Arithmetic Could Damn the Democratic Party in 2010

January 20, 2010 at 3:09 pm (Political) (, , , , , , , , , )

15.3 million Americans are officially unemployed.

In the wake of Tuesday’s Massachusetts special Senate election, politicians and pundits are tearing at their clothes trying to figure out the “why’s” and “how’s” of Senator-Elect Brown’s surprise victory. The Washington Post today, alone, has 17 pundits with 17 explanations and 17 solutions. While President Clinton roams the hallways of the Hart Building warning anyone who will listen about the electoral dangers of dropping health care reform from the agenda, Congress would be wise to heed the words of a younger candidate Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Last year’s $787 billion stimulus package would have paid the wages of 17.5 million workers at the American median wage for one year. Americans can do arithmetic.

There is no doubt to an objective observer that – despite the pork and the goofy pet projects – the stimulus worked as intended. The middle-class tax cuts eased families struggling with increased household expenses and stagnant wages. The Dow is up 3000 points from this time last year. Unemployment leveled off (at a slightly higher percentage than the White House had bet – whoever decided to announce a number should be the first staffer standing in a soup line). Wall Street bonuses are more self-indulgent than ever. No doubt, this time next year, everything will be just fine. Eventually, millions of permanent private-sector jobs will flourish from the foundations of the stimulus package.

Would a member of Congress want to cross their fingers and hope that everything is fine by the time November rolls around?

Before every coward from a swing state in the House revolts, the Democratic leadership needs to take swift, decisive action to reassure the caucus if they hope to accomplish ANYTHING this year: reinstate the Works Progress Administration. Spend $200 billion and employ 4 million people, immediately. Reserve half the money to target swing districts. If the Democrat needs 10,000 votes, create 20,000 jobs. Put a donkey in the corner of the paycheck. Get the caucus back in order, pass something, call it “health care reform”, and declare victory. Get healthcare OFF the radar immediately and censure any member of the caucus that opens their mouth in front of a camera without including in every sentence the word, “Jobs.”

This trick is Tammany Hall 101 and as old as Julius Caesar.

Why? It works. Modern politics is not above this. President Bush wrote every American a $350 check in 2003 and was handily re-elected in 2004. The Republicans already telegraphed their strategy to this tactic with last year’s stimulus debate. Democrats already won the “tax cuts hurt us” argument in 2008 and should build off of that in 2010. Let the Republicans scream for a year about make-work. Every time a Republican slanders make-work and suggests tax cuts, the Democrat should tout their own middle-class tax cut and talk about “Main Street vs. Wall Street.” Democrats should define their make-work project NOW as “Main Street” and the voter will fill out the meme as to who backs “Wall Street” (hint: it’s the guy who starts every sentence with the words, “tax cut”).

A Republican cannot ride a populist tiger when they are kicking it in the chops.

If Massachusetts taught us anything, there is no safe district in 2010. As the party in power, the Democrats must define themselves before they are defined by their opponents. The only way a party in power can define themselves is through their work. Every Democrat can scream, “Jobs!” on every street corner; but if the economy has not turned around by November, no voter is going to agree that tax cuts, regulatory incentives, or targeted small-business loans were sufficient to warrant re-electing their first or second term Democratic member of Congress. A WPA program will, as history has proven, have little to no practical effect on the economy as a whole, but it is something tangible a candidate in 2010 can point to if this recovery proves more sluggish than anticipated. Better, a WPA program allows a Democrat to define themselves as “Main Street” before their opponent has the opportunity to define them as “Wall Street.”

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