Monday, October 31, 2011

Are Republicans Beginning to Lose the Messaging War?

The inability of the Democrats to counter the generally untrue messaging put out by demagogues in the GOP such as Eric Cantor has driven me to distraction all too often. Part of the problems has been that Democrats and the spineless occupant of the White House are far to reticent about flat out calling the GOP mouth pieces out as liars. I'm sorry, but if a politician is disseminating lies, he or she needs to be called out and labeled as a liar. Playing nice with the Republicans gets one nowhere and merely sets one up to be rolled yet again. Are the Democrats finally waking up to this reality and fighting back more effectively? A piece in the Washington Post conjectures that perhaps they are based on the increasing crankiness of some Republicans. Here are some highlights

We may be reaching an inflection point, the moment when the terms of the political argument change decisively. Three indicators: an important speech last week by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the increasingly sharp tone of President Obama’s rhetoric and the success of Occupy Wall Street in resisting attempts to marginalize the movement.

The most telling was Ryan’s address at the Heritage Foundation. House Republicans regard Ryan as their prophet, their intellectual and their resident wonk. . . . . So it was jarring to see Ryan used as the principal counterattacker against the president, who has been making the injuries of class inequality clear and pointing to the costs of the Republicans’ just-say-no strategy in Congress.

Ryan spoke of his “disappointment” that “the politics of division are making a big comeback.” He accused Obama of using “divisive rhetoric” and of “going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans . . .

Now it takes some temerity for a Republican to charge Obama with divisiveness, given the GOP’s willingness to promote or countenance assaults on the president as “a socialist,” as someone not even born in the United States, as a supporter of “death panels,” and on and on.

But what’s most instructive is that Ryan would not have given this speech if the Republican Party were not so worried that it is losing control of the political narrative. In particular, growing inequalities of wealth and income — which should have been a central issue in American politics for at least a decade — are now finally at the heart of our discourse. We are, at last, discussing the social and economic costs of concentrating ever more resources in the hands of the top sliver of our society.

Ryan offered the classic defense of inequality, arguing that what really matters is upward mobility . . . . The only problem is that upward mobility has declined as inequality has grown, and social mobility is now higher in Europe than it is in the United States. That’s shameful. And don’t believe me on this: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum brought this up at a recent debate, backed by a study from the Economic Mobility Project.

All of this explains why efforts to taint Occupy Wall Street as nothing more than a bunch of latter-day hippie radicals haven’t worked. It’s also why Obama, by sharpening his arguments about what’s fair and what’s unfair, has finally stopped his slide in the polls.

A recent survey by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center showed Occupy Wall Street to be more popular now than the Tea Party, which keeps losing ground. . . . on many of Occupy’s core issues (favoring higher taxes on millionaires and believing in a more even distribution of income and wealth), public opinion strongly supports the anti-Wall Streeters.

Obama’s aides have a habit of congratulating themselves too much when things start going well. The president has a long way to go, and he is pursuing a strategy now that he resisted for a long time. But it ought to encourage him that Paul Ryan is terribly upset. Telling the truth about inequality is politically wise, and morally necessary.

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