Monday, February 19, 2007

Eight Little Words

Winning Back The Middle Class Majority
One Family At A Time

by Senator Chuck Schumer
© 2007
Rodale Press, 274 pages

The 2006 election was about correcting past mistakes. The electorate, realizing what a boondoggle they had gotten themselves into with Bush's invasion of Iraq and the Republican's moral turpitudes, took it upon themselves to strike back.

You might think, then, that Senator Chuck Schumer, a moderate-to-liberal Democrat ( I joke that he's two strokes away from being the next Ed Koch) who was in charge of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, would be proud and happy of that fact.

Not so much. In fact, he sees it as nothing more than an opening. An opening to wrest twenty five years of agenda-making from the Republican party and to re-open a dialogue with the middle class in America. An opening to gain back control of the nation's agenda and to move forward with the world.

The book has two parts: the obligatory semi-biographical information, creating a context for the second part, the actual solutions he proposes to put the Democrats back consistently into the win column. This being Chuck Schumer, a man who is not averse to talking about himself, the first part of the book is more about him and his career than any relevance to what is to come. Some of the vignettes and stories are fascinating to be sure, some "inside baseball" politics from a man who's spent 25 years in Washington, but if he had stayed relevant to the discussion, I suppose he would not have gotten a book advance so much as an advance to write a large pamphlet.

Schumer has spent his political career looking out for "The Baileys," a mythical average American middle class family with two kids, two jobs, a big mortgage and a nice life. He charts how the Baileys were Democrats, then became Republicans and are now at the cusp of choosing their political party for the next generation.

See, the 2006 elections, according to Schumer, were an endorsement of negatives: no more war, no more tax cuts, no more unethical behavior. Prior to 2006, the Republicans had been very successful for a very long time with eight little words: War in Iraq. Cut taxes. No gay marriage.

While the issues themselves have shifted over the years, these eight words summed up people's perceptions (incorrect though they were) of the Republican party: strong on security, wanting government out of people's lives, strong moral backgrounds.

One could write a book about those lies, but that's a digression. Combine these values with the overpowering GOP media machine and their willingness to create an atmosphere of fear (think "terror alerts" or "welfare queens" or "gay marriage") and cohesiveness, and you had an unbeatable combination.

One can see his point. Up until the 2006 election, these stances kept people assured and happy. The thing is, those stances eroded over time. People realized that the tax cuts benefitted the wealthy ahead of the middle class, that strength to the GOP meant unwise and foolish choices, and that morality was a double-edged sword.

Too, the Bailey's concerns shifted in tandem with this erosion. Where once they aspired to fewer taxes and smaller government, in this day and age of fast-moving changes and global competition and instantaneous upheavals of outsourcing and job cuts and targeting by terrorists, they actually want government protection and they are willing to pay for it to ensure their futures and their children's futures.

Schumer's solution to these troubles as well as the fears of overtaxation and over-regulation can be summed up as "The Fifty Percent Solution".
- Increase reading scores by 50% while reducing the property taxes that pay
for education by 50%. Increase the number of college graduates who can compete
in this economy by 50%.

- Reduce illegal immigration and increase legal immigration by 50%.

- Reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 50%.

- Reduce cancer mortality, childhood obesity, and abortions by
...and so on.

No, this is not a wholly progressive agenda and Schumer addresses that. He believes that by ignoring middle class concerns, by not listening to the Baileys of the country, the Democrats put themselves in danger of not just marginalization, but of extinction. After all, it was only two years ago that they lost seats in the Senate and nearly created a filibuster-proof majority for the Republicans.

Which makes his accomplishments as DSCC chairman that much more impressive.

He gets very specific in his proposals, wonky to an almost-Clintonian level, but always frames the issues and solutions so that the Bailey family can comprehend them. It's a verey interesting read and makes a great companion to Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future by James Carville and Paul Begala.