Amid the hoopla and the crapola that will be the Republican party convention this week, it is important to note again the tough times of the great (but shrinking) American working class. They are the people, at least the white members of it, to whom this Republican convention is speaking. The Republicans have gone completely off the rails in terms of the extremist, hyper-individualist policies they are proposing, but hard pressed middle income folk are open to their ideas not because they think they sound good, but because of the economic pain they are feeling.
A lot of voters are just sick to death with both political parties, because their lives keep getting tougher and tougher and no one inside the beltway seems to care. This has been going on for a long time now, check out this incredible chart.
The folks who did the chart did it to highlight the incredible hyper-inflation over the last few decades of college tuition, which has soared more than twice as fast as even the outrageous growth of health care costs, and it is a dramatic reminder of why just borrowing from your parents, as Romney has suggested to students, isn't going to work for most people. But the entire chart is a reminder of the way middle income families have been continuously squeezed over the past few decades -- especially when you keep in mind that something not on the chart, wages, have been essentially flatlined as compared to inflation over that same period. Middle class folks got a little bit of a reprieve during the Clinton years in the '90s when new jobs were being created at a record rate and wages were edging up a little, but the Bush years were pretty weak for the first seven and then horrible at the end. The fact that this recession hit so hard and has been so deep and long lasting has created a bitterness and despair among middle income Americans. For decades now their wages have been flat, while energy, health care, and tuition for their kids has gone through the roof. You add the last five years of being slammed by this recession, with the price of their homes declining and full time jobs harder and harder for them and their kids to find, and people are in a foul mood. No wonder they are reluctant to support the incumbent running for re-election.
Fortunately for us Democrats, we have Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and this freak show we call the Republican party running against us. Their economics come from Bain Capital and Ayn Rand fantasy novels: make a few people richer than God by laying workers off, slashing benefits, out-sourcing work, and manipulating the tax code while sending the money into secretive off-shore accounts. Their ideas on social issues are even more incredible: one Senate candidate talks about women not getting pregnant during rape, another incredibly equates rape with having a child out of wedlock, and their VP candidate refers to rape as a "method of conception." They want to privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare, and block grant Medicaid, ending almost 80 years of guaranteed retirement security for senior citizens and the disabled, and use the savings to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Poll after poll, focus group after focus group, make clear that that American people by wide margins and with strong emotion reject these ideas. Literally the only things Romney-Ryan and the Republican party have going for them are the massive edge in dollars for advertising, the voters' tendency to distrust the generic concept of government, and the natural instinct of voters to kick out whoever is governing in a time of hard economic times. Those are 3 big things to have going for you, and the Republicans are doing everything they can to maximize those advantages. But everything else -- Romney's record at Bain Capital, the Romney-Ryan budget, the Medicare debate (which the Democrats are very likely to win given the polling I have seen), the rape/abortion/contraception/women discussion, Romney's immigration platform which continues to drive Latinos away, and just the general sense that the Republicans have moved so far right that it's scaring people- is playing for Democrats. The challenge is that most swing voters are low information voters and more easily swayed by misleading ads being run at saturation buy levels by Romney's big money friends.
The dynamic as we watch the Republican convention is that given this set of dynamics, the Romney campaign has decided on a gin-up-the-base all right wing all the time strategy. They have made the political calculation that the swing voters left in this race are the working class whites who have been hit hard by this economy, people not likely to agree with them on the specifics of the Romney-Ryan budget plan if they knew them but who are unlikely to know those details. They know they need to fire up their base to vote, and if they mix in some 1980s-style welfare queen ads into their generic ads on Obama being to blame for all their economic problems, that they might be able to appeal to both swing and base voters.
So this convention and this entire Republican election strategy is going to be ugly. Voters don't support Romney and Ryan's policies, so to get elected they will have to do some pretty dirty deeds.
Meanwhile the core problems that are crushing the American middle class are not going away. The Republicans only answer is the kind of winner-take-all Bain-onomics that will finish that middle class off. The Democrats had better be ready to win this debate, and if they do, they had better be prepared to actually deliver for the middle class.