Usually when I write this blog, what I see and feel is frustration and resignation. Frustration that we are doing all the wrong things, and resignation that there is little that can be done. I don’t know why, but when I was writing my blog yesterday (A Failure to Communicate and an Opportunity to Seize the Agenda), it occurred to me that the Democrats have just been handed the biggest opportunity of their lives. So I thought I would expand on it. Yes the Democrats wasted 2008, but they did it hoping that middle of the road pragmatism would win the day. It did not and the Republican’s pounding of them on the debt ceiling extension has opened a door they would be a fool, not to go through.
I got this idea when as I noted in my blog yesterday, the NYT’s characterized the politics of the debt ceiling debate as antics. The word antics cast aspersions on both parties when the real antics were the Republican’s ideological totalitarianism (no tax increases period). But more importantly, the NYT miss-characterized the tactics as antics, when it is raw political strategy and if successful, will be an economic path that will destroy America. So far they have been winning. And then I thought, why not, bring on the “antics”. It is time for both sides to play.
Here is what you have to know to make this idea work and to find it acceptable. The Republicans are not going to let anything pass that will help the economy, nothing, nada, zilch. Their strategy in 2012 is to make the Democrats look ineffective and what they will agree to simply won’t work so that they can then claim that Democratic policies simply have proven to be ineffective. Democrats have to get over their bleeding hearts or their pining for some bipartisan nirvana where Republicans actually care and will compromise to help an ailing nation. It doesn’t exist between now and November 2012. And that knowledge shall set you free. You don’t have to get anything done, because nothing useful is going to get done.
The Republicans have shown their hand and the nation is aware that they are more or less responsible for both the stalemate and the economy. Now is the time to really demonstrate and underline that fact, to draw clear distinctions for the way forward. The way to do that is to stop politically calculating what might pass, since nothing that will work will, and come up with a real plan to put people back to work. This plan has to be reasonable, accepted by mainstream economists, and fairly intuitive to the voters. Forget arcane things like patent reform or payroll tax holidays because the issue is jobs. Propose things that create jobs.
The NYT offered one such plan on Saturday, (Mr. Bernanke’s Warning) that included an aid package to states to reemploy laid off teachers, firefighters, policemen. The problem with the NYT’s approach was they were still calling for politicians to work together, and the Republicans are not going to play. So be bold and look at extending unemployment benefits and a stimulus plan that is nothing but infrastructure improvements. Maybe even some debt relief for mortgage holders who are underwater at the expense of the banks who everybody hates. The point here is to craft a reasonable way to put people back to work and come up with a funding scheme that involves some tax increases on the wealthy or even accept some deficits with a plan for cuts later. Then let the hijinks begin. Fight for it.
And here is where Democrats have to stay focused. The Republicans are never going to go for it. They are going to fight it tooth and nail or find poison pills because it might work. So stay reasonable, keep pushing, but don’t compromise away any effective policy thinking they might support it. They won’t play, and between now and 2012 Democrats can underline who is the problem, how intransigent they are, and most importantly, finally show what Democrats stand for.
They key here is don’t come up to the plate (like Obama is likely to do next month) with some milk toast plan for the economy because you might get one or two Republican votes. IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. So hang in there, fight for your positions and your values, draw clear distinctions between you and the Republicans and reap the benefits in 2012 in the polls. The strategy is not for some minimal relief in 2011 or early 2012. It is for all the marbles and getting the country moving again in 2012 after the election.
It is fool proof, but sadly not Democratic proof. They have to have courage, and never forget that nothing is going to pass between now and November 2012 to help the economy, so they should be fighting for what they really stand for, not what they think Republicans might allow. The NYT would call that antics, I would call it a real strategy for the only way forward. The Republicans have teed up the ball for you and all you have to do is hit a home run. The question is are you smart enough to seize the opportunity, savvy enough to stay disciplined, and willing to come out swinging? All the marbles depend upon it.