The President has shown a talent for slowly but surely moving public opinion in the right direction on crucial policy points, then inexplicably giving those points away to his political opponents for little or nothing in return. According to last month’s Gallup poll, for example, only 20% of Americans want Congress to reduce the deficit solely through spending cuts, while the overwhelming majority favor some mix of taxes and cuts, and an additional 7% support tax cuts alone. This was President Obama’s stated position, the one thing he said he would stand by, yet the deal he ultimately signed off on included zero revenue increases.
The President long ago convinced Americans that the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to expire, either for those making more than $250,000 per year, or for all taxpayers. Yet the President caved on this proposition during the lame duck session of Congress, and again in the debt ceiling debate.
So now we’re waiting on a deficit “Super Commission” likely to be packed with conservative hardliners, and a process in which the President promises, once again, that increased taxes for the wealthiest among us must be part of the mix. But the stakes are high. And the default outcome—in the likely event that the commission cannot agree—is across the board cuts that would devastate Americans hardest hit by the recession and bury the prospects for job creation and recovery.
We can hope that the third time will be the charm. We can wring our hands and expect to be sold down the river. Or we can take action to make sure it’s a real fight, with or without the President’s resolve. That course, the right course, will require innovative ideas, aggressive organizing, and a powerful narrative that has been lacking from the debate so far.
Fortunately, progressives have already launched several efforts that are crucial to winning the fight. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (many of whose members opposed the debt deal) led a jobs tour around the country, proposed a Progressive Budget, and is calling for job creation as a top priority, including in budget negotiations. The Congressional Black Caucus has its own jobs initiative and has vowed to push back against harsh, cuts-only approaches.
From the Rebuilding the American Dream movement, to the Home for Good Campaign, and beyond, activists are taking to the streets, to Facebook, and to the halls of power in their call for an opportunity society, including an opportunity budget.
Just as crucial will be telling our story, a story that inspires the base, persuades the undecided, and marginalizes our opposition. It must be a story rooted in shared values of opportunity, and economic security, and the idea that we’re all in it together. It must identify corporate misconduct, inadequate regulation, and wrongheaded economics as the forces that got us into this crisis. But it must focus overwhelmingly on positive, pragmatic solutions that enable Americans to get back to work and rebuild their dreams, as well as their assets. Hardly a fringe message, research and experience show this fits well with what everyday Americans already believe.
Armed with ideas, organizing, and a compelling American narrative, we can win not only the budget and deficit fights, but the fight to restore our economy and expand opportunity into the future. It would be nice to have the President in the lead in this fight, but we may have to pull him along behind us.