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Why the Democrats are Losing

The Democrats continue to lose elections because they keep learning the wrong lessons.

For instance, in 2000 the Democrats ignored the fact that it was mainly personality that got Bill Clinton elected back in 1992. The Democrats should have learned the importance of the roll that personality plays in elections after the Reagan victories. However, if the Democratic Party had believed that the sitting President Bush was vulnerable, it would not have even given Clinton the opportunity to be its nominee. The fact that Clinton turned out to be an intelligent, motivated public servant was a fortunate circumstance.  Ignoring the personality factor, the Democratic Party fielded Al Gore in 2000, then John Kerry in 2004 as its lead candidates. These men are intelligent, motivated public servants whose public personalities are unacceptable for the President in a society that embraces Paris Hilton as the IT girl and screen idol Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor.  Lesson One:  It’s the personality, stupid.

During the heady days of the 2000 election season, traditional Democratic issues did not seem relevant.  There was a belief that anyone with a hot stock tip or a clever Internet idea was days away from becoming a millionaire. Why worry about health care or social security when we are all going to be rich?  In this climate, the Democrats attempted to sell the notion, “If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democrat.”  That idea went over as well as Al Gore’s personality.

According to the exit polling done after the 2000 election, 53% of the votes cast were by people earning $50,000 or more.  What most people do not realize is that despite “everyone’s getting rich” hype, in 2000 less than 28% of the population earned $50,000 or more. Lesson Two: The richest quarter of the population determines elections. If you do not make significant inroads within this group, you will lose.

The Democrats were not the only ones who had not learned Lesson Two by 2000. I chose that year to publish A Broken Covenant: The Rape of the American Middle Class.  The book did not find an audience in a time when America was pretending to be rich.  For those not familiar with the book, David Cay Johnston’s 2003 book Perfectly Legal covered much of the same ground.

In 2004 the economy had soured, and Democrats believed that there was once again an audience for their traditional issues.  Eager to prove they had not learned Lessons One or Two, the Democrats launched a populace campaign with an unpopular candidate. Sadly, this is not an age where experience and seniority should the first criterion used to pick a national candidate.  Refer to Lesson One.

By 2004, only about 29% of the population earned more than $50,000, yet exit polls showed 55% of the votes were cast by this group. There is a deeply ingrained belief that Democrats raise taxes and much of the richest quarter of the population is scared by that possibility. Refer to Lesson Two. 

Now the Democrats are missing the point again.  Rather than accept that John Kerry’s personality or his brand of populism cost them the election, they are embracing the idea that they lost because of some sort of moral failing. Are we going to have to spend the next two years watching prominent Democrats attempt to prove the depth of their morality?

Let’s face it, far more people voted against the hypocrisy and immorality of Bush’s environmental and economic choices than those who voted against Kerry solely on the pro-life issue. Lesson Three: Democrats are not going to persuade the segment of the population who refuses to understand the difference between pro-choice and pro-abortion.

During the years since writing A Broken Covenant, I have come to realize how effectively the rich versus poor issue has been used to push many of the over $50,000 income-voting block into the arms of the Republican Party.  My recent book Conning the Rich: The Great American Fraud attempted to speak directly to the richest quarter of taxpayers. Unfortunately, my personality is closer to Al Gore’s than to Bill Clinton’s, which makes me a poor messenger for this important information.

The Democrats who would have benefited most from breaking down the misconception that Republican tax policies have helped all rich taxpayers were not interested.  They were too busy retreading their rich versus poor populism to worry about reaching out to any but the poor and middle class.  They spent a great deal of time and money trying to motivate people who did not vote -- again.

There is a solution.  Less than ½ of 1% of the population have incomes over $500,000. The balance of the richest quarter of income earners only earn between $50,000 and $500,000. The Democrats need to convince this large block of rich taxpayers that it is not only the poor and the middle class who have not benefited under the tax paradigm begun under Reagan and continued under the current administration. How do you think the rich will react once they realize that they are being conned by the Republicans?  Once they discover that -- rather than getting a few crumbs of the massive tax cuts targeted for the superrich -- the rich are being manipulated into shouldering an increasing share of the tax burden, their allegiance will change.

Gearing our national tax policy to the aggrandizement of millionaires is bad for the country and is harmful to the 99.5% of American taxpayers earning $500,000 or less. In 2000 the government lost $100 billion in revenue because of tax cuts given to the 1/5 of 1% of the population making $1 million incomes. The same year the government gained $13 billion in revenue because of tax increases levied on the $50,000 to $500,000 income group. Tax cuts since 2000 have dramatically increased the long-term gains for millionaires while providing only short-term benefits for the majority of rich taxpayers.

Forget catering to the fundamentalists, the Democrats must connect with the voters earning $50,000 to $500,000. If they follow Lessons One, Two, and Three, they can stop their losing streak.

      

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