Republicans could use some political openings and this week two popped up. Both offered the chance to win back lost constituencies and cause the Democrats some grief. And both stemmed from policy overreaching or miscues by the Obama administration.
The first may be with regard to young voters. Michael Barone at CPAC got me thinking about Republicans and young people. He contends that although the youth vote overwhelmingly went in the Democrats’ column, the policies which the Democrats are pursuing, including nationalized health care and abolition of secret ballots in union elections, aren’t very youth-oriented and potentially could turn off younger voters. But it seems that the greatest generational issue has been handed to the Republican Party on a silver platter: the Obama administration is mortgaging their future. They will live less well than their parents as a result.
The deficit is not an abstract issue, at least it shouldn’t be. It is the IOU the Baby Boomers are handing off to the future generations. Those people — young voters now and their kids and grandchildren — are getting a huge chunk of debt. It will have to be paid back eventually. We’re seeing the beginning of the tax grab, but that will get worse as the definition of “rich” is redefined to get needed revenue. And the rate of growth, the engine of jobs and wealth, will slow as a result of the massive debt and the larger share of GDP gobbled up by government.
Explaining that to young people and defending their future chance for success seem key to Republicans’ ability to reconnect with younger voters. The challenge will be in finding articulate spokespeople to boil that down to a comprehensible and attractive message. Perhaps they can start by printing up the bill (i.e., the share of the deficit being generated for each American) by the Obama administration. Hey, if the Social Security Administration sends you a statement why shouldn’t the Treasury?
The second potential opening for the GOP has to do with one particularly egregious aspect of Obama’s extraordinary budget. Republicans are reacting with horror to the Obama budget as a “job killer” and a potential threat to the economy. But there is no more pernicious provision than this tax maneuver whereby Obama intends to limit the value of upper income taxypayers’ deductions. This is a Scrooge-like move to rob charities of badly needed funds. They are making it more expensive to give to charity and thereby reducing the money available for a host of philanthropic activities. Robert Gibbs gives critics the back of the hand (doesn’t he always?), but numbers don’t lie.
Think of it this way: A taxpayer in the 35% bracket gives a gift to United Way of $10,000. Under the current rules he can reduce his tax bill by $3500. Under the Obama plan he can only reduce his tax bill by $2800. In the Obama scheme, then, that United Way contribution now costs the taxpayer $700 more. The obvious result: give less to United Way so the higher tax bill can be paid. To be blunt, the government is discouraging charitable giving. It is hard to think of any worse tax policy or any one more harmful to the needy. (Democrats perhaps have a scheme here: make the government the only viable social welfare institution in the country.)
There could be no more stark difference between the parties. Democrats want to deprive charities of money to fund the government. Republicans want to protect and indeed expand vital non-profit entities. Bush 41 wanted a “thousand points of light.” Obama wants to raise the electric bill. Republicans would be wise to make this crystal clear to the voters.
Both of these issues may bear fruit, not only because Republicans are on sound policy footing, but because they exploit an unstable coalition in the Democratic Party which may, if the Republicans are skilled, fragment. Do union bosses and high tech workers have that much in common? Do non-profit foundation employees share the goals of advocates of bigger government? Do the very rich really expect to pay more taxes to subsidize other voters’ mortgages and health care? These are some tenuous alliances which Obama was able to cobble together, in large part because he used uplifting, ambiguous rhetoric and avoided specifics. Everyone was in favor of hope and change. But they are more divided, I would wager, on the specifics.
Obama no longer has the luxury of vagueness. Huge deficits, top-down bureaucracies, and attacks on faith and non-faith based philanthropic organizations make for juicy targets. It remains to be seen, however, just how clever the Republicans can be in exploiting them. If they are, some of pieces of the Obama winning coalition may fall into their laps.