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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Repeat After Me: It’s Not About the Money!

One of the most effective talking-points of the unions and Democratic legislators battling Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin was: “It’s Not About the Money!” This battle-cry drew attention to the fact that Walker’s union-busting agenda had little or nothing to do with the state’s fiscal crisis, which Walker himself had helped engineer by pushing corporate tax cuts.
It’s time to make the same point in terms of the Republican agenda in Congress. Much of the battle between Ds and Rs over non-defense discretionary spending isn’t about the deficit numbers, but about GOP efforts to grind various ideological axes, from defunding EPA and bank regulators and NPR, to crippling abortion and contraceptive services, to repealing last year’s health reform legislation. Indeed, appropriations “riders” that have nothing to do with spending levels are what conservative House members are most adamently demanding in return for supporting any appropriations bill, temporary or permanent. In effect, alarms about debts and deficits are being used as an excuse to go after government functions that Republicans would object to even if the budget was in surplus.
Now on one level this isn’t surprising or even wrong-minded; the two parties can and should reflect their own sense of priorities in every budget decision, not just those driven by concerns or negotiations over spending reductions. But these priorities need to be acknowledged and discussed openly and directly, and not in the disguise of making “painful but necessary cuts.”
The truth is that most Republican these days would prefer to live in a country with little or no regulation of corporations (environmental or any other sort) or banks, a far more regressive tax code than has been the case historically, workplaces with no collective bargaining rights or even minimum wages, a status quo ante health care system in which private insurers are free to discriminate and rising costs are borne by the sickest and poorer Americans, the social safety net is weaker and not subject to any national minimum norms, and abortion (plus many forms of contraception) are illegal. They’d also prefer to get rid of legal protections against discrimination generally, and a federal government limited to the kind of functions typical of the eighteenth century in which the U.S. Constitution was adopted.
It’s their right to favor this kind of society, but given the abundant evidence that a large majority of Americans would be very unhappy with it, it’s the responsibility of non-Republicans and of the news media to make this agenda as clear as possible, and not just mindlessly accept that conservatives are only worried about the debt burden on future generations.
I made a small effort to do this on a nationally syndicated public radio show today, and am resolved to keep it up at the risk of redundancy. So should you.

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