by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Obama hasn’t a clue about actually generating economic growth—his policies thwart it—but he’s awfully good at messaging. And growth is as good as it gets as a message for public consumption. It’s positive. It’s believable even for Obama because we’ve had strong economic growth routinely in the past, prior to his presidency. Best of all for Obama and Democrats, it steals an issue Republicans had not only owned but also relied on as their most effective talking point.
Republicans have reverted to the pre-Reagan era. In those days, they were the party of spending cuts, though GOP presidents rarely followed through. Before he reached the White House, one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite talking points was the welfare queen, a woman who gamed the welfare system to drive a Cadillac and live lavishly. Republicans were the negative party.
That changed in the late 1970s. Republicans ran on tax cuts and growth in 1978 and made modest gains in the House and Senate. More important, Reagan, prodded by Jack Kemp, adopted that agenda in his 1980 campaign and, as president, pushed through a 25 percent cut of income tax rates as the centerpiece of his economic policy. The economy boomed and growth became the GOP’s economic watchword.
But confronted with towering deficits and a national debt in fiscally dangerous territory, Republicans have become the negative party again. This is partly understandable. Obama’s reckless spending has forced congressional Republicans to be responsible and champion spending cuts, reform of entitlements, and a balanced budget.
So while Obama wants to give things to voters, Republicans want to take them away. Or they’re alarmed about a looming debt crisis that’s an abstraction and thus not a pressing concern of many voters.
Republicans need to escape this box.