Democrats Should Be Joining the Tea Parties

obama-taxesDemocrats are responding to the growing nationwide phenomena of anti-tax “tea parties” protests by mocking them and by pointing out that they are prompted and run by right-wing organizations.

Neither response is a winning political strategy.

It is pure political stupidity — and bad economic policy — for Democrats to treat the tax protests with derision or contempt.

Rather than mocking the aims of the tea parties, Democrats should follow the lead of presidential candidate Barack Obama, who promised to “provide a tax cut for working families” and “restore fairness to the tax code and provide 95 percent of working Americans the tax relief they need.”

Obama also promised to provide tax relief for small businesses and startups by  eliminating “all capital gains taxes on startup and small businesses to encourage innovation and job creation.”

What Obama recognized – and Democrats already seem to have forgotten – is that working families are in fact being over-taxed while the super rich have gotten a free ride – and that voters will cast their ballots for the party and the candidates who they believe will create a fairer tax code and reduce their tax burden.

And while it is certainly legitimate to point out that the anti-tax tea parties are being manipulated and guided by right-wing groups and talk-show hosts whose agendas are not the same as working and middle class voters, this point is devoid of political impact unless it is accompanied by a commitment to do a better job than these groups of protecting working class and middle class economic interests.

For too long, Democrats – especially in California – have allowed Republicans to dominate and set the terms of the tax debate.

As a result, Democrats have allowed Republicans to paint them as the party of higher taxes – and have allowed the super rich to pretend to defend the economic interests of working families and the middle class while in fact shifting the costs of government to those who are least able to afford it.

Instead of responding to the tax protests with mockery and contempt, Democrats need to insist on talking about the kinds of taxes that the government imposes and who pays them.

We should insist that all taxes be progressive and focused on overturning the Republican’s outrageous favoritism of the super rich.

Especially in the midst of the current recession, we should oppose any increases whatsoever in regressive taxes – such as the sales tax, the automobile tax, and the gasoline tax – that disproportionately hit working and middle class families, unless and until the state and federal tax code is revised to require that the super rich pay their fair share.

Of course these tax protest “tea parties” are a Republican sham — the Republican anti-tax activists not interested in reducing the tax burden on the middle class and working families, but in keeping the Bush tax breaks for the rich — but that does not mean that the underlying middle class protest — even rage — at their tax burden should be ridiculed. On the contrary, it means that the Democrats should insist on seizing the debate and turning it against the Republicans — as Obama did.

Democrats can win the tax debate – if they take the tax protest “tea parties” seriously.

  10 comments for “Democrats Should Be Joining the Tea Parties

  1. Eric Cooper
    April 14, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Michael,
    You have fallen right into the propaganda trap of those righties that you are talking about. Take them seriously? Not me…they deserve every derisive comment they get.

  2. April 14, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Eric: Thanks for the comment, but I think you missed my point, which is that derision of the tax protesters isn’t a winning political strategy for Democrats. As I said, I think we ought to follow Obama’s lead (not right wing propaganda) and take the tax issue from the right wingers by insisting on tax cuts for the middle class. We ought also oppose any regressive taxation. Nowhere is this more important than in California — and especially here in Orange County.

  3. April 15, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Based on some comments I’ve received, I think I ought to post a clarification.

    I do not think that Democrats should join in the current astroturfed faux tax revolt “tea parties” sponsored by Fox News, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and fat cat corporate right-wingers, and which are really just anti-Obama rallies.

    I do think that Democrats need to take the underlying real revolt against excessive and unfair taxes seriously.

    As I said in the post, I think that Democrats ought to seize the tax debate by (1) insisting that all taxes be progressive and focused on overturning the Republican’s outrageous favoritism of the super rich; and (2) opposing any increases whatsoever in regressive taxes – such as the sales tax, the automobile tax, and the gasoline tax – that disproportionately hit working and middle class families, unless and until the state and federal tax code is revised to require that the super rich pay their fair share.

    The modern tax revolt was originally a progressive movement — lead by Democrats — that opposed a tax system that disproportionately burdened working people and people with fixed incomes.

    The Republicans have hijacked this movement (notably with California’s Prop 13) and turned it into a “revolt” fueled by racism and resentment and that benefits only the very rich.

    As Obama showed in the presidential election, it is possible — and it is time — to take the tax revolt back and refocus it to insist that all taxation be fair and progressive.

  4. Northcountystorm
    April 15, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Mr. Fox,

    Good point. Many Democrats sneered at the anti-tax crowd in 1978 and got their lunch handed to them with Prop. 13. It might be fun to kick back and laugh with Colbert or Maher or Rachel but Obama is on the right political track here.

    But a winning political strategy also needs to acknowledge there has to be some more scrutiny by Democrats on the spending side. When times were good the deal of Democrats getting increased spending in exchange for Republicans getting more tax cuts/deductions contributed to the budget fiasco. Needed expansion of services due to growth were paid for by smoke and mirror budgets. Sacramento had a surplus of grasshoppers and a scarcity of ants.

    Bottom line is—I like your teabagging strategy but Democrats also need to be able to defend the expenditure side. And be prepared to go to the people if necessary.

  5. April 15, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Northcountry: Thanks for the comment. I agree — and I think that President Obama would agree as well.

    There is certainly a place for ridiculing many of the anti-tax crowd and for debunking these astroturfed rallies — but let’s leave that to pundits like Oblermann and Maddow. As a party, and as Democratic Party activists, we need to act like Obama and take the underlying anger about taxes seriously (especially here in California), take back the tax debate, and present positive alternatives that provide tax relief for the middle-class and working families.

  6. Eric Cooper
    April 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I agree with the part about regressive taxes, such as the sales tax. That is why I am voting NO on Propsition 1A. I believe that Democrats spend too much on the right things which is OK by me. The federal expenditures are explained thoroughly at http://www.recovery.gov and elsewhere.

    Some Dems are so intent on winning political arguments and being bi-partisan etc. There is NO bi-partisanship with todays GOP. There is no “winning arguments” by the means that Michael describes. The GOP is at war with us and as far as I am concerned, I am at war with them. And I don’t owe any Republican any “explanation” or “defense” of expenditures or anything else!

  7. April 15, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Eric: I am not suggesting that Democrats owe any explanations to the GOP. But I do believe that we need to convince middle class voters, especially here in Orange County, that the Democratic Party will protect their economic interests if we want to win elections.

  8. Eric Cooper
    April 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Agreed as long as we remain true to our principles and do not get in the habit of advocating delay or abandnment of new legislation that is based on long standing traditional Democratic positions, merely for the sake of political expediency, as has been the manner of some dems across the nation.

  9. April 17, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Michael, great post. I am a Republican so I don’t agree with most of your ideological positions except you need to add parking tickets to the list of taxation. It is nothing to rich people, but us working class people get screwed. A $100 ticket is 15% of my rent. iirc Germany has such a system.

    The other thing I agree with is the stupidity of this move. We now have a Congress that is corrupt with a long line of people who didn’t pay their taxes and who are writing our tax laws. Apparently paying taxes are for little people like us.

    And now Mrs. Schakowsky’s husband has plead guilty to 4 counts of, you guessed it, tax violations. He is facing four years in prison and two felony counts. It’s not like Creamer’s case came out of the blue.

    What morons on her staff decided it would be a great idea to denounce tax protesters on April 15, the day her husband pleads guilty. Absolute political stupidity.

    Silly me, I thought only the Republican Party was on a suicide march.

    I salute you, good sir. You are an honorable opponent. Keep up the good work. We need intelligence and the ability not to go along with groupthink on both sides of the aisle.

  10. April 17, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks, Damian, for the compliment. Glad that people from the Other Side enjoy my writing and POV. I warn you, though: my aim is to take voters away from your party and turn Orange County blue.

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