As we brace for the lame-duck legislative section, which will feature wounded Democrats and wound up Republicans, I want to note a couple of things coming from the mind of the excellent columnist for The New York Times, Frank Rich.
Last week he attempted to put some fizzle back in fast fizzling Democrats, including president Obama, who sometimes sound like they are succumbing to the idea that Democratic ideas aren’t worth a vigorous defense:
In the 1946 midterms, the unpopular and error-prone rookie president Harry Truman, buffeted by a different set of economic dislocations, watched his party lose both chambers of Congress (including 54 seats in the House) to a G.O.P. that then moved steadily to the right in its determination to cut government spending and rip down the New Deal safety net. Two years after this Democratic wipeout, despite a hostile press and a grievously divided party, Truman roared back, in part by daring the Republican Congress to enact its reactionary plans. He won against all odds, as David McCullough writes in “Truman,” because “there was something in the American character that responded to a fighter.”
Well, maybe there was. And maybe there still is. In any case, this week Rich pointed out the opponent in today’s fight: Republicans who vow “to fight to the end” to award the richest of the rich huge windfalls through extending the Bush tax cuts.
Mr. Rich says that Americans tend to like a lot of rich folks because we “admire and often idolize success.” We particularly like those who create a lot of good-paying jobs.
But the liberal columnist says that “the wealthy Americans we should worry about” are “those who take far more from America than they give back” and “are all but certain to cash in on the Nov. 2 results”:
The Americans I’m talking about are not just those shadowy anonymous corporate campaign contributors who flooded this campaign. No less triumphant were those individuals at the apex of the economic pyramid — the superrich who have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 — up from less than 9 percent in 1976. During the boom years of 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent’s pretax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year. But the boom proved an exclusive affair: in that same period, the median income for non-elderly American households went down and the poverty rate rose.
And it’s not that Democrats are innocent of all charges for this state of affairs:
How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”…
The authors’ answer to that question and others amounts to a devastating indictment of both parties…
America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap…Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.
As Hacker and Pierson point out in their book, that bidding war began during the Carter administration, which is when Democrats first yielded to a new and powerful coalition of big-money interests that “launched a diversified attack,” including influencing public opinion through ”orchestrating a campaign of op-ed pieces and magazine articles,” “grassroots mobilization,” and the targeting of ”moderate Democrats,” many of whom represented “suburban districts that had traditionally been Republican.”
Sound familiar Tea Party fans?
Some have argued that Truman’s “comeback” after the devastating 1946 midterms had more to do with ”rapid growth” in the economy leading up to the 1948 election than with Truman’s adversarial stance against the Do-Nothing Congress of his day.
Whatever the truth is, it couldn’t hurt President Obama and his fellow Democrats to channel the give ‘em hell spirit of a fighting Harry Truman, as they finish legislative business this year and begin anew the next.
And then hope like hell the economy catches fire.