In the words of the famous comedian/filmmaker, Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be ‘da king.” After the elections this November, the Democratic Party would agree.
After reelecting a president with 7.9% employment, expanding their slim advantage in the Senate and cutting into their deficit in the House, the Democrats woke up the morning of November 7 feeling pretty good about themselves. Political pundits are raving about how today’s GOP doesn’t appeal to the modern electorate—Rahm Emanuel’s op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post went so far as to claim the American people reelected President Obama and the Democrats, “because of [their] ideas.”
The President got reelected for the same reasons he got elected in 2008, the first among them being strong enthusiasm from minorities and young voters. However, while in 2008, this enthusiasm came from a message of “hope and change” and a hatred of Bush-era policies, in 2012, voter energy could be traced only to a revulsion of Romney and a GOP that alienated anyone who was not a white male this November (see my op-ed from November 19, “The ‘Fiscally Conservative, Socially Indifferent’ Vote”).
The Democrats also managed to hold power by sticking with the status quo, big tent mentality of, “make everyone happy and protect what we’ve got.” The President articulated this sentiment by saying some version of “We’ve done so much together—we can’t turn back now.” The President’s negative ads successfully painted the Romney/Ryan ticket as wanting to take away precious entitlements, while remaining vague on actual solutions.
The Democrats need to face the reality that America’s biggest problems must be tackled now.
The GOP isn’t going to be in the doldrums forever, and, despite its issues, it has a sense of urgency about America’s economic problems that Democrats haven’t captured yet. While many Democrats are sitting on their hands, congressional Republicans are genuinely worried about the “fiscal cliff,” which is estimated to have already lost 1 million jobs and promises to lose millions more if Congress and the President decide to take the dive. It’s almost as if the Democrats are blind to the fact that if the economy double dips into another recession on the President’s watch, they are going to suffer a beating that will make 2010 look tame.
In order to convince the American people that they are serious about tackling the nation’s economic shortcomings, the Democrats need to be willing to scale back social services and entitlements as well as programs supported more ardently by Republicans, such as defense.
Cutting funding for the safety net does not mean that welfare and healthcare services have to decline—conversely, by scaling back programs and making them more efficient, the government will be better able to serve the poor and the needy while taking a chunk out of the deficit.
Arguing that cuts actually benefit those receiving government benefits is a tough sell—the Romney/Ryan campaign argued, with some impact, that President Obama’s $617 million cut to Medicare meant he wanted to defund the program.
With elections occurring every two years, policies needing longer than two years to take effect and American voters being extremely impatient, politicians and the electorate have come to equate less money with less effectiveness.
However, it is imperative that Democrats take on this challenge, as labeling entitlements “untouchable” is not economically or politically sustainable.
In the short term, Democrats will inevitably lose some of their base and votes among minority groups, considering that the reality of more effective programs will take longer to register than the monetary defunding of entitlements.
These losses, however, will be partially or entirely offset by moderate voters who will respond positively to the lower tax levels required to fund these programs. And, in the long run, as the programs become more effective, the Democratic base will return to the party that undertook reform and improved services to the poor and needy. Thus, cutting entitlements and making them better will both broaden Democrats’ appeal to moderate voters while also holding onto minorities and the liberal base in the long term.
However, the Democrats have continued to demonstrate their lack of vision for fixing the nation’s most pressing issues and improving social services for America’s poor and needy. POLITICO reported on Tuesday that Senate Majority Whip, and member of the “Gang of Six,” Dick Durbin (D-IL) has backed away from previous comments demanding entitlement reform, and articulated the Democratic position that avoiding the fiscal cliff should come before addressing antiquated social programs. Furthermore, President Obama has remained silent on entitlement reform.
How can the Democrats justify overpaying for broken social programs, in the middle of the biggest recession since the 1930s, other than as buying votes?
Contrary to Romney’s view of America, recipients of government assistance are not freeloaders. But, shouldn’t the government have an obligation not only to provide a safety net, but also to make it the most efficient, helpful system possible?
The Democrats have a chance to answer this question in the affirmative while also taking a necessary step towards cutting our deficit and appealing to moderates and fiscal conservatives. Will they answer the call?
Ben Leiner is a college Junior from Baltimore, Maryland.