The weatherman on TV describes it every day. "A cold front will pass through our area tomorrow afternoon and with it, a major wind shift."
Historians may one day pinpoint the last several weeks as the time when the front passed -- and the political winds shifted decisively.
The combination of Governor Scott Walker's proposal to strip middle class union members of their rights to have a seat at the table in determining their wages and working conditions -- and the draconian cuts in services to average Americans promoted by Republicans in Congress -- have caused a fundamental shift in American public opinion and political momentum.
Three major Republican political mistakes have contributed mightily to their sinking political fortunes, and they could spell disaster for their candidates next November.
First, Republicans forgot the fundamental truth that it is much more difficult to take something away from people that they already have, than to prevent them from getting something for which they aspire.
It's one thing to campaign against the possibility of better health care -- or against legislation that would restrain the power of banks to sink the economy. It's quite another to propose measures that would cut someone's pay, eliminate their power to bargain, or slash services that benefit everyday Americans -- even worse to propose cutting Social Security or Medicare. Those kinds of proposals are downright personal. They really make people angry.
Nothing changes a political calculus like "facts on the ground." That's why the Republicans are crusading so hard to prevent the Affordable Health Care Act from being implemented. Once it's in force, millions of stakeholders will form a political army that will prevent it from ever being repealed.
For the year after Medicare was passed in 1965, support was pretty lukewarm. Once people started benefiting, support skyrocketed. Now, of course, it's the Republicans (who actually opposed Medicare) who tried to convince seniors that the Affordable Health Care Law would cut their Medicare benefits -- which of course it did not.
During the health care battle, Republicans banked heavily on the fact that those who aspired to get health insurance would not be as well organized or as vocal as those who feared that the law might cause them to lose the health coverage they already had. Their entire strategy was based on building fear among the vast majority who had insurance or Medicare. That is one of the reasons why it was so difficult to pass health care reform. It's also why -- even though Democrats won the battle to pass the bill -- we, temporarily at least, lost the war for public opinion.
Had a public option -- or Medicare buy-in for those under 65 -- been part of the measure, a large number of people would have been vested with benefits much sooner than the 2014 effective date, when most of the other benefits take effect. It simply would not have taken four years to construct a system that allowed people below 65 to buy in to Medicare, which of course is an on-going concern. That would have increased levels of public support for the law much more rapidly, and is one of the reasons Republicans fought these provisions so doggedly.
Of course there are, in fact, many Americans who already benefit from the health care law -- including hospitals full of sick kids who are no longer subject to the insurance industry's outrageous lifetime caps or limitations on coverage for pre-existing conditions. And more and more of the public is coming to realize that Republican claims that the law would degrade their current benefits are simply deceitful propaganda.
But the fact is that most historic changes in the political wind have happened as a result of major political battles that involved actual or perceived attempts to take away concrete benefits already enjoyed by a large segment of the electorate.
The game-changing battle that turned the tide after the Republican sweep of 1994 involved the Republican shutdown of the Government and their attempt to cut Medicare and Medicaid. After the disastrous Bush re-election of 2004, the winds shifted toward Democrats when Bush tried to privatize Social Security. The health care battle -- and the perceived attempt by Obama to undermine current health care benefits -- set the table for the Democratic defeat in 2010. Of course, the financial collapse that cost millions of Americans their pensions and jobs closed the door on any possibility that the Republicans who presided over the disaster could defeat Barack Obama in 2008.
The Republicans have forgotten this important history lesson. Take away things that people already have and you're in for a world of trouble.
Want to know how completely they've forgotten this lesson? Just last week, House Speaker John Boehner actually told the Wall Street Journal that his budget will attempt to cut Social Security and Medicare. This, in spite of polling that shows virtually zero support among the voters. There will be a firestorm of opposition. Go right ahead, John, make our day.
Second, the Republicans have forgotten the all-important political principle, that you can't believe your own spin. That's especially true if you spend all of your time talking to the small group of people who agree with you. Take the House of Representative's newly-elected Tea Party Caucus. This insular crew talks to each other -- repeats each other's slogans -- listens to Fox News and has convinced themselves that most Americans agree that government spending is the worst thing since murder and mayhem.
They have talked themselves into actually believing that the "American people" sent them to Washington to cut back on the "massive growth" of the federal government and cut spending at all costs. This was, of course, never the case. The Republicans won in November mainly on the strength of a protest vote from an electorate that was furious that the economy had not improved -- that there were not enough jobs.
But now that the Republicans have begun to propose concrete cuts to important public services, their view of what the "American people" want is completely disconnected from reality.
Last week's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that a 51% to 46% majority says the government should do more, rather than less. Fifty-six percent say that jobs and economic growth should be the government's top priority compared to 40% who rate deficit reduction that way.
By 54% to 18%, Americans do not believe that cuts in Medicare are necessary to reduce the deficit. Forty-nine to twenty-two percent say cuts in Social Security are not needed. Fifty-six percent say cuts in Headstart Programs are "mostly" or "totally unacceptable." Seventy-seven percent say the same of cuts in primary and secondary education. Majorities also call unacceptable cuts to defense, unemployement insurance, student loans, and heating assistance to low-income families.
On the other hand, while Republicans rail against increases in taxes -- even for the rich, a whopping 81% favor placing a surtax on people who make more than a million dollars. Sixty-eight percent want to end the Bush tax cuts on those who make over $250,000.
An overwhelming 77% support the right of public employees to collective bargaining.
To top it off, a Rasmussen (Republican) poll shows Wisconsin Governor Walker's positives dropping to 43%, and his negatives soaring to 57%.
The winds have shifted -- and because they believe their own spin, many Republicans have yet to notice.
Bottom line is that these guys think they're flying straight and level, and they're really in a steep dive.
Third, the Republicans have failed to learn that you can tell people that up is down, and black is white, for only so long. Or to paraphrase one of the founders of the Republican Party: "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
Over and over, the Republicans have repeated their mantra that we need to "cut spending" in order to create jobs. Now, it is certainly true that controlling the nation's long-term deficit will benefit the economy in the long haul. You can even make a case that when government debt begins to sop up lots of available credit, it can be a drag on private sector investment and growth. But no reputable economist agrees that cutting spending now -- as we are just emerging from a recession -- will create jobs. Just the opposite.
Companies are sitting on two trillion dollars of cash. There is no shortage of capital for expansion. There is a shortage of economic demand. Businesses invest in new plants and equipment and hire new workers when there are people out there demanding their products and services.
That's why economists like Mark Zandi, of Moody Analytics, who was an economic adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign, issued a study last week showing that the HR1 -- the Republican spending bill for this year -- would destroy 700,000 jobs.
That's why Goldman Sachs -- hardly a left-leaning economic institution -- issued a report saying that the Republican budget plan will knock 2% off this year's GDP, which would do real damage considering that the Government expects the GDP to increase only 2.7% this year.
And the public is beginning to get the picture. The polling shows that voters want investments that actually do increase long-term growth -- investments in education, research and infrastructure -- that will allow us to win the future.
American voters are a pretty smart group. If they are presented a choice between recklessly slashing the budget on the one hand, and investing to assure that our kids will have more opportunities than we do, they choose the future every time. After all, what Americans really want is to feel confident that together we can once again reclaim the American dream.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.
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