Sean Theriault, associate professor of government in the university’s College of Liberal Arts, studies American political institutions, primarily U.S. Congress and party polarization. He is researching the rise of the so-called “Gingrich Senators” and their influence on the U.S. Senate.
The Democrats blew it.
After Labor Day, they had one chance to change the narrative for the 2010 elections. Democratic leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue offered a plan to make the 2001 Bush tax cuts permanent for the middle class, but to let them expire for the rich. But, alas, amid disunity in their own ranks, the Democrats retreated to their constituencies, promising to take up the issue after the election.
The leaders, of course, didn’t blow it. The rank and file Democrats who would not get on board with the plan blew it. What the uncooperative Democrats do not realize is that they won’t get the votes of people who prefer low taxes – their only hope is to appeal to undecided voters on different grounds.
If Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the votes in the House to pass the bill, I am certain she would have brought it up. Getting the Senate to agree would have been impossible, but Harry Reid, if he had the support of his caucus, could have at least attempted to invoke cloture to end the certain Republican filibuster.
The problem with going forward without the support of the entire party was that it would only have shown the lack of unity in the party. These actions would have made the narrative look even worse and, most likely, resulted in more losses on Nov. 2.
Had the rank and file gotten behind the plan, the Democrats could have developed several messages that might have changed the narrative.
First, they could have claimed to be the only party offering a plan to extend the middle class tax cuts without exploding the deficit. They could have employed the chief Rovian strategy of attacking the opposition where they are strongest.
Second, they could have shown, once again, that the Republicans’ only legislative strategy since Obama’s election was, “no.” Saying “no” to reforming a complex health care or bank financing system is one thing – saying “no” to middle class tax cuts is entirely different.
Third, they could have demonstrated that, at the end of the day, Republicans aren’t concerned about the middle class as much as they are the folks making more than $250,000.
In fact, they could have shown that the Republicans would rather not have tax cuts for anyone if they could not get tax cuts for the rich. The political class saw the dilemma this was causing the Republicans when Minority Leader John Boehner was called to task for even suggesting that middle class tax cuts were better than no tax cuts.
But, in the end, the Democrats took Boehner and the Republicans off the hook. Of course, the Democrats could have only changed the narrative had they been able to develop a consistent and compelling message, something that has eluded them this election season. Perhaps it was best that they left town without even trying.
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