As we head into the final weeks before the election, it is time for closing arguments. Democrats run largely as defenders of working and middle class families, fighting against the entrenched special interests that have stood in the way of the changes we need. They are pushing for jobs programs, for health care reform, for curbing Wall Street, for moving to renewable energy.
By contrast, Republicans are marching in virtual lockstep with banks and corporations in resisting reform. Republicans pushed to weaken the recovery plan, and now pledge to repeal what is left of it. They opposed extending unemployment insurance. They opposed curbing Wall Street. They opposed health care reforms that would stop insurance companies from cutting off your coverage if you get sick. Now, they are holding the extension of tax cuts to middle class families hostage unless the richest Americans get an additional tax cut, demanding that the government borrow another $700 billion over 10 years to pay for an extra tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
So what do they run on? They run mostly against -- seeking to harvest votes cast in protest against the lousy economy. But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a different idea: He wants them to run on the big lie. In a memo to Republicans, he urges them to contrast Republicans as the party of "paychecks" against Democrats as the party of "food stamps." The only problem with this formulation is that it is simply a lie.
In reality, Republican presidents have a worse record on job creation going back to Herbert Hoover and the onset of the Great Depression. And the worst record since World War II was racked up by George Bush and the Republican Congress. Manufacturing lost one in four jobs under Bush as the president remained ignorant of the China challenge and his advisers claimed that off-shoring -- multinationals moving jobs abroad -- was good for America. Then came the worst downturn since the Great Depression, with the economy in freefall, losing 750,000 jobs a month by the time Barack Obama was sworn in.
Coming out of this collapse has been brutal, with Americans having lost about $10 trillion in savings or off the values of their homes. But as bad as it has been, and despite Republican obstruction, the recovery plan stanched the fall -- and Obama has created more jobs in the recession than Bush created in eight years in office. Republicans aren't the party of paychecks; they are the party of pink slips and red ink.
And Gingrich's intended slur on food stamps is simply ignorance. As Republican Sen. Richard Lugar noted, "People now see it's necessary to have a strong food stamp program." Among families with children, nearly half of all those on food stamps -- 47 percent -- are working. Food stamps ensure decent nutrition for children in low-wage families. When the economy collapsed under Bush and unemployment soared, more people became eligible for food stamps. These not only ensure that the unemployed don't starve; they also subsidize America's farmers and grocery store owners. Food stamps are one of the most efficient forms of economic stimulus. The stamps provide customers for stores and save jobs. The least-efficient stimulus? Exactly what Gingrich and Republicans are fighting for: tax cuts for the wealthy who don't need the money, tend not to spend it and these days often invest it abroad.
Gingrich isn't a policy analyst; he's a politician. His intention isn't to inform, but to deceive. But in this case the big lie is particularly perverse. If Republicans take control of Congress and carry through on their promise to roll back spending on jobs while cutting taxes for the wealthy, we'll see even more pink slips and fewer paychecks.
Unless Republicans decide that the cost of offering $100,000 annual tax cuts to millionaires is not worth thousands more hungry children, more families will be eligible for food stamps.