In his New York Times opinion piece, “Let’s Not Talk About Inequality,” Thomas B. Edsall does a good job of tracing the change in public attitudes toward Republican economic policies in the wake of the 2008 meltdown.
Edsall quotes Gingrich’s and Romney’s pious pronouncements about workers needing to “become more employable” (Newt) and achieving “success and rewards through hard work” (Mitch), which is a little hard to digest, coming from a guy who gets six figures for a speech and another who made his fortune in hedge funds. This in “an American economy sharply skewed towards the affluent, with rising inequality, a dwindling middle class and the persistence of long-term unemployment.”
Not all Republicans are quite so clueless. Edsall quotes GOP framing guru Frank Luntz, “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort” because “they’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.” Edsalll also quotes Democratic strategist Geoff Garin, who explains “…The Republican/Tea Party narrative about the economy has been superseded by a different narrative – one that emphasizes the need to address the growing gap between those at the very top of the economic ladder and the rest of the country.”
Garin cites poll data indicating stronger support for “a set of policies generally favored by Democrats calling for the elimination of tax breaks for the rich and tougher regulation of major banks and corporations” and that the public believes the federal government should “pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans.” He also cites polling data spelling big trouble for the GOP:
The job ratings of Republicans in Congress have tanked at 74 percent negative to 19 percent favorable, dropping more steeply than Obama’s, which are 51 negative-44 positive. But the Post survey also found that congressional Republicans run neck and neck with the president when respondents are asked “who would you trust to do a better job” on handling the economy (42-42) and creating jobs (40-40). On an issue on which the public traditionally favors Democrats by wide margins, “protecting the middle class,” Obama held only a 45-41 advantage over congressional Republicans.
Republicans are scrambling to figure out how to blame Democrats for worsening inequality, explains Edsall. But “The issue of inequality is inherently dangerous for Republicans who are viewed by many as the party of the upper class.” Further,
An Oct. 19-24 CBS/New York Times poll asked respondents whether the policies of the Obama administration and the policies of Republicans in Congress favor the rich, the middle class, the poor or treat everyone equally. Just 12 percent said Obama favors the rich, while 69 percent said Republicans in Congress favor the rich.
And when Ryan’s budget scheme is explained to voters, they “are horrified by it,” according to Garin. Edsall marvels at the GOP’s blindness in making it possible for their two front runners to get bogged down in arguments about how much more to give the wealthy while weakening Medicare benefits for the middle class — “in a climate of stark economic adversity for millions of unemployed Americans.”
Edsall is right. Democrats could not have hoped for a more self-destructive scenario in the Republican camp. If Democrats can project a credible message that offers hope for a better future for middle class voters in the months ahead, the optimism that has begun to emerge in Democratic circles will be justified.