Monday, July 12, 2010

Politics of Fear (I)

Obama. . . regularly caricatures Republican views and ascribes to GOP lawmakers the most cynical of motives. “They figured, ‘If we just keep on saying no to everything, and nothing gets done, then somehow people will forget who got us into this mess in the first place, and we’ll get more votes in November.’ So their prescription for every challenge is pretty much the same — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here —basically: cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for corporations, and cut working folks loose to fend for themselves. Basically, their attitude is: You’re on your own.”

--Keith Koffler, “Politico,” 7.7.10

I noted last January Democrats planned to make this fall’s election about Republican shortcomings; as one Democrat consultant put it, “kick the shit out of somebody.” So Obama not only blames Republicans for everything, but adds they are deliberately driving the country into the ditch to benefit the wealthy. Obama doesn’t bother to remind us Democrats have been running congress since January 2007.

As Republican Mark McKinnon writes in the “Daily Beast,” quoting Democratic strategist Paul Begala, “This is not a hope election, it’s a fear election. Since you don’t have your hero [Obama] on the ballot, make sure you have a villain.”

McKinnon goes on:
Begala recognizes there ain't much water left in the "hope" well, so the plan is to poison what's left. Begala understands that narrative architecture requires a villain. And every one of Obama’s transformative initiatives has had a designated villain—from greedy insurance companies, to big banks and fat cats on Wall Street.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now digging for any dirt it can find on Republican candidates in close races to send to local reporters. And the Democratic National Committee has launched a Web site to solicit videos of Republican candidates’ gaffes filmed by partisan plants with cams in the crowds.

The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, for one, worries that Democratic efforts to tag Republicans as the party of “no” might actually stick. He recommends Republicans stand behind Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s “Road Map,” his 87-page document that would give everyone a refundable tax credit to buy health insurance, allow individual investment accounts to be carved out of Social Security, reduce the six income tax rates to two (10% and 25%), and replace the corporate tax (35%) with a business consumption tax (8.5%). Ryan had the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) run the numbers in his plan. CBO concluded the plan would “make the Social Security and Medicare programs permanently solvent [and thereby] lift the growing debt burden on future generations.”

Barnes, however, points out why Republicans aren’t currently lining up behind Ryan’s “Road Map”: it would overhaul two popular programs, Social Security and Medicare, relying on individuals to make decisions now made by government.

Democrats are already attacking the “Road Map.” When Republicans in June gave Ryan a national platform to advance his program, House Speaker Pelosi’s press release pounced saying, “Republicans Make Key Advocate of Privatizing Social Security and Ending Medicare Their Spokesman on Budget.” When Democratic focus groups told swing voters Ryan would turn Medicare into “a voucher system .  .  . it has a massive impact,” according to Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, who added, “People like the Democratic program of Medicare.”

We would all like to be part of a nation where we debated, then moved to solve our two most intractable fiscal problems—Social Security and Medicare. Ryan is brave enough to get the ball rolling.

I’m afraid Republicans would be crazy to hand Democrats, using the “politics of fear,” an opportunity to demagogue either Medicare or Social Security. Better to live to fight another day.

Is the answer to Democrats’ “politics of fear” and their branding Republicans “the party of ‘no’” to respond in kind, not just talk about jobs, taxes, and deficits? No "hope"? Just meet fear with fear?

Possibly yes.

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