by Chad Rubel
So far, in the series of how Barack Obama can regain momentum, I've dealt with education, health care, and privacy, topics where both major candidates need to tell the public where they stand.
But for the last two segments, I want to deal with changes in attitudes. Today, it's the role of taxes and what government actually does.
"Tax-and-spend" - a fair characterization of Democrats? No, not really, but that is the MSM perspective. "Cut your taxes, make government smaller" - a fair characterization of Republicans? Not at all, especially if you make less than $100,000 (94% of the country), and even conservatives argue that under Reagan and George W. Bush, government grew larger.
But people do understand the reaction to Katrina, the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis, the poor quality of the roads (such as US-30 during my Indiana trip in May) as a reason why government should be able to function well.
The potential good news in the bad news we have had is that Democrats can stand for competency. And this is a larger undertaking than just Obama; Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid need to work with him and follow his lead in establishing what competency means to Americans.
There are a lot of underfunded programs in government and we are in really bad shape. Part of why Bill Clinton and (hopefully) Barack Obama had to do something about taxes was thanks to huge budget deficits and debts accumulated by Reagan (primarily) and W. Not that Clinton really got a lot of credit for this.
So Obama, if elected, has a large responsibility to get fiscally in order a situation worse than even under Reagan or George H.W. Bush. But he can introduce a new direction, and hopefully change the perception of Democrats as a "tax-and-spend" party.
Republicans have had their shot at depleting government, cutting taxes for the truly rich, and there is a horrible track record as a result.
If Obama is elected, the economy and Iraq won't allow him much leeway in accomplishing a whole lot (a backlash to the debilitating Bush policies). But he can convince the American people that things under Obama are going to be different AND better, he could get the benefit of the doubt.
Selling the idea of supporting veterans (as Obama and the Democrats have done), having a functioning FEMA, and 1930s style improvements to our infrastructure can be a good start. Make improving the physical structure of our crumbling public schools a priority. Conservatives and liberals want to work -- rebuilding what we have feeds into that mindset.
Perhaps Obama can market this as a Marshall Plan for the United States. And in this Marshall Plan, maybe European countries can help us out while we rebuild.
Some of that retooling involves the perception of taxes. Defining the middle class as making up to $250,000 isn't helpful if 94% of the country makes under $100,000. It might seem unpopular to sell that point, but it would be honest, and those of us who are in that 94% sure would appreciate a little honesty.
Yes, the middle class is an important category for Democrats, but it doesn't help if they aren't defined properly. And let's not forget that a middle-class resident in suburban Washington, DC makes more than a middle-class resident in Kalamazoo, MI.
If a bridge collapses or a road is messed up, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives all suffer. Democrats can be seen as the rescuers, and Obama can help lead the way.