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Jamelle Bouie | The Nation

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Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie

 Politics, wonkery and everything in between.

Class Warfare Works!

In September, President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act—a $445 billion stimulus package—and the “Buffett Rule”, a surtax on the wealthiest Americans designed to pay for the AJA and add more progressivity to the federal income tax. Immediately, this proposal spawned cries of “class warfare” from the usual crew of Republicans and conservative ideologues. It’s been almost two months since then, and Republicans are still howling about class warfare. Yesterday, for example, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan blasted Obama for his “divisive” rhetoric:

“We’re getting basically a strategy to divide people,” Ryan continued. “To speak to people as if they’re stuck in some class—they’re stuck in some station in their life and the government’s role is to help them cope with it. That is so inherently contrary to what we’re about in this country.”

Aside from the ideological complaints, there’s a political reason for this continued hostility. Class warfare works. Earlier today, Talking Points Memo reported on a memo issued by American Crossroads, the Super PAC formed by Republican strategist Karl Rove. In the memo, director Steve Law warns that the public is responding to the president’s demands for highter taxes on the wealthy:

“It may be the result of larger environmental conditions, or he may be moving the needle himself, but Obama’s ‘tax the rich’ mantra is getting traction,” the group’s director, Steven Law, wrote in a memo. “Our poll found that 64% favor raising taxes on people with incomes above $200,000.”

As Politico noted earlier today, Obama has gone back and forth in his criticsm of Wall Street, oscillating between attacks and hedged understanding. If American Crossroads is right—and other polls suggest that they are—then the right strategy is for Obama to double-down on his tough approach to higher taxes on the rich. “Class warfare” works, and the White House should take advantage of it.

Obama's Troubles in Virginia

Politico is right to say that Virginia will be a tough get for President Obama in 2012. Despite changing demographics and recent Democratic gains, Virginia is still a fairly conservative state—Republicans control the General Assembly and each of the state executive branch seats, as well as the majority of House seats, thanks to the 2010 midterm elections. What’s more, Virginians aren’t too hot on Obama’s performance—according to the most recent poll from Quinnipiac University, Virginia voters disapprove of Obama 52 percent to 45 percent. In a head-to-head match-up with Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the Republican race for president, Obama gets 44 percent to Romney’s 45 percent.

Politico traces the beginning of Virginia’s discontent—particularly among independents—to the 2009 statewide elections, when voters swept Democrats out across the state, and ended Democratic control of the governorship by electing Republican Bob McDonnell. Here’s Politico with its analysis:

[I]f there was any state to warn Obama that the independent voters who gave him his historic victory were deeply disaffected, it was again Virginia.

Just a year later, in 2009, Republican Governor Robert McDonnell, running against Obama’s record in the White House, won independents by a 2 to 1 majority in a victory that served as a prelude to the massive GOP gains of 2010.

The problem is that Obama’s poor showing with Virginia independents in 2011 isn’t actually connected to McDonnell’s win in 2009, especially given Obama’s high approval rating among Virginians in 2009. In reality, Democratic losses that year had more to do with turnout than it did with any particular disapproval with Obama. That is, the people who elected Bob McDonnell weren’t the same ones who voted for Barack Obama.

Compare the exit polls: 65 percent of the Virginia electorate in 2009 was 45 or older, compared to 49 percent in 2008. Seventy-eight percent of voters were white, compared to 70 percent in 2008, and only 16 percent were African-American (it was 20 percent in 2008). Indeed, 51 percent of all voters in the 2009 elections voted for John McCain in 2008. And this is to say nothing of the fact that Virginia “independents” skew to the right.

Again, none of this is to say that Obama will have an easy time in 2012, but the roots of his trouble have less to do with the 2009 elections, and more to do with the poor state of the economy.

How the Media Help Republicans Escape Blame for Obstructionism

There are two ways to describe the fate of the American Jobs Act, the stimulus bill introduced by the Obama administration last month. You could say that it earned a bare majority, as fifty Democrats voted to bring the legislation to a final vote. Or you could save yourself a few words, and just say that the bill failed, as Republicans—along with two centrist Democrats—opted to filibuster the legislation rather than allow an up-or-down vote.

In the parallel world where political actors are held responsible for their actions, headlines would announce that Republicans—acting on mindless hostility to President Obama—kept more than $400 billion in needed stimulus (including $175 billion in tax cuts) from reaching the economy, leaving millions without assistance and pushing the country closer to a second recession.

As it stands, newspaper writers are content to leave Republicans off the hook for their relentless obstructionism. To wit, here’s the New York Times with a description of last night’s action in the Senate:

In a major setback for President Obama, the Senate on Tuesday blocked consideration of his $447 billion jobs bill, forcing the White House and Congressional Democrats to scramble to salvage parts of the plan, the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s push to revive a listless economy.

The legislation, announced with fanfare by the president at a joint session of Congress last month, fell short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate. [Emphasis mine]

The Times's failure to identify the main actors might make sense if legislating were a game of Calvinball, and the AJA was blocked by a sudden and arbitrary new rule. But of course, that’s not what happened. The American Jobs Act failed because Senate Republicans chose to invoke the filibuster and raise the threshold for passage to sixty votes. The New York Times description is “balanced”—since it does apportion blame—but it does more to obscure the situation than it does explain it.

Since Obama entered office, media outlets—and newspapers especially—have obscured the locus of Congressional obstruction. The filibuster has become a routine part of Washington, and few people bother to note the extent to which its current use is ahistorical and unprecedented. This refusal to blame Republicans for their actions didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make sense to me now.

Centrist Democrats Work to Obstruct Good Policy at Every Opportunity

After President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act, I wrote that his greatest obstacle would be the “centrist” and conservative Democrats who plagued the first two years of his term. Already, Democrats like Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson had voiced their “concerns” over the bill, siding over Republicans on the need for deficit reduction above all else.

With the Senate set to vote on the Jobs Act, it seems that this prediction has come to pass. As Erik Wasson reports for The Hill, centrist Democrats have rebelled on the issue of higher taxes on millionaires, even as large majorities of Americans (including Republicans) endorse the proposal. In particular, senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson all plan to vote against the bill, for fear that it will harm their re-election chances next year.

With unanimous opposition from House Republicans, there was no chance that the American Jobs Act would ever pass. But as a political move, it was supposed to draw an important contrast with the GOP, and demonstrate the extent to which Republican obstruction has blocked federal action on jobs. To that end, it’s important for Democrats to show unity. Wasson quotes a former communications director to former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, who notes that if there are substantial Democratic defections, “Republicans will be able to point out in the media that this plan hasn’t got enough support on either side of the aisle and argue it wasn’t thought through.”

When you consider the broad popularity of the American Jobs Act, not only are centrist Democrats harming the party writ large with their cowardice, they’re harming themselves as well. Of course, given the last two years of pointless obstruction from senators like Ben Nelson, it doesn’t come as a surprise that they’d take this route.

The Numbers Behind Herman Cain's '9-9-9' Plan

Writing at the New York Times, economist Bruce Bartlet gives an analysis of Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan. In short? It massively cut taxes on corporations and the rich, and rewards everyone else with a colossal tax hike:

This means that the 47 percent of tax filers who now pay no federal income taxes will pay 9 percent on their total income. And elimination of the payroll tax won’t even help half of them because the earned income tax credit, which Mr. Cain would abolish, offsets both their income tax liability and their payroll tax payment as well.

Additionally, everyone would now pay a 9 percent sales tax on all purchases. No mention is made of any exemptions from this tax, so we may assume that it will apply to food, medical care, rent, home and auto purchases and a wide variety of other expenditures now exempt from state sales taxes. This would increase their cost of living by 9 percent while, at the same time, the poor would pay income taxes.

Cain sells the “9-9-9” plan as a populist alternative to Obama’s policies, but in reality, its passage would transfer trillions in wealth from the vast majority of Americans, so that the rich could enjoy lower tax rates. I recommend that you read the whole of Bartlet’s analysis, as he reveals the extent to which Cain’s plan is both unfair and more than a little incoherent.

Should Chris Christie Run for President?

If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decides to run for the Republican presidential nomination, he faces a few big hurdles. With only three months before the first primaries, he’s in a tight race to establish an organizational presence in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, to say nothing of actual campaigning. In addition, Christie will have to draw donors to his presidential bid—a tough prospect at this stage of the game—and secure endorsements, which aren’t as plentiful as they once were. It doesn’t help either that, as Nate Silver points out, late entrants to the presidential contest are rarely successful.

With all of that said, if Christie is interested in the presidency, and believes that he could win, then he should jump in the race. “You gotta go when you’re hot,“ says Republican consultant Mark McKinnon in The Daily Beast, ”Ask Barack Obama. Yes, there are all the obvious logistical challenges. But getting in this late, Christie creates an instant media tsunami and could surf his way through the first primaries on the late-breaking strength of the wave."

The best time to run is always now, and that’s especially true this year, with a bad economy, a weakened president and a presumptive nominee—Mitt Romney—with his fair share of vulnerabilities. Without question, Christie’s candidacy is a long shot, but it’s not crazy, and if he wants the nomination, then Christie should go for it.

The Affordable Care Act Is Doing Its Job

For political and implementation reasons, most of the Affordable Care Act won’t take effect until 2014. Among the provisions that have begun, however, is a change that allows young adults (men and women immediately out of college) to remain on their parent’s health insurance plans. As this new Gallup poll shows, this small change has yielded a big effect:

Here’s Gallup with an explanation, “About one in four (24.2%) 18- to 25-year-olds reported being uninsured in the second quarter of this year, down from 28% in the third quarter of 2010, and nearly the lowest Gallup has measured at any point since it began tracking health insurance coverage rates in 2008.”

Will Mitt Romney Take His Push for Credibility Too Far?

As much as the media focus on Rick Perry as the eventual nominee, we shouldn’t forget that Mitt Romney is still a strong competitor, and perhaps stronger, now that the Republican presidential field has narrowed its attacks on the Texas governor. For a little evidence, look no further than this new survey of Florida Republicans—according to War Room Logistics, a GOP polling firm, Romney and Perry are in a virtual dead heat, each garnering 25 percent of the vote. More importantly, only Romney matches Barack Obama in a head-to-head matchup, pulling in 45 percent of the vote to Obama’s 44 percent. “It appears that Romney has cross over-appeal [sic] in this early stage, especially with the fickle Independent vote,” pollster Alex Patton said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

Romney’s standing with independents is good news, but if he wins the nomination, his road to moderate credibility isn’t as smooth as it looks. Insofar that Romney faces a problem in both the primary and the general election, it’s his perceived inauthenticity, and the steps he’ll have to take to address it. As a fairly recent convert to conservative orthodoxy, Romney has had to convince conservatives of his fealty to the right-wing cause. To that end, he has highlighted his ties to conservative luminaries like Robert Bork, who serves as one of his judicial advisors.

The danger for Romney is that this push to establish conservative credibility could go too far, especially if he’s forced to keep up with Perry and an increasingly radicalized GOP base. For instance, at The Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notices the growing popularity of Perry’s “Ponzi scheme” attack on Social Security, despite Romney’s warning that this is dangerous political territory for Republicans. If this rhetoric becomes popular enough—which seems likely, now that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has taken up the charge—it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Romney adopts the rhetoric as his own, in an effort to guard his right flank.

In other words, the path to the Republican nomination will require Romney (or Perry) to say and promise things that are anathema to mainstream voters. As a result, the nomination could become a damaged prize—whoever wins it, they’ll have to answer for a litany of right-wing statements and extremist statements. In a close election, this could be the deciding difference.

Of course, all of this depends on a steady, if lackluster, economy. If the entire thing tanks, it won’t matter what Romney or Perry says to win the nomination. Either way, they’ll stand a great chance of becoming the next president of the United States.

It Wouldn't be a White House Proposal Without 'Centrist' Democrats to Undermine It

After President Obama announced the American Jobs Act, conservative and moderate Democrats emerged to criticize the plan for its spending increases. Today, those same Democrats have followed up their complaints with attacks on Obama’s plan for deficit reduction, with particular disdain for the new taxes on high income earners. Politico reports:

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who is up for reelection in 2012, has supported raising taxes on millionaires but was still weighing whether he’d support higher taxes on those who make more than $200,000 a year, said spokesman Dan McLaughlin.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a key moderate who’s up for reelection next year, didn’t mince words: “There’s too much discussion about raising taxes right now, not enough focus on cutting spending.”

The Obama administration is far from perfect, and this latest push for jobs and higher taxes on the rich might be too little, too late. But before we unload on the Obama administration for its failure to hew to consistently liberal policies, we should reserve some opprobrium for the “centrist” Democratic senators who both attack proposals from the White House, and—in Ben Nelson’s case especially—work to block the president’s policies. Over the last three years, these senators have placed their narrow political advantage at the forefront, with negative consequences for nearly every liberal initative from the Obama White House.

Insofar that anyone deserves anger from progressives, it’s these senators. Indeed, in the long term, efforts to displace Democratic “centrists” with actual liberals will do more to advance progressive policy than any amount of disdain for the president or his administration.

It's Not 'Class Warfare' When the Rich Do It

Last night, the White House released details of President Obama’s plan for deficit reduction: in addition to a $250 billion reduction in Medicare spending on the provider side, and $330 billion in immediate spending cuts over the next decade, the president wants an end to the Bush tax cuts on the rich, and a millionaire’s tax called “the Buffett Rule,” after bilionaire investor Warren Buffett. The White House hasn’t released details on the exact mechanism of the Buffet Rule, but it would exist to ensure that high-income individuals pay a higher marginal rate than the middle class. Together, the tax increases would raise $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

Not only is this good policy – it begins to correct tax imbalances that hugely benefit the wealthy – but it’s good politics. It provides a stark contrast to the Republican message of tax cuts for the rich, tax increases for the poor and spending cuts for everyone else, particularly those that rely on government programs: students, children, seniors and the unemployed.

In response, Republicans have brushed off their old rhetorical standby: “class warfare.” “Class warfare will simply divide this country more. It will attack job creators, divide people and it doesn’t grow the economy,” Rep. Paul Ryan said last night on FOX News Sunday. “Class warfare may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.”

Of course, Paul Ryan is the author of a plan that slashes discretionary spending and turns Medicare into an under-funded voucher scheme, so that the federal government can afford more and greater tax cuts on the wealthy. As a whole, the Republican Party has enthusiastically endorsed plans to slash social and anti-poverty spending to the bone, cut taxes on rich people and corporations, and crush organized workers. And this is to say nothing of right-wing attacks on the poor and working-class as “moochers” who don’t deserve the (paltry) benefits they receive. Given the extent to which they have monopolized attacks on the non-rich, Paul Ryan – and every other Republican – should be laughed off of the stage whenever they accuse Democrats of “class warfare”

As it stands, I look forward to media personalities demanding for the president to explain his hatred for rich people and the “producers” that shower us with their bountiful job creation. Or something.

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