Op-Ed, Christopher Berger – Pitfalls on the Road to Victory

Christopher Berger


Pitfalls on the Road to Victory

Republicans and conservatives have good reason to be optimistic about our prospects this November. The circumstances favor us, no question. What remains undecided is whether we are ready to capitalize on this after the election. I contend that we aren’t.

The rhetoric of our party is relatively unfocused. A lot of the anger over the healthcare bill and the state of taxation in this country in general has coalesced around the TEA Party, and that’s a good thing, but to turn that anger into a focused mandate, elected Republicans need to run a more educational campaign. We have a lot of policy proposals, and for those of us who understand the background of these proposals, the true believers as it were, that’s great. We know what these proposals are about and what we are firmly convinced they’ll do.

But too many Republicans are just preaching to the choir. One of the great things about the TEA Party is that it’s shown the Republican leadership that the McCain model of go along to get elected is flawed. There are more than enough of us who get it to get them elected if they’ll present themselves as conservatives and then govern that way. But it’s destroyed the notion Reagan left behind that you get the people by being a welcoming, big tent party. The root of that metaphor should not be missed.

As it’s come to be used by the Republican party, ‘big tent’ means ‘open and inclusive of multiple points of view’, discussing a quite broad ideological space. As Reagan meant it, the metaphor means ‘open to all who wish to enter and be transformed’, a throwback to the big tent revivals of yesteryear, describing a very narrow ideological space but one into which all are welcome, regardless of gender, color, or creed. We are in need of just such a revival today, where we teach the basics of conservatism to any and all who will listen. That’s part of why I write this column. But this concept doesn’t seem to have penetrated the skulls of the conservative political class.

Elected Republicans need to start making the case that tax cuts are what will restore this economy, or at the very least, that tax hikes like the one slated to hit in January are not the answer to our slow growth or the ballooning federal deficit. Not extending the Bush tax cuts will hurt this economy more than anything else we could do. Republicans need to start reminding people that when the government takes more money out of your pocket, there’s less to spend, and that when there’s less to spend, there are fewer people with the money to hire, further damaging the job market.

New and higher taxes are not the only answer. Not all the money allocated for bailouts and stimulus programs has yet been spent, and we need to stop spending on it now. This could reduce the federal deficit by as much as half a trillion. We then need to keep the taxes from going up. We’re not recovering as it is; people are taking all their profits in this year at the lower tax rate, producing a so-called jobless recovery that’s no recovery at all. The whole house of cards will collapse beginning January 1, 2011.

Furthermore, businesses need some manner of stability and predictability concerning what government intends to do to their bottom lines before they want to start hiring people. Things like the new financial regulatory reform bill do nothing to contribute to this necessary sense of order and reason. Businesses can read the writing on the wall: this administration has consistently demonized them from Day 1, and will try to hike their taxes to pay for all their spending. This leaves them nervous about job creation and further hampers the economy. Investors are not willing to invest nor job creators to create when they may as well be playing Russian roulette with their bank accounts. I, for one, can’t blame them.

But all that could change. We could make permanent the Bush tax cuts and have a pledge for no further alterations to tax law except to repeal what’s already come down under this current Congress. Businesses would begin growing again, creating jobs and lifting the economy out of recession, and revenue to the Treasury would surge, as always happens in such scenarios. Once people feel secure in the predictability of government interference in their economic activities, people will be much more willing to act, meaning a flood of taxable transactions. After all, assuming a consistent average transaction value, which seems reasonable, 25% of 100 transactions is more than 40% of 50 transactions.

In the end, what all this needs to tie into is, ironically, a quote from Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The history needs to be cited: the way you get out of a recession is through substantial tax cuts. We need to begin taking back the history of the Great Depression. Republicans always get a bad rap on that one because of Hoover, but when you look at the policies that were implemented, Roosevelt doubled down on Hoover’s policies, and Obama has taken Roosevelt’s policies to the next level.

If the Roosevelt policies had worked, the Depression would never have been the epic economic disaster it was, and this recession would be nothing more than an unpleasant memory. By contrast, cutting taxes, letting the people decide on their own how best to spend their money, has a very positive historical track record (witness those under Truman after WWII, Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush). Obama keeps talking about the failed policies of the past; we need to be sure the American people know just which policies have failed.

The single biggest reason they need to do this, the true urgency of it, is that when Obama’s commissions report back, their recommendations are going to be massive tax increases, and Obama the newly minted deficit hawk will call Republicans posers and hypocrites, people who can talk a good game on deficit reduction, but who don’t have the testicular fortitude to make the tough calls. If Republicans have not begun in earnest a campaign of economic education for the American people, this message from Obama will be quite effective.

But if they have run such a campaign, they will be able to turn it around on Obama with political credibility. They’ll be able to paint tax cuts as the truly difficult decision, and because they’ve educated the people, it’ll be a no-brainer for a lot of the country. Will it be poo-pooed in the chic coffee houses of Manhattan and San Francisco? Of course. But Republicans have played their cards right, the rest of the country will embrace the policies of the right, and this country will enter a new era of prosperity.

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