Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Republican Party's red-ink argument

In the December 10, 2009 Politico editorial "The Republican Party's red-ink argument," Kevin Madden and Kristen Soltis argue the increased government spending, budget deficits, and public debt under the leadership of President Barack Obama may cost Democrats in the 2010 elections. The authors fail to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of recent deficits is the result of policies implemented before Obama took office. For example, under President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress, tax cuts reduced government revenues (from what they otherwise would have been) and the federal government was expanded more than under any other President since Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. And the bailouts the authors criticize were designed and implemented under Bush (and continued under Obama). Much of the recent increased government spending is designed to stimulate the overall demand for newly produced goods and services and put the unemployed back to work. The authors (and critics of current fiscal policies, in general) give no credit to these policies in preventing the economic downturn from being worse (as most economists do) and provide no alternative plan, unless it is that by further enriching the wealthy they will open new business or expand existing ones. But businesses do not hire workers because the owners are richer. They do it when they believe that the worker will generate more revenues than the what the worker is paid in wages and benefits. Yet, to the extent that the public fails to understand Keynesian economic policies (or trust that they have been implemented correctly), the authors may be right that Democrats will lose positions of political leadership in upcoming elections.

According to the article:
As unemployment hovers in the double digits, the nation’s federal deficit continues to tick upward, with the Obama administration projecting a $1.8 trillion federal spending deficit for the 2009 fiscal year alone. That unrestrained spending of taxpayer dollars and piling federal debt has had an important political consequence: a potentially toxic political environment for Democrats heading into 2010.

While the everyday American confronts a sour economy with a sense of conservatism — cutting back on excess expenditures, doing more with less — congressional Democrats and the White House have confronted it liberally: a $787 billion “stimulus” targeted toward the public sector, a proposed trillion-dollar health care bill and billions upon billions more of federal taxpayer dollars directed at bailouts. What’s most troubling is there seems to be no end in sight.

Democrats have offered up a gift in the form of disgruntled independents, the growing and mobile political force currently in possession of both parties’ political fortunes. Both anecdotal and empirical evidence demonstrates these voters are highly concerned with the policies that have flooded the country with debt and red ink.

The red-ink argument against wasteful government spending and mounting deficits presents the Republican Party its best chance to rebuild a center-right coalition of voters. There are three pieces to the argument that the Republican Party should be cognizant of in order to gain momentum and voter support:

Restore credibility: During President George W. Bush’s two terms, government spending and deficits increased, leading to a popular Democratic retort to today’s GOP complaints about spending — “Where was this complaining when you were in charge?” Fair enough. But there’s nothing like a trip to the woodshed to help provide some much-needed perspective.

Yes, the deficits during Bush’s eight years were still lower than the deficit from President Barack Obama’s first year alone. But Republicans must accept responsibility for past negligence on spending, accepting the charge that the party could have and should have done more to reform institutional waste in government. Doing so combats efforts to level the hypocrite charge and is a first step toward restoring credibility with the American people.

Never tire of hammering Democrats on spending: One of the more relevant axioms in politics is the warning to “never tire of your own message.” In order to rebuild the Republican Party’s image on fiscal issues and reclaim the reform mantle, the party must relentlessly inform voters about the real-life consequences of Democrats’ spending policies.

The concerns and raw economic anxieties of everyday Americans are all, in some way, connected to wasteful spending practices. Unemployment, bailouts, the rising costs of health care and tuition and worries about future debt are the real consequences of spending policies that seem out of touch with the American public’s instinct on fiscal responsibility. Republicans running in 2010 must have a message that continuously demonstrates the undesirable outcomes of reckless spending.

Understand the anger, but be for something: Democrats may be falling out of favor, but it’s not enough to simply let them self-destruct — Republicans need to take steps to win back the trust of voters. Present ideas, present alternatives and present price tags that reflect the kind of conservatism that Americans are applying to their own household finances.

Republicans also need to take their arguments beyond simply saying they want to cut spending and explain why less spending creates better outcomes. Lower taxes and less spending aren’t ends in and of themselves; they’re a means to economic growth, personal freedom and job creation. Reconnect our policy ideas to the values that matter to voters, like their ability to provide for their families or the security of their children’s futures.

The Republican Party’s electoral descent in 2006 and 2008 was the result of a deterioration of the party’s standing as genuine reformers in the eyes of voters. The party was no longer viewed as being able to govern competently and responsibly, so any alternative looked attractive. The Republican Party absolutely must reclaim the fiscal responsibility trademark. Perhaps no item is more critical to a comeback in both the 2010 midterms and creating the long-term growth needed to gain a governing majority once again.

Kevin Madden is a former senior adviser to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Kristen Soltis is director of policy research at The Winston Group, a Republican strategic consulting and polling firm.


  1. This hurts my head. Why is that the uninformed or willfully ignorant are given such large pulpits?