Dems Have A Chance To Permanently Change The Narrative On Defense And Fiscal Responsibility

Because of the specific nature and makeup of the Democratic party, it is awfully difficult for the party to speak with a unified voice and message, something that the ever more monolithic Republican party does with expertise. And, because of the ability to speak with a unified voice, Republicans have long been able to convince the electorate and the media that they are what they are not.

For the last forty years, Republican Presidents have blown up the deficit and exploded the national debt. And for the last forty years, Democratic Presidents, both have whom have been confronted by recessions upon taking office, have reduced the deficit, one even creating a surplus, and the rate of growth in the national debt. Yet, to this day, pundits as diverse as Chuck Todd of MSNBC to Brian Lehrer of WNYC still claim the Democrats don’t really care about the deficit.

Of course, that is totally false. Unlike Republicans, Democrats do not falsely obsess about deficits and actually understand there are times when they are necessary, but also actually try to pursue reasonable fiscal policies, attempting to pay for government programs they support. As a perfect example, Bernie Sanders has proposed a massive expansion of federal programs and provided at least a roadmap of how he proposes to pay for it. Now, some may think some of those fiscal assumptions are too rosy but they are certainly more honest than claiming we will get 5% GDP growth as Republicans do.

Hopefully, this latest abandonment of fiscal responsibility by the GOP looks like it has put the final nail in the coffin about the belief in Republican concerns about the national debt. We shall see. But there is another meme that Republicans have created and lived on since the 1960s, namely that they are the only party that cares about national defense and the military.

Yes, it is true that Republicans always want to spend more money on defense than Democrats do. But defending our country takes more than military equipment. It requires the ability to recognize and preempt the threats that are out there and, in that regard, that Republicans have been an utter failure for nearly two decades. When it came to al-Qaeda, Bush took his eye off the ball and we ended up with 9–11. He followed that up by lying to get is into Iraq, the most useless and destructive war since Vietnam, which created chaos in the Mideast that still continues to this day and from which we have still not extricated ourselves. And now Trump has not only encouraged an attack on our democratic system from Russia but is continually and willfully refusing to do anything to defend us from that attack as it continues.

Even worse, the Republican party itself is now complicit in allowing these attacks. McConnell refused to do anything about it during the campaign. The GOP controlled Congress has done little or nothing to prepare for the attacks on the 2018 election, (although there is supposedly a Senate Intelligence Committee report coming out soon about defending the electoral process). Congress has allowed the President to defy the law instituting new sanctions on the Russians. And Rex Tillerson has basically said defending against Russian attacks is useless and not worth it. This is not what “standing up for the military” and defending our country looks like.

Now, it was nice to see Joe Biden really take Trump to task over this yesterday. As he pointed out, there has apparently been no interagency meeting, none, or any coordinated government effort to address the Russian attacks on our democracy. Similarly, Jerry Nadler also went after Trump for doing nothing despite evidence that at least some states had their electoral systems breached by the Russians in 2016. But neither of them extended their criticism from Trump to the Republican party in general, when it is clear that both of them are to blame.

Messaging and framing has been incredibly important element for Republican successes since Reagan. And Democrats by and large have failed in those areas. It continually blows my mind how little Democrats mention the fact that Clinton ran a surplus. Yet Republican still wax eloquent about the mythical boom created by the Reagan tax cuts.

In 2018, Democrats really have an opportunity to change the framing for a generation and they need to take advantage of it. When it comes to taxes, the issue is not about the lies that Republicans told about caring for deficits. It is about our priorities and what we choose to spend our money on. Yes, people’s incomes will probably get a light boost from these tax cuts. Democrats can not deny that. But the bulk of the over $2 trillion in unfunded tax cuts and spending will go to the billionaires like the Kochs and Mercers and the hedge and private equity funds that own most of the stock in this country. And that money will be repaid by the children of moderate and low income families now and in the future. Republicans admitted as much when they passed the bill. As John Yarmuth, the Democrat from Kentucky says, “It’s great that moderate and lower income people got a tax cut. But we’re going into $2 trillion of debt, and for that same amount of money, we could pay off everybody’s student loan debt, we could give free community college to everybody who wants it, we could fix every bridge in the country.” It’s not about the deficits per se; it’s about our priorities in how we spend our money.

Similarly, on defense and the military, Democrats have a real opportunity to go on offense. Every day, they should be harping on the fact that Trump and the Republicans refuse to provide any defense against the Russian hacking and seem to have no will or plan to defend against it in 2018. Republicans seem to want to pick and choose the threats they want to defend against. They ignored al-Qaeda in order to focus on containing Iran. They ignore the Russian threat because they are either corrupted by the Russians or overly focused on immigration or North Korea, take your pick. But a good general, even with the best military equipment, can never ignore the flanks he’s not interested in. And by ignoring those flanks, Republicans are not really defending our country. This is the message Democrats should be sending.

As we have seen for the last two generations, once a meme becomes ingrained in the culture, it is hard to erase or overturn, even with overwhelming evidence that contradicts it. Democrats finally have a real chance to demolish the two pillars of Republican propaganda, fiscal responsibility and defense, and to win over those who vote on those issues. They need to seize it. And, in doing so, the 2018 election becomes something more than a referendum on Trump, which may be sufficient in itself, but also a referendum on the priorities of the Republican party, which, if Democrats can win the narrative on these two issues, will leave the GOP to run on purely a white nationalist agenda.

Originally published at on February 9, 2018.

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