By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
OK, enough already. I don’t want to hear any more whining from Democrats about how hard it’s going to be for President Obama to win re-election in 2012. Because the political landscape has just shifted dramatically.
Of course, it’s not going to be any walk in the park for Obama and Democrats. It never is, for either party. But, even with John Boehner caving in on payroll tax cuts, the political equation has experienced nothing less than a historic, seismic shift. And Democrats now enjoy a huge advantage. Think about it.
Ever since Ronald Reagan, Republicans marketed themselves as the party of tax cuts. In fact, 274 Republicans in Congress signed a pledge never, never, never to vote to raise taxes on anybody. But, once asked to cut taxes for the middle class, Republicans were willing to throw that pledge right out the window.
By initially refusing to allow members of the House to vote on the Senate plan to extend payroll taxes for two months – a plan co-sponsored by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and approved by 89 members of the Senate, including 39 Republicans – Boehner effectively announced to 160 million American wage-earners: We changed our minds. Forget all that stuff we said about never raising taxes. Forget our pledge to Grover Norquist. Effective Jan. 1, Republicans were ready and willing to raise taxes on every American who draws a paycheck.
For working-class families, especially, that would have been bad news. It would have meant $40 less, every paycheck: money to put food on the table, gas in the tank, or clothes on the backs of kids. One thousand dollars less in disposable income for 2012. Paying a minimum $1,000 more in taxes. And for the American economy, billions of dollars less in consumer spending, demand for products, sales tax revenue, and walk-in traffic for small businesses.
Politically, as Karl Rove declared, that was suicidal for Republicans. Because, for the first time in decades, it was the Republican Party raising taxes and theDemocratic Party, under Barack Obama, trying to cut them. And this wasn’t the first time. In 2009, as part of the stimulus, Obama gave 95 percent of Americans a tax cut. In 2011, he gave every American wage-earner a one-year, two percent cut in their payroll tax. And for 2012 Obama wanted to extend and expand that payroll tax cut – but was blocked from doing so by John Boehnerand House Republicans – until they caved in.
Boehner’s rejection of the bipartisan Senate proposal not only put him at odds with Democrats, it angered fellow Republicans, starting with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Echoing comments by McConnell and other Republican senators, John McCain said failure of House Republicans to extend payroll tax cuts for at least two months would not only hurt 160 million Americans, it “hurts the Republican Party.”
The reason Republican Senators were so upset was because they realized that, overnight, thanks to John Boehner, the Republican Party had surrendered its No. 1 issue. Suddenly, Democrats, not Republicans, were seen as the party of tax cuts. For Boehner to allow that to happen, as Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal complained, was monumentally stupid. Everybody knows Republicans in the House are determined to be against anything President Obama is for, but in this case, argues the Journal, “Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics.”
And not only on this issue. Ever since Sept. 11, the Republican Party has also sold itself as tough on terrorism. But no longer. It was Barack Obama who gave the orders to track down and kill Osama bin Laden, after George W. Bushabandoned the hunt. It was Barack Obama who led an international coalition against Moammar Gadhafi. And it was Barack Obama who, very quietly, dispatched U.S. drones to kill Anwar al-Awlaki and scores of other al-Qaida leaders. So now Democrats are also the party of national security, the party that keeps America safe.
Bottom line: Under the inept leadership of Mitch McConnell in the Senate andJohn Boehner in the House, Republicans have ceded the ground to Democrats on two key issues: tax cuts and national security. Meanwhile, the economy continues to improve.
That clearly puts 2012 in a whole new light. As The Wall Street Journallamented: “We wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.”