The Thinker

The change we need

There have been many deserved jeers over the new U.S. House Republicans’ slogan, “The Change You Deserve”, which they unveiled yesterday. They desperately need to convince the American public to keep pulling the levers for congressional Republicans this November. Somehow, they think this lame and wholly inappropriate slogan is going to make us overlook the last eight dreadful years. I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. This slogan sure is desperate, and lame.

The slogan has been viciously lampooned. Ironically, it apparently was first used in advertising for the antidepressant Effexor. The metaphor though is an interesting frame, though not for Republicans. Americans do deserve a dramatic change. Unfortunately for Congressional Republicans, since the Democrats took Congress in 2006, Republicans have been the anti-change party. Understandably, the political opposition prefers to jam sticks between the bicycle spokes of the opposing party rather than show them succeeding. They have been very effective, ensuring that little meaningful change occurred during the last two years. No matter what the House passed, it was killed in the Senate. Republicans may be in the minority there too, but they have the power of the filibuster, and they have been using it at rates unseen in any previous congress. Change has been stopped. There has been no change in deficit spending. There has been no change in the Iraq War. There has been no change on the environment. There has been no change in holding the Administration accountable for its crimes. Between Bush’s obsessive obstinacy and congressional Republicans effectiveness at gumming up the gears of government, it is no wonder that 81% of Americans disapprove of Congress.

Yet somehow, Americans are being asked to reelect these bozos in order to get “The Change You Deserve”. Most Americans feel like they have gotten plenty of change in the last eight years. Between stagnant wages, downsizing, two wars, half a trillion dollars squandered, millions more uninsured and no action on global warming, the nation feels like it has been gang raped. Now these people of all people want us to believe they can give us the change we deserve.

Maybe they are sobering up at last. House Republicans have been feeling very spooked lately, having lost three special congressional elections in a row. The latest happened Tuesday in a northern Mississippi district that is so red that President Bush carried it by more than twenty points in 2004. It suggests there are no safe seats for Republicans come November 4th.

Election Day promises to be the perfect storm that capsizes the Republican brand for a generation or more. I am one of these Democrats not afraid to dream large. I do not think a filibuster proof 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate is out of reach. When over eighty percent of Americans say we are on the wrong course, this means this election will be a torrential storm that will shake the rafters and blow out the windows. It means a fundamental political realignment is likely.

I think there is a 50-50 chance that Democrats will achieve a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate. House Republicans are worried about losing as many as 23 more House seats to the Democrats, having lost 31 seats in 2006. In truth, in 2006, voters were just miffed. Now they are royally pissed. Republicans will be lucky if they only lose another 31 seats. I would not be surprised if Democrats picked up another 45-50 seats.

In the presidential contest, it is clear that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. It is also unfortunately clear that racism still exists in this country. I suspect the race factor could add as much as 5% to McCain’s vote total nationwide. Nonetheless, in the end it will not matter. The chronic need for change will overwhelm the race issue.

It is going to be a very blue election. I expect 58-62 Democrats in the Senate when the dust clears on November 5th. I expect 35-50 new Democratic house seats, making the House at least 60% Democratic. I will be surprised if John McCain exceeds 200 electoral votes. In any event, I cannot see him winning with these election dynamics.

So where is the downside for us Democrats? The downside will be that Democrats will be expected to govern competently. There is a reason Republicans rose to power in the first place. It had nothing to do with Democrats being “too liberal” or “too high taxes”. It had to do with complacent and corrupt Democrats feeling secure in their majority and forgetting those they served. It remains to be seen whether we have learned our lesson. If history is any guide, Republicans have some cause for hope. Change may be necessary, but it is damnably hard. Complacency may be more of a Democratic problem than a Republican problem. Republicans have proven reasonably effective at implementing their agenda. Unfortunately, their agenda and America’s needs rarely intersect. I am hopeful that with the influx of new Democrats and a Netroots base committed to real change that this predisposition can be overcome.

While Republicans promise small government and lower taxes, what they deliver instead is larger government, modest tax cuts and obscene amounts of long-term debt. Democrats are comfortable with larger government, are not terribly comfortable with deficit financing but are also leery of increasing taxes too much. The problem for Democrats will come when they try to align their promises with available revenues. Die hard Republicans still believe that all fiscal problems are solved by cutting taxes. Democrats cannot spend money on vital activities like addressing global warming and insuring all Americans’ health by putting it on the credit card as Republicans did. Taxes will have to go up. Of course, the most convenient target will be the wealthy. However, like a new oil well, it cannot be tapped indefinitely. Eventually more of the tax burden will have to go down the income chain.

Democrats must sell value. National health insurance, for example, is going to cost tens to hundreds of billions of dollars a year for starters. No one likes to add to his or her tax burden. However, tax increases can be sold by selling the value of the new services for their cost. For my family of three, our health insurance costs average about $12,000 a year. If I were to pay this in additional taxes, my tax burden would double. Presumably I would not have to pay this much. Nevertheless, even if I did I would hopefully have the certainty of not having to pay any additional costs to ensure my family. I do not have that certainty right now. The hard part of course is implementing a national health insurance plan that provides this value and does not squander the money. That takes competent government. Using such strategies, I think Democrats can sell the obvious tax increases that are needed to address these sorts of problems.

What we really do not need is more pandering. House Republicans want to pander to us by selling us the change we deserve. Heck, don’t we all deserve a pony? What we require is a president and Congress that will sell us the changes we need. If Barack Obama is to draw on the power of hope, then he needs to find the eloquence to sell to ordinary Americans on the ultimate value of these painful and taxing changes. Moreover, I hope we Americans can find the patience to give our bluer government a chance and to make the long-term changes that our country requires.


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