In his article, Jay Cost raises other points that draw upon what Olsen argues. He points to the need to win the allegiance of working-class voters, those who are “less concerned about Washington’s inability to curb the growth of government than they are about Washington’s inability to spur the growth of wages.” In other words, the growing inflationary spiral combined with the falling power of wages that have remained stagnant has to be better addressed by Republicans.
Going over the history of the Democratic Party, Cost — who is writing a new book about the Democrats — talks about how the Democrats changed in the 60s, from a New Deal-Fair Deal party to that of a group representing the “post-material left,” a body comprised of a “white, comfortable middle-class movement that was focused on quality-of-life issues rather than on raising average Americans’ standard of living.” Their rise coincided with the collapse of the old once powerful bloc of organized industrial labor, which forced the Democrats to once concentrate on bread-and-butter issues. The unions that now support the Democrats back statist programs that reinforce the power of government sector unions — quite different from the union movement that backed the party in FDR’s day.
Obama, he points out, was the man who, in his own persona, represented “the post-materialist factions of the Democratic Party,” symbolized by the left-wing milieu of Hyde Park, the ACORN cadre and the community organizing community, and the government unions like the SEIU. In the 2008 primary, Hillary Clinton represented “the old Democratic forces, like the white working-class voters of the industrial Midwest,” once central to the old New Deal-Fair Deal coalition that once put FDR and Harry Truman in office.
When Obama won, he and Nancy Pelosi “extended the reach of government, paying only lip service to curbing the deficit or spurring economic growth.” That means, Cost writes, that “addressing the nation’s economic problems will, by default, become the responsibility of Republicans.” Cost adds that if “America is to have any hope of resolving our fiscal crisis and restarting economic growth, the GOP will have to persuade voters that it deserves significant majorities in Washington.”
The question is how to achieve that end, and it will not be easy. Today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll has much the same outcome as the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. As it shows, “There is also growing dissatisfaction among Republicans with the hard-line stance of their congressional representatives: Fifty-eight percent say their leaders are not doing enough to strike a deal, up from 42 percent in March.” It reveals GOP “majorities favoring some of the specific changes advocated by the president, including higher income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.”
The poll also shows great dissatisfaction with President Obama, and his unwillingness to reach across the aisle. Sixty-two percent of independents say he is not doing enough to reach a deal, but these same voters say that 79 percent of Republicans are guilty of the same. If these voters are to vote against Obama, they have to be given a worthy reason to do just that.
Cost, further, argues that the Republican Party must be the part of prosperity, or as it once was called, the party of “the full dinner pail.” The country needs Republicans to have a pro-growth plan that fosters economic prosperity and that advances the material interests of all citizens, not just the wealthy and the corporations. If it does not, and if its leaders advocate a rollback to the America of pre-New Deal days and oppose a reasonable safety net in the absence of growth, independents, moderates and working-class voters will again vote Democratic, since the Democrats say they will stand by popular programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Cost calls for what Dwight Eisenhower did as president: a “respect for precedent — accepting the general goals and outlines of a modern welfare state while seeking to make it compatible with growth and prosperity.” (my emphasis.) This means in addition to a policy that promotes economic growth, an “acceptance of a long-established social-welfare system to take care of people who cannot prosper on their own, especially the indigent and the elderly.”
We must stress that it is the reactionary Left, as I call it, that stands against plausible reforms that would save the social safety net, and that would lead to growth at the same time. Spending, as Cost says, has to be contained and not allowed to go above 21 percent of GDP, which would cripple economic growth. But the Republicans also must address the inequity of wages to inflation, and accept that something must be done about the continued fall and decline of real wages in the past decade.
If the Republicans do not do this, the Democrats will continue to promote “solutions” that make things worse, such as increased minimum wage legislation. And Democrats will continue to paint Republicans as the party of big business that is not concerned with the well-being of regular working people. We must therefore point out, as Cost writes, that “businesses that make enormous profits today by laying off workers and sending jobs overseas are no friends of the American growth agenda.” And it must be shown that big business and Wall Street has given more money to Democrats than Republicans, and has proven to be quite comfortable with the Obama leftist domestic agenda.
The issue is showing that Republicans have the interests of average Americans at heart and favor growth in the domestic economy that benefits them, not just large corporations. Cost says that Republicans should take a leaf from William McKinley’s playbook, and advance the interest of business for the sake of American workers.
I would also suggest taking a leaf from America’s first 20th century conservative president, Warren G. Harding. His economic policies — low taxes, debt reduction, and a smaller government with less regulation — promoted prosperity after a post-WW I depression. By the end of 1921, the industrial sector of the economy revived and entered a six year period of expansion. With new auto and trucking industries and a construction boom, and the advance of manufacturing — which climbed 54 percent from the depression of the early 20s — it had the result of raising the real income of workers employed regularly by 26 percent! That is one reason the fortunes of the political Left declined, despite an earlier increase of support for the founding leaders of the American socialist movement. It was not until the next Great Depression that the Left again found its fortunes were on the rise.
Now, with “millions of Americans left behind,” as Cost puts it, and the decrease of jobs in construction and manufacturing (the opposite of the situation as Harding ascended the presidency), the votes and support of these people are essential for a Republican victory. Hence, I concur with Cost’s judgement that “Republicans must remember that, unlike the base of their party, the political center of the country is pragmatic rather than ideological,” and is income oriented. If Republicans do not advance policies that satisfy them, the Democrats will win once again, and things will get much worse.
Republicans must, therefore, reduce the deficit, promote economic growth, and come up with new policies that benefit average working Americans. That is a tall order, and the candidate who addresses these issues is the candidate who will win in 2012.