Once again, President Obama is using dishonest demagoguery to sell his policy agenda — this time with his insistence on tax hikes in any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. And once again, Republicans are like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football with Lucy holding: falling for the same trick over and over again, appearing completely surprised and unprepared each time.
Predictably, President Obama is accusing the Republicans of protecting the rich at the expense of everyone else. And predictably, the Republicans are playing right into his hands. Obama is willing to make a deal to forestall the tax hikes scheduled to hit all taxpayers in January, but only if Republicans agree to raise income tax rates on (relatively) high earners. Republicans are holding out for a deal that doesn’t raise tax rates on anyone, but Obama twists this to his advantage: The GOP, he charges, is holding middle class taxpayers hostage to protect the “rich” from paying their “fair share.”
It appears that the public is buying Obama’s argument. The Republican counter-argument is that raising tax rates will slow growth and hurt the economy. That counterargument is correct, but the GOP must communicate it in a way that resonates with average people. “Growth” is an abstraction. “The economy” is an abstraction. Republicans need to talk about people, and how they would be hurt by the president’s proposals.
Democrats have been adept at labeling Republicans as folks who only care about the rich, and Republicans have been inept at fighting off that label. Republicans must explain why their philosophy promotes opportunity for all, and how the president’s proposals will hurt those he claims to want to help. With the media on Obama’s side, there may not be enough time for Republicans to significantly alter public perceptions before the year-end fiscal cliff deadline. But however this battle turns out, let’s stop losing the war. The substance is on our side, but we haven’t crafted a message that is worthy of our substance.
To that end, I offer this quick and easy guide to communicating our tax positions during the fiscal cliff debate and beyond. We should always emphasize how our policies will help the middle class and the poor. The GOP must be the party not only of the successful, but of those who aspire to be successful. It is with that latter group that we have the most work to do.
Why can’t the rich afford to pay more in taxes?
The rich can afford to pay more in taxes. If you raise their taxes, they’ll still be rich. We don’t need to worry about the rich. The reason that this is a bad time to raise taxes on the rich (or anyone else) is not because it would hurt the rich, but because it would hurt the rest of us.
How would raising taxes on the rich hurt the rest of us? Would we all start feeling emotionally depressed out of sympathy for the rich?
No, but we might feel economically depressed if the rich invest less in our economy. People are suffering now because there aren’t enough jobs. Higher taxes discourage business investment, which means fewer jobs for people who really need them. Ernst & Young has determined that President Obama’s proposals to tax the “rich” would cause our economy to lose 710,000 jobs — this at a time when all of us desperately need the economy to create more jobs. Ernst & Young further found that the president’s proposals would reduce wages, reduce investment, and reduce economic output. In other words, they would make us poorer. The rich can afford to be poorer; the rest of us cannot. And the poor can afford it least of all.