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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Robert Reich’s “Republicans aren’t going to tell Americans the real cause of our $31.4tn debt” at The Guardian includes some message points Dems should find useful, including: “In the first full year of the Trump tax cut, the federal budget deficit increased by $113bn while corporate tax receipts fell by about $90bn, which would account for nearly 80% of the deficit increase….Meanwhile, America’s wealthy have been financing America’s exploding debt by lending the federal government money, for which the government pays them interest….As the federal debt continues to mount, these interest payments are ballooning – hitting a record $475bn in the last fiscal next year (which ran through September). The Congressional Budget Office predicts that interest payments on the federal debt will reach 3.3% of the GDP by 2032 and 7.2% by 2052….The biggest recipients of these interest payments? Not foreigners but wealthy Americans who park their savings in treasury bonds held by mutual funds, hedge funds, pension funds, banks, insurance companies, personal trusts and estates….Hence the giant half-century switch: the wealthy used to pay higher taxes to the government. Now the government pays the wealthy interest on their loans to finance a swelling debt that’s been caused largely by lower taxes on the wealthy….This means that a growing portion of everyone else’s taxes are going to wealthy Americans in the form of interest payments, rather than paying for government services that everyone needs….So, the real problem isn’t America’s growing federal budget deficit. It’s the decline in tax revenue from America’s wealthy combined with growing interest payments to them….Both are worsening America’s already staggering inequalities of income and wealth….What should be done? Isn’t it obvious? Raise taxes on the wealthy.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall addresses a pivotal question facing the Democratic Party, “How Much Longer Can ‘Vote Blue No Matter Who!’ Last?” and quotes University of Mississippi political scientist Julie Wronski, who who sees Democrats as “a coalition of racial minorities (especially Blacks) and whites who are sympathetic to the inequities and challenges faced by minority groups in America. Racial identities and attitudes are the common thread that link wealthier, more educated whites with poorer minority constituencies….The Democrats’ biracial working-class coalition during the mid-20th century, in Wronski’s view, “was successful because racial issues were off the table.” Once those issues moved front and center, the coalition split: “Simply put, the parties are divided in terms of which portion of the working class they support — the white working class or the poorer minority communities.” But do Republicans really “support” the white working-class in any substantial way? Edsall continues, “the level of educational attainment is the line of demarcation between the two groups of white voters….By 2020, the white working class — defined by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis as “whites without four-year college degrees” — voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden, 67 to 32 percent, according to network exit polls. In the 2022 election, white working-class voters backed Republican House candidates at almost the same level, 66 to 32 percent.” The Republican’s ability to win 2/3 of the white workers who actually show up to vote is unchanged.

Edsall also quotes from a November 2021 study of the composition of the Democratic Party by Pew Research, which notes that “The progressive left makes up a relatively small share of the party, 12 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. However, this group is the most politically engaged segment of the coalition, extremely liberal in every policy domain and, notably, 68 percent white non-Hispanic. In contrast, the three other Democratic-oriented groups are no more than about half white non-Hispanic.” Edsall also quotes Lanae Erickson, a Third Way v.p, who observes, “Although the percentage of Democrats calling themselves liberal has grown over the past three decades, it still remains true that only about half of self-described party members identify that way — in contrast to Republican voters, about 80 percent of whom call themselves conservative. So Democrats have long had and continue to have a more ideologically diverse coalition to assemble, with nearly half of the party calling themselves moderate or conservative.” Erikson touches lightly a point that is too often glossed over – that a small but loud minority of self-identified Democrats support the most impractical and unpopular policies. Very few elected Democrats embrace politically toxic policies like defunding the police or ‘open borders.’ You can’t win in many districts with those views.

Looking toward the future, Edsall writes, “What, then, is likely to happen in the Democratic ranks?….The reality, as summed up by Ryan Enos, is that for all their problems,

The Democrats are clearly the majority party and may be experiencing an unparalleled period of dominance: Since 1992, a period of 30 years, Republicans have only won a majority of popular presidential votes once, in 2004, and that was during the extraordinary time of two overseas wars.

For the moment, the Democratic coalition — with all its built-in conflicts between a relatively affluent, well-educated, largely white wing, on the one hand, and an economically precarious, heavily minority but to some degree ascendant electorate on the other — remains a functional political institution….“ In this sense,” Enos told me, “it’s important not to overstate the damage that some perceive liberalism as having done to the Democrats’ electoral fortunes.” But Republicans are shrewd branders of the opposition, who know how to slime the entire Democratic Party because a small percentage of its rank and file embrace extreme cultural liberalism. Dems could learn a few things about how to brand the opposition from their opponents.

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    The Democratic coalition is dysfunctional on taxation because a big part of the coalition is white liberals in big cities who are rich and make a lot of campaign contributions. The pro-SALT coalition (specially in the House) shows who they are.

    There is a lot of fair criticism of the left for its cultural excesses.

    But too many establishment moderates use that criticism to deflect from the left’s push for fairer taxation. Third Way is emblematic of this problem.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    According to Robert Reich, “Meanwhile, America’s wealthy have been financing America’s exploding debt by lending the federal government money, for which the government pays them interest…” And yet, according to the Treasury, the largest holders of U.S. Treasury debt are government institutions like Social Security and foreign governments. The latter hold about $7.5 trillion of our $32 trillion federal debt. The Americans who own Treasury debt are not “America’s wealthy”, they are America’s retirees and workers who hope to retire. A quote from The Balance . com: “If you were to add the debt held by Social Security and all the retirement and pension funds, almost half of the U.S. Treasury debt is held in trust for retirement.”


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