Democrats need to fight Republican shakedown
Republicans say that an overreaching government is to blame for the bad economy. Democrats need to step up and counter that message.
You can’t fight something with nothing. But as long as Democrats refuse to talk about the almost unprecedented buildup of income, wealth, and power at the top – and the refusal of the super-rich to pay their fair share of the nation’s bills – Republicans will convince people it’s all about government and unions.Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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Republicans claim to have a mandate from voters for the showdowns and shutdowns they’re launching. Governors say they’re not against unions but voters have told them to cut costs, and unions are in the way. House Republicans say they’re not seeking a government shutdown but standing on principle. “Republicans’ goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government,” says House leader John Boehner, “not to shut it down.” But if a shutdown is necessary to achieve the goal, so be it.
The Republican message is bloated government is responsible for the lousy economy that most people continue to experience. Cut the bloat and jobs and wages will return.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but for some reason Obama and the Democrats aren’t responding with the truth. Their response is: We agree but you’re going too far. Government employees should give up some more wages and benefits but don’t take away their bargaining rights. Private-sector unionized workers should make more concessions but don’t bust the unions. Non-defense discretionary spending should be cut but don’t cut so much.
In the face of showdowns and shutdowns, the “you’re right but you’re going too far” response doesn’t hack it. If Republicans are correct on principle, they’re more likely to be seen as taking a strong principled stand than as going “too far.” If they’re basically correct that the problem is too much government spending why not go as far as possible to cut the bloat?
The truth that Obama and Democrats must tell is government spending has absolutely nothing to do with high unemployment, declining wages, falling home prices, and all the other horribles that continue to haunt most Americans.
Indeed, too little spending will prolong the horribles for years more because there’s not enough demand in the economy without it.
The truth is that while the proximate cause of America’s economic plunge was Wall Street’s excesses leading up to the crash of 2008, its underlying cause — and the reason the economy continues to be lousy for most Americans — is so much income and wealth have been going to the very top that the vast majority no longer has the purchasing power to lift the economy out of its doldrums. American’s aren’t buying cars (they bought 17 million new cars in 2005, just 12 million last year). They’re not buying homes (7.5 million in 2005, 4.6 million last year). They’re not going to the malls (high-end retailers are booming but Wal-Mart’s sales are down).