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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, June 26, 2003


Service cuts

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, June 26, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
This insightful article by Michael Tomasky (one of my favorite writers at The American Prospect) addresses the change in rhetoric needed by Democrats in order to address why the tax cuts are bad for America. The strategy usually pursued by Democrats is to argue that tax cuts are not "fair" - the average guy only gets $400 and the rich guys walk off with $17,000. This is, in essence, a selfish argument, and is usually accompanied by countering tax plans that are also tax-cut oriented but tilt the cuts toward the middle class instead of the rich. In doing so, philosophical ground is actually ceded to the GOP because tax cuts in and of themselves are not being portrayed as harmful, just the distribution. Unfortunately, all the major Democratic candidates (including Dean) have presented variants of this strategy.

Tomasky proposes instead a strategy based on self-interest, which is not intrinsically negative the way that selfishness is:

Again, 20 years of right-wing rhetoric has persuaded many people that "government spending" is evil -- it's welfare, food stamps, aid to foreigners, grants for degenerate art. The tax-cut argument will always win as long as people hold government spending in such low regard.

In fact, the vast majority of government spending goes toward things that bring direct or eventual benefits to the lives of middle Americans, and that most Americans say they support: defense, homeland security, Social Security, investment in the country's infrastructure, school lunches, clean air and water, scientific and medical research, highways, local law enforcement, and so on. Of the vast majority of these initiatives, three things can be said: The states can't fund them because they don't have the money; the private sector won't do them because they're not the private sector's responsibility; and individual people cannot take their $400 rebate checks, band together, and decide to go clean up the local lake or hire more airport screeners or fund Alzheimer's research. Like it or not, only the federal government can do, and does, these things.

This is truly principled rhetoric, because it addresses the real need for government spending that states and the private sector simply are unable to assume. Without an argument founded in self-interest, any argument that "tax cuts = service cuts" is left vulnerable to the same conservative arguments against government spending and the inherent evils of the social safety net that have dominated political discourse for twenty years.

Tomasky admits that this is a risky path, but it is certainly better than the flawed selfish argument which has been proven to fail repeatedly. That failure is directly correlated to how principled the argument is.

However, I disagree with Tomasky that this shift towards self-interest might be sufficient - I agree with Jerome below that we also need to see a cut in the payroll tax as an accompaniment. Taken together, then , the main points for an ideal economic platform become:

  1. Constantly discuss and emphasize the self-interest inherent in government spending

  2. Push for a payroll tax cut in the lower brackets

  3. Increase government revenue by increasing the taxable income of all groups, not the tax rate


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.