but high security. Today they would rather choose a potentially higher paying but riskier job.
Economic security should be addressed, but equal time should be given to the yearning most Americans have to get ahead.
Disconnect four is ideas. Most signature Democratic ideas do not benefit middle class people; they benefit those who aspire to the middle class. The typical Pell Grant recipient earns less than $20,000. The minimum wage impacts less than 2% of working Americans. The earned income tax credit phases out to a pittance for families over $25,000. Head Start, food stamps, and WIC are for the poor, poorer, and poorest of society. The middle class believes in these programs, but they are wondering when someone will pay attention to them.
Part of the problem is that Democrats have been misled about the state of the middle class. Progressive economists typically peg median household income at about $45,000. But that includes households headed by 22-year olds (who are on their way up) and 76-year olds (who live on fixed incomes that may be small but are often comfortable since they have no dependents and limited work related expenses).
Among households headed by prime age Americans – adults between the ages of 26 and 59 – the median household income is about $63,000. For prime age married households the median income is over $70,000, and it is nearly $80,000 for two-earner prime age households.6 The point is that Democrats have a view of the middle class that is at one place on the income spectrum, when the reality is in a very different place.
We do not argue for Democrats to abandon programs to help poor people climb into the middle class or to play them down. We simply argue that Democrats must have a comparable set of signature ideas that benefit the middle class.
Disconnect five is an unconvincing economic critique of conservatives. Folks, if bashing rich people, the oil industry, and the drug companies were an effective political strategy, jets would be landing at Michael Dukakis National Airport in Washington.
An effective economic critique should tell a story. The conservative story about Democrats is that they believe the government does a better job of spending your money than you do. Every conservative economic argument against the left derives from this statement. Democrats need a story of their own.
That brings us to repairing these five disconnects. Democrats cannot connect with the middle class until they understand that they are richer, more optimistic, and more firmly in control of their lives than they think. Democrats need to know that the typical middle-class family is likely to be married with children; many of the pressures they face come from trying to get ahead, not simply staying in place.
With that in mind, we suggest a very simple message aimed at the middle class and a related set of policies. Our positive message is that Democrats will build a new era of middle-class opportunity – a message that is optimistic, forward-looking, implicitly critical of the old regime, and aimed squarely at the group of voters who once formed the bedrock of the Democratic Party. This kind of message also reinforces the successful progressive tradition of optimists like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
We offer a series of signature Democratic initiatives designed to help middle-class Americans live a better and more prosperous life. They include a generous middle-class college tuition tax break, a new first-time homebuyer tax credit, tax cuts to help sandwich-generation families pay for the care of elderly parents, and a more generous tax break for families with preschool children. They are all designed to help the middle class attain their goals – like purchasing a home, paying for college, and maintaining economic freedom as parents age.
How do we pay for them? Well that gets to our critique: conservatives believe the wealthy are the engine of the economy; we believe the middle class is the engine of the economy. So we would roll back some of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy to finance a generous set of middle-class tax breaks designed to create a new era of middle-class economic opportunity.
Now we have a story to tell – about them and about us. And here’s how it could sound in a 30-second spot.

That’s right, Buck Bickerson and Mitzi Chase each have a tax plan. The Bickerson plan would help wealthy parents send their kids to Europe in the summer. The Chase plan would help middle-class parents send their kids to college in the fall.
It’s your choice. The Chase plan – better for America, better for Springfield, and better for you.

For Democrats, the road to a lasting majority runs through the heart of the middle class. This is something that Bill Clinton understood and he, above all others, fared best with middle-class voters. By making a college tuition tax break one of the six pieces of their New Direction campaign, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are talking directly to the needs of the middle class.
A commitment to a new era of middle-class opportunity would not only help the self-described party of the middle class win a sustainable majority, it has the added benefit of making America a better and stronger nation. After all, the engine that drives our economy is truly the middle class.

1All election statistics rely upon exit polls from 1996, 2000, and 2004, which were obtained from the Roper Center at University of Connecticut.
2Gallup Poll, “Terrorism Reaction Poll,” September 21-22, 2001, 1,008 respondents.
3ABC News/Washington Post, “Outlook for 2006 is Positive, but Wide Partisan Gap Remains,” December 31, 2005.
4Roper Poll, “Americans Talk About Personal Finances,” May 2004, 1,014 respondents.
5Pew Research Center for People and the Press, “Economic Concerns Fueled by Many Woes,” May 11-15, 2005, 1,502 respondents.
6Current Population Survey, March Supplement, 2005.

Anne Kim is the Director of the Middle Class Project at Third Way, Adam Solomon is the Chairman of StoneWater Capital LLC and a Third Way Trustee, and Jim Kessler is the Vice President for Policy at Third Way.

24 comments on “Message of Misery

  1. Paul J. O'Rourke on

    If our positive message is that the middle class is the engine of the economy, the negative message should be clear about what is meant by the adverse effect of the wealthy being considered the engine of the economy.
    Republicans present themselves as the champions of Capitalism. Given the numbers cited in this article, the middle class seems to believe it. As such, along with talking up middle class incentives, the image of Republicans as competent capitalists needs to be diminished. If “Middle class is the engine” is GOOD capitalism, then “The wealthy are the engine” is BAD capitalism.
    Attack the Republicans on their strongest point. The debt/deficits, the weak dollar/high gas prices, the stagnation of wages are proof the Republicans are: Poor Stewards of our Capitalist System.
    Handled properly, this message becomes immune to the traditional Republican response of “Class Warfare,” and insulates Democrats from accusations of “Socialist” policies. It is clear economic good sense, and empowers the middle class as the customers that drive the economy. It is a version of economic populism that is difficult for the Republicans to counter. What do they then say to those middle class voters? “You’re not as important as the Democrats would have you believe.”? That would be a “What is it you do around here, anyway?” insult.
    This theme (using capitalist jargon) could be extended to wrap around many other middle class empowering concepts, such as the idea that we are all shareholders in the American franchise, and as such can and should determine the rules by which our system operates. When we make college educations available to those who qualify, we’re “investing in our future. The Republicans treat citizens as liabilities, we know they are assets.” Most Americans know that wealth and large corporations have too much influence on policy. Instead of attacking that with “The people versus the powerful” populism, make it “The people are the powerful” by elevating their position to its proper importance in our capitalist system.

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  2. Paul on

    The Democrats don’t appeal to white people!!! They are still viewed as the party of very poor minorties and white ivy-league educated elites. The Democratic Party last won the white vote in 1964 (when Lyndon Johnson won 61% of the American vote), since then, they have managed to win just three (or four, if you considered the 2000 election stolen) elections. Not to mention, they have won the majority of the vote only once since (Jimmy Carter in ’76). In ’92 and ’96, Clinton won 43% and 49% of the vote respectivily, which means 57% and 51% of Americans voted AGAINST Clinton twice!!!!!!!
    The reason for this is, in my opinion, is because white people don’t believe that the Democratic Party shares their values. Class related issues obiviously don’t have the impact that democrats would like them to have or else 98% of Americans would be voting democratic. The way democrats can win them over is not by quoting the Bible everywhere they go or by carrying a shotgun with them at rally events, but by changing their views on other key issues like the death penalty and affirmative action. We all remember Michael Dukakis claiming he would be against the death penalty for someone who killed his wife, which bascily lost him the election. Affirmative actions is the most hypocritical thing that liberals support. They claim to be against racism (which I hope all Americans are against) yet they never seem to be bothered by the fact that somewhere someplace in America, a well qualified white person is being denied access to a good job or a good college because that spot was reserved for a less qualified minority in the name of diversity. Jesse Helms was attacked for a similar attack on his 1990 senate democrat opponent, but the truth is many Americans are opposed to the “diversity agenda” of the left in part because: A-white people go through struggles in life too and don’t want other ethnic groups getting a special advance simply because of their race and B-it’s wrong!!!! I hope one day democrats would abolish affirmative action. They are worried that if they do, they will lose black and latino votes but what they are forgetting is that they will win over a lot of moderate, middle-income Republican whites voters who are un-happy with the direction of the country.

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  3. Chris on

    I disagree with the authors’ conclusions that programs such as Pell Grants, the minimum wage, the earned income tax credit, Head Start, and food stamps don’t promote the economic interests of the middle class. The problem, as I see it, is that most Democrats haven’t figured out how to communicate the fact that such programs are in the economic interest of middle class people. While such benefits are indirect, they are real and significant. When people at the bottom of the economic ladder get effective assistance, the result is more jobs, less crime, a more educated workforce, fewer abortions, reduced drug use, more economic security, increased tax revenue, higher salaries – and on and on. As a result, we all benefit.
    With regard to median incomes, this article is out of step on this issue as well. While statistics may look favorable for prime age Americans when compared to overall averages, median incomes are down when compare to real incomes of the previous generation, and possibly, the generation before that. The middle class is beginning to notice.
    Having said that, Third Way is correct to advocate that Democratic leaders directly address the concerns of the middle class. I’d just prefer that we seek ways to inform instead of pander. When the authors advocate a tax break for this and a tax break for that, we’re playing on the GOP’s turf – again. When are Democrats going to realize that we can’t win on the tax issue? The GOP doesn’t care about deficits and debt; they don’t care about airline safety, nuclear proliferation, clean air, safe drinking-water and all the other areas where Americans expect their government to lead. As a result, Republicans will proudly out tax-cut us every time – just as they did to Al Gore’s targeted tax cuts in 2000. Democrats can get the home field advantage by shifting the debate from tax cuts to issues such as health care, wages, education, the national debt, the infant mortality rate, increasing crime rates, nuclear proliferation, our crumbling infrastructure, ethics, campaign finance, the environment, emergency response and the dozens of other areas where Democrats win every time.

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  4. PghMike on

    A great article! It is a pity that most Democrats don’t understand that business is what drives the economy, and the Dem’s have to be more business friendly.
    You nailed a number of no lose policies, like tuition tax credits.
    There are others:
    1) Universal health insurance. It would help businesses create jobs if they didn’t have to budget for paying for health care as well. And health care is one of the few areas where the insurance industry can’t do the job: health insurers will always try to compete by cherry picking, which defeats the whole idea of insurance.
    2) Don’t use the military for nation building. That’s what we’re doing in Iraq, and it is stupid. Nation building is done by economic assistance, not by dropping bombs or driving around in tanks.
    3) Repeal Sarbanes Oxley. Too much paperwork for small businesses, for no real benefit.
    4) If we’re really concerned about global warming, how about some policies that make sense. Support research into safer nuclear power plants, and then build some, with standard designs, so that we can leverage testing and design verification work. Support with tax credits plug in hybrid cars.
    5) The Republicans have abandoned any efforts to strengthen safeguards over nuclear materials, because you can’t invade every country that has nuclear materials. But a United States that was actually *part* of the international community could lead efforts to monitor much more carefully all fissionable materials on the planet, perhaps even backing military action against nations refusing to agree to the monitoring. Nuclear armed terrorists are probably the only ones that could really do us serious damage, and this is an area the Republicans have done virtually nothing.

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  5. Cameron on

    Im a republican, but this was very interesting. The only thing this article fails to address is what happens when you roll back “tax cuts for the rich?” The corporations will cut costs in another way…they will downsize and lay off employees. Please address this issue. Thanks.

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  6. JR Smith on

    I am a registered Democrat that has not supported the party in the last two elections. I refuse to change my party affiliation because I hope that the Democratic Party will regain it’s sanity and move back to a postion that I can support, much like that outlined in this article.
    I did notice one glaring flaw, both in the article and in the Democratic outlook: it is about winning elections and economic issues. There is no mention of maintaining the security of the country. That is an issue that must be dealt with or a great many people like me will never return to the party faithful.

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  7. Phil Philiben on

    I think a more appropriate book (instead of What’s a Matter With Kansas) would be David Kay Johnston’s “Perfectly Legal”. This book, in detail, describes how the middle class with incomes from $60K to $150K are being screwed by the Republican version of tax fairness.

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  8. Jim Jaffe on

    Successful political leaders from Roosevelt(both) to Reagan understood that Americans are an optimistic people, sometimes improbably so. Whatever the broader currents, they think things are pretty good for them today and will be getting better tomorrow. Telling them that they are too stupid to understand that they’re falling behind is hardly a winning strategy. Kessler and his cronies have it right when they suggest the key to winning is in having a government that helps people to become even more successful (which explains popularity of estate tax repeal and capital gains cuts). Class warfare arguments are a lot of fun, but they’ve been tried repeatedly with a near total lack of success. Its time to acknowledge that our problems in the past were marginal execution issues, but in a message that simply doesn’t resonate in this society.

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  9. Stuart Gottlieb on

    Excellent report. The reason the American middle class (including the lower middle class) identifies more with the affluent than with the poor is because they tend to be property owners (cars, homes), and tend to believe hard work will pay dividends in the form of a better life for themselves and their children. To win the middle class vote, the Democratic party needs to tap into this generally optimistic view of the U.S. economic system with a positive message of its own. Doom and gloom hand-wringing isn’t a strategy.

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  10. Doug Kantor on

    The message of the article is excellent. There are several ways to get to this from a policy perspective but the key overriding point that Democrats don’t (and won’t) win by consistently talking gloom and doom is absolutely right. Positive ideas that advance an optimistic world view are both the best thing for the country and for winning elections and this article gives a good direction to move on one set of issues.
    It is too easy for the party out of power to fall into the trap of reflexively talking about how bad things are. We need more of the type of thinking exemplified by this article to help Democrats take a different approach.

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  11. Anthony Santa Barbara on

    I am a Republican, so you may not wish to publish these observations. the thinkers at TDS might however wish to consider them.
    1. A tuition tax credit for college and university costs will most likely cause colleges and universities to raise their tution and fees to account for that credit and/or reduce financial aid for the same reason. Thus, it would not have the desired effects of easing the financial costs of higher education. The costs of higher education will only be reduced when their is competition for students We see that for example with competiton for top students between Ivy and non-Ivy institutions, but not among Ivy institutions themselves, which will not “buy” quality students with lower tuition and fees.
    A first time home buyer tax credit would be similarly price distortive and counter-productive. Affordability of homes would increase and therefore the competition for existing homes would increase their price. Increasing the supply of homes would seem to achieve the results you want. This can be achieved by providing tax incentives to home builders and renovators and a relaxation of governmental controls – zoning, height, density, environmental.
    The two other proposals involving tax cuts for caring for elderly and for pre-school strike me as similarly defective. The economic consequences of those proposals would increase the price of those services. Better to increase the supply of “carers” through targeted immigration policies favoring pediatric and geriatric nurses, doctors, and similarly skilled persons.
    Also, if there are tax credits for pre-schoolers and tax credits for first time home buyers and then for children in college and then for geriatric carers, at what point in one’s life are there not tax incentives?
    Query, would it not in general be better for government to reduce its internventions in the market through distortive tax incentives for pursuits deemed worthy of special treatment – education, home ownership, caring for children and parents? And
    what about tax equity for the childless, single, renter who is an orphan
    Let the people keep their money which they earn and spend it as they choose. It seems to me that a better course than taking people’s money from them and then dribbling it back for “approved” activities, net of course of a large federal bureaucratic surcharge, is a better way to proceed. But, I guess that is why I am a Republican.

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  12. lae12345 on

    You still are recommending a subsidy-driven, tax the rich platform. The middle class hopes their kids will be rich, that is why pro-government policies will alway fail. The middle class doesn’t want handouts, it wants to be able to get ahead without filling out the forms that Democrats love so much to foist on the populace.

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  13. Mark Oakley on

    A brilliant strategy I must say, and I am a Republican. You are trying to buy the votes of the middle class with rich peoples money.
    But there is just one catch. In order to buy enough votes for this to work you will need to define who is “rich” pretty far down the economic ladder, right into the middle class you are trying to buy.
    The voters know from experience with the Democratic Party that the Democratic tax increases targeted at the rich always end up hitting the middle class as well.
    Clinton promised a middle class tax break but instead gave a middle class tax hike. Bush 1 promised “No new taxes” then raised taxes in collusion with the democratically controlled congress. That tax hike too, landed squarely on the shoulders of the middle class.
    Bush 1 lost the presidency from that tax increase, but the democrats started loosing the middle class. Clinton’s tax increase just accelerated the process.
    The problem today is that the middle class does not trust the Democrats to keep their promises on taxes. They think that if Democrats are elected, they will find a way to tax them as well as the rich.
    Until you change that perception you will get nowhere by promising to tax the rich and give to the poor, much less the middle class, when the middle class knows from experience that when the Democrats promise to tax the rich, they know they will tax the middle class as well.

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  14. Long James Long on

    As a strong Conservative, I realize that competition, including political competition, creates excellence. It disturbs me greatly that Democrats are not competitive and I think this article has a positive message for our future as a nation.
    I take strong exception to the facts and implications of this one paragraph:
    “It is true that our national prosperity is threatened by the Bush policies of high debt, tax giveaways to the most affluent, a theocratic faith that corporate America will solve our health care and energy crises, and the growing income inequality found in our country. Yet even with six years of wrong choices behind us, the bursting of the tech bubble, the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and sky-high oil prices – America’s vital economic signs are fundamentally robust.”
    So, if President Bush is doing so poorly, why are things going so well?
    The flip side of this is that, if President Johnson did so well, why was there then seventeen years of economic stagnation with four recessions culminating in the Carter Catastrophe? And if President Clinton did so well, why did the NASDAQ fall from over 5000 to under 2000 in his last year, followed immediately by a serious recession?
    President Kennedy and his economic advisors first observed that deficit spending could be used to stimulate the economy, and that lower taxes resulted in higher tax receipts. Democrats not only forgot the lesson President Kennedy taught, they repudiated it, possibly because President Reagan (Economics major) and President Bush 43 (MBA) put Kennedy’s ideas to such excellent use, as you (if not the NYT) acknowledge (“America’s vital economic signs are fundamentally robust”). But also likely because lowering taxes does not fit in with a socialist agenda.
    “High debt” is a necessary consequence of deficit spending. The current debt and debt rate are not overly large by historical standards, and, if you are paying attention, the debt is coming down quite sharply, just as Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush 43 said it would. The alternative would be the Johnson model, uncorrected by Nixon or Carter, which led to ongoing stagnation and misery. Which do you prefer?
    On a percentage basis, “tax giveaways to the most affluent” were considerably less than tax giveaways to those of more modest means. And these “tax giveaways”, as you term them, directly provide the investment that creates the “fundamentally robust” economy you have noted. Which do you prefer, “tax giveaways” or President Johnson’s economic legacy?
    A “theocratic faith that corporate America will solve our health care and energy crises”? Whom do you think is more likely to solve these problems? Stalin? Hitler? Mad Jacques Chirac? President Carter? Lula? FEMA? Or Halliburton? Halliburton, of course.
    The “growing income inequality found in our country” can absolutely be solved by installing socialism, but that has never worked to anyone’s satisfaction except the ruling hierarchy. The best ever achieved in any political-economic system is a support level for those who need it and freedom of opportunity for everyone.
    Quite apart from your specific points that I have tried to answer, you have a strong leftward bias as revealed by your statements of the above four points. You can’t get to a reasonable destination if your rudder is locked to the left, which is a concise statement of the whole Democratic Party problem. This whole article is rational, even distinguished, except for the distinctly unrational biases expressed in the cited paragraph. And I very much fear that your whole thought process is subordinated to your leftist ideology, which bodes ill for a competitive political system.

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  15. DLDickinson on

    Unbelievably insightful and fortunately correct. Now if we only had dynamic conservative leadership that could articulate this message to black America. For Dems, GOP should stand for “Get Off the Plantation”

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  16. Jonathan Fuller on

    One other thought:
    The middle class sees taxes as its biggest obstacle to getting ahead. The tax burden, federal, state and local, on the middle class is a constant 25 to 30% headwind against accumulation of wealth. The middle class recognizes that wasteful government spending and burdensome government regulations are the cause of this problem, and will respond overwhelmingly to the party that convincingly addresses the problems of high government spending and high taxes. That’s why Ronald Reagan, once a Democrat, was so popular. The Republican failure to deliver on these issues is a golden opportunity for Democrats.
    The Democratic Party needs to get over the “tax-cuts for the wealthy” shtick. The middle class wants to be wealthy and thinks tax cuts for the wealthy is a good idea. Also, Americans react with distaste to class warfare arguments. The middle class also perceives the economic policies advocated by Democrats to be harmful to their self interest.
    If the Democratic Party wants to govern again, it should support smaller government and lower taxes (as well as love of country and support for American political values). Does this sound like what the Republicans have been running on? Yes, and that’s why Republicans have been doing better than Democrats. If Democrats can’t support these policies, we’d better learn to enjoy being the minority party, because that’s where we’ll be living henceforth!

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  17. Jeff Dziedzic on

    As a conservative, I like a lot of what this article has to say. The thing you are missing is that most of the middle class is simply more conservative on social issues than the domocratic party is. Not only is the deomocratic party way to the left on these issues, they are simply intolerant of those who aren’t.
    I say I believe life begins at conception, and I’m told I don’t care about women’s rights. I say gay marriage doesn’t make sense and is bad for society as a whole, and I’m told I’m a biggot. I say that religion always has and should continue to play an important role in government, and I’m told I’m a part of the “radical religious right” who will stop at nothing less than a theocracy.
    I could go on and on here, but I think I’ve made my point. So the question is – How could I possibly vote for a party that not only disagrees with all of my beliefs, but also hates me for them?

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  18. bilpu on

    A problem with this plan is that the wealthy really are the engines of our economy. Just as is business and anything that promotes business and investment. The Bush tax cuts, the Reagan cuts before that and the Kennedy cuts before that have demonstrated this. It works. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not unfair, it’s a sound economic principle.

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  19. Lissa Rurik on

    Interesting and thought provoking…one problem however – a recent survey asked (American) wage earners to specify their income percentile. 19% responded that they were in the top 1% of wage earners (and we aren’t talking Forbes magazine readers here).
    Time and again, this phenomenon has been found to exist – i.e., the war against “the rich” doesn’t work because too many people either believe themselves to already be among the rich, or that they will be in the future. There’s that optimism!
    Oh well – its a great start at some much needed introspection.

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  20. Rob Fink on

    One problem with idea for a tax break for college tuition is that a Republican congress would probably just go ahead and pass it. Ditto for the other tax benefits. It’s right up their alley because the money isn’t funnelled through the government.
    The great Truth that Democrats have grasped is the efficacy of government action. It is Republicans that represent the great Truth of encouraging individual responsibility.
    It is as difficult for Democrats to politically poach in the New Tax Break Reservation as it is for Republicans to politically poach in the New Program Preserve.
    Note that no one is fooled into thinking that the prescription drug benefit means that Republicans are now more likely to support increased medicare spending than the Dems. So, also, no one will doubt that Republicans will do more for tax breaks than the Dems going forward.

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  21. James Z. Smith on

    One last comment: Here is how this article closes: “A commitment to a new era of middle-class opportunity would not only help the self-described party of the middle class win a sustainable majority, it has the added benefit of making America a better and stronger nation. After all, the engine that drives our economy is truly the middle class.”
    Don’t you think that the primary focus should be a “better and stronger nation”, not attaining and retaining a majority in the Congress? I realize that this is a forum dedicated to that latter objective, but this attitude is also very distainful to the average American middle class ‘non-politico’. It smacks of ‘politics as usual’, and makes us think that you care more about getting and holding power than about America and Americans.

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  22. James Z. Smith on

    Excellent analysis, but I think you missed two important points painful though they may be to face up to.
    First, religion. According to a study from 2001 (http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_studies.htm#aris_1), over 75% of Americans identified themselves as Christians. Unfortunately, the Democratic party of today appears to be downright hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular. I don’t think that most people who consider themselves Democrats want all religion out of public life. Democrats, particularly the leadership of the party needs to face and confront this disconnect.
    Second, the theme that your article sort of skirts around is the fact, to this observer, at least, that the Democratic party has become NOT the party of the middle class, or of minority rights, but the party of rich, angry, white, liberal elites. The left side of the blogosphere regularly blasts the middle class and common working people as ‘hicks’ and ‘hayseeds’ (to be kind to those bloggers) from ‘fly-over country’.
    The Democratic party used to stand for regular Americans with regular American values who loved their country and wanted a better life for themselves and for their children. Sadly, the Democratic party seems to support those people no longer.

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  23. tony johnson on

    Republican who read the article and absolutely agree with the content of the document. Very astute, actually hope your party doesn’t catch on to this. One thing you should rethink about the advice, most people will not believe the part “How do we pay for them? Well that gets to our critique: conservatives believe the wealthy are the engine of the economy; we believe the middle class is the engine of the economy. So we would roll back some of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy to finance a generous set of middle-class tax breaks designed to create a new era of middle-class economic opportunity.” We remember the 92 Clinton campaign where he touted middle class tax relief, only to come in and request the biggest tax INCREASE ever. Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on me

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  24. Jim Ingraham on

    BRAVO! Finally a democratic strategist that’s talking sense. The middle class is our ticket back to power and as a parent with a kindergarden age child I’m all for a program that works directly for me as opposed to working for the super rich. I agree we should not bash the rich just like we should not abandon the poor. What we should be doing is helping everyone rise above their circumstances who is willing to work for it. Now take your argument to the next step. I believe it has 2 parts. First we have to get tough on national security and quit calling for an end to Bush policy. That’s about as useful as bashing the rich. We should call for an all out assult on terrorism complete with the required national sacrifice to win the war. Passing a bill to initiate the 9/11 Commission recommendations is a good start. Calling for enough troops in Iraq to truly secure the borders and bring peace and economic development to the streets is a good second step. Next, President Clinton told us the era of big government was over in the 1990s. President Bush by his actions and that of the Republicans have ushered out the era of the right of citizens to expect any kind of good government. Democrats should be for a new federal govenment and a reformed civil service based on professional people who are held to high standards and expected to deliver service with the efficiency the public has a right to expect. The Republican IRS is outsourcing tax collections to private collection agencies when hiring more IRS staff would be cheaper and preserve tax record confidentiality. This is an outrage! Democrats in Congress should call for reform that doesn’t create more government. It creates a measured effective government like most municipal utilities. Look at them as a model.
    The Third Way is on the right track. To get where we need to be we need campaign finance reform desperatly! That’s the only way to break the hold the rich have on our government. Keep up the good work.
    Thanks:
    Jim Ingraham
    7786 Signature Parkway
    Hixson TN 37343

    Reply

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