Dec 1 2007

Risky Business

It’s a dangerous business, being a Democrat.

In an L.A. Times article headlined “Democrats Calculate Risk on Tax Hikes” (11/2/07), reporter Janet Hook led off:

More than two decades after presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale called for tax increases—and lost the White House in a landslide—the Democratic Party is on the verge of a major political gamble: Some of its leading members are proposing an array of tax hikes on wealthier Americans.

It’s not clear why Hook went back 27 years to a candidate who proposed tax hikes and lost when she could have gone back 14 years to a Democratic president—Bill Clinton—who actually raised taxes on the wealthy and was re-elected three years later. Perhaps that would have undercut the theme of tax increases being risky—as would citing polling (e.g., Gallup, 4/2-5/07) indicating that 66 percent of Americans think the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

The article does allow that “some party strategists say calling for upper-income tax increases does not pose the political risk it once did because of wide public concern, particularly among Democratic voters, that the gap between rich and poor is growing.” But there’s really nothing new about such populist concerns; in fact, the percentage who told Gallup that the rich weren’t paying their share stood at 77 percent in 1992 (3/92).

The Washington Post warned Dems of danger coming from a different direction: “Climate Is a Risky Issue for Democrats” was the headline on a November 6 story by Juliet Eilperin. The article didn’t really back up the headline; Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg was quoted calling global warming “a top-tier voting issue that has crossover appeal,” while Newt Gingrich predicted that Republicans who deny climate change would pay at the voting booth.

In fact, 70 percent of respondents to the Washington Post’s own poll this April (4/5-10/07) said the federal government “should do more . . . to try to deal with global warming,” while only 7 percent said it “should do less”—21 percent thought current efforts “about right.” But in mainstream media, supporting a progressive policy that gets 70 percent public support is spun as “risky.”

You know what else would be risky? Impeaching Dick Cheney. According to the Baltimore Sun’s Matthew Hay Brown (Swamp, 11/6/07), Democrats view the attempt to oust Cheney as “an issue that divides their base.” But as activist David Swanson points out (After Downing Street, 11/6/07), the only poll that had been taken on impeaching Cheney (American Research Group, 7/5/07) found that 76 percent of Democrats supported the idea (along with 54 percent of the public as a whole). Apparently it’s an issue that divides the Democratic base into a very small part and a very big part.