Democrats on Deficit: Proclaim, Don’t Blame

Republicans have a potent issue to win over Independents and other swing voters in the 2010 congressional elections – the deficit. And the Democrats’ defense against deficit spending charges so far has been “Bush did it first.”

That “Bush did it first” blaming is certainly true. Bush’s Democratic predecessor eliminated the deficit, and Bush built it back up. Worse yet, Bush’s spending and tax cutting spree was during a time of prosperity, when economic stimulus wasn’t needed. So, it’s easy to see how grating it is for Democrats to be lectured by Republicans, of all people, about deficits.

But they can’t take the bait. While the “Bush did it first” message is truthful and cathartic, it makes them sound defensive and co-guilty of wrong-doing, and it is wholly insufficient to persuade Independents and other swing voters that Democrats can be trusted with the purse strings into the future.

Republicans are correct, a ballooning deficit is scary. But the lower-cost alternatives would have been much scarier. If Obama and congressional Democrats had not spent on financial industry bailouts, automaker bailouts, and stimulus funding, most experts say we would have had a total economic catastrophe that would dwarf what we experienced.

So, yes, we have a larger deficit, but the deficit spending mitigated a meltdown. Instead of a dramatically shrinking economy, we now have a modestly growing economy. Instead of no credit to fuel economic growth, we have some money flowing to businesses and individuals again. Instead of a stockmarket crash, we have a stockmarket rally. Instead of a housing collapse, we have signs of a modest housing recovery. Instead of hundreds of millions of more unemployed Americans from shuttered banks, insurance companies, automakers and small businesses dependent those central pillars of the economy, we now have economists predicting job growth early next year.

So the message framing for the deficit can’t be “Bush did it first.” It must be something more like “Deficits defeat Depressions.” Americans need to understand that President Hoover fixated on avoiding deficits at all cost, and that put us in the Great Depression, with failed banks, 30 percent unemployment, and breadlines. FDR chose short-term Keynesian deficit spending and it got us out of the Great Depression. Obama’s programs prevented a catastrophic financial meltdown too. Democrats made the wise choice during the meltdown, and now that the economy is recovering, Democrats will balance the budget again, as they did under Clinton.

Democrats have be direct with citizens and treat them like grown ups. They have to explain the Hoover-esque cost of doing nothing when money isn’t flowing. They have to explain that they hate deficits too, but show why deficit spending was a must with the economy in meltdown. Finally, and this is critical, they have to lay out a plan for cutting the deficit in the future, to show swing voters that they have a plan for getting us back to normal.

And in terms of tone, Democrats have to make this “deficits beat Depression” case proactively, not reactively. The have to proclaim it on offense, not on defense. They have to communicate that they are, like FDR and congressional New Dealers, supremely proud of what they achieved, not apologetic. They have to boast, not blame. Blaming others – tempting as it is — makes it sound like they are embarrassed and got caught doing something wrong. And if they carry that tone into the 2010 mid-term elections, it is going to be a butt ugly year for congressional Democrats.

– Loveland

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Zygi’s PR Hail Mary Puts Vikings In The Game

In the political world, there is something much worse than being opposed. It’s called being ignored.

And until Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his team showed their teeth this week, they were being roundly ignored by the Legislature. The billionaire not only couldn’t get half a billion bucks from the Legislature, he couldn’t get a hearing, a cup of coffee, or a sideways glance.

But when the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission only offered Zygi millions in post-season revenues as he waits for his much bigger taxpayer financed pay day, the wounded Wilf howled.

“Shocked, exasperated, and extremely disappointed,” the Vikings penned to the Commission.

Holy moly! Shocked, exasperated AND extremely disappointed? As every good corporate communications toady knows, the Three Adjective Smackdown (TAS) is the WMD of business communications world. And today, the Vikings unleashed another rhetorical blitz, with sly talk about the need to “move on,” which of course is just two scary letters away from “move out.”

Finally, Zygi is flashing his New Jersey for us. Though he is speaking genteel corporatese, he is making it crystal clear that he is making an offer we can’t refuse.

And it’s working. Some are hating on Zygi to be sure, but he is no longer being ignored. Zygi has led the local news, and national sports news, for two days. He has DFL Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Keliher talking about a “purple ribbon commission” to study the issue. (Sure, it’s just her way of not taking a position during the gubernatorial campaign, but it’s more than the cold shoulder Wilf had been getting.)

And today, Wilf’s tantrum has generated follow-up stories about the mythical prospects of the LA Vikings Scenario, which has the purple face-paint types curled up in a fetal position. All that buzz has made Wilf’s well-timed whining the week’s top “talker” on local radio stations.

Wilf is a long, long way from winning. To get out of the big Teflon dome in Minneapolis, he is going to need to get a lot better at operating under the big gold dome in St. Paul. But he will eventually win, and the PR move he put on the pols this week was nearly as nifty as the move Purple Jesus put on the 49ers to find an obscure receiver in the back of the end zone. Skoal Vikings!

– Loveland

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Media Misses Health Trend Story Behind Rating

We’re number six! We’re number six!

It’s not exactly the cheer proud Minnesotans are accustomed to when it comes to health. After all, for four years in a row we were the number one healthiest state in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation. Health has always been one of the centerpieces of our vaunted Minnesota quality of life, but this is the third straight year we’ve been trending downward.

If we stopped dropping at number six, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But unfortunately, the future may not look so great either. The Minnesota news media reported on Minnesota’s sixth place rating, but none of them connected the policy dots to describe where Minnesota appears to be headed in coming years. As the liberal policy think tank Minnesota 20-20 points out:

The Governor’s cuts to GAMC (General Assistance Medical Care, a state-funded program for low-income adults who have no dependent children and who do not qualify for federally funded health care programs) will increase our number of uninsured come March 1, since not all GAMC recipients are qualified for the automatic transfer to MinnesotaCare. After the six month grace period is over, it is likely that many GAMC recipients will be unable to maintain their coverage through MinnesotaCare due to the procedural requirements and cost. The discontinuation of GAMC is part of a larger $1 billion cut to Health and Human Services and it remains to be seen just how these cuts will affect other programs.
Most of what Minnesota does well (in the United Health Foundation ratings measurements): low premature death rate, a low rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease, low infant mortality comes from the fact that we have a low rate of uninsured people in the state, but if this changes with the end to GAMC and overall cuts to the Department of Human Services, it is a good chance that there will be negative consequences to our low premature death rate, low cardiovascular deaths, and low infant mortality.

The once proud number one healthiest state is now envious of states in the top five. Will we soon be envious of states in the top ten or fifteen? We get a lot of news stories about the political gamesmanship aspects of unallotment. How about more stories about the quality-of-life impacts of the Governor’s unilateral cutting?

– Lovelandsba nice

Siding With Sarah

Pigs must be aloft and they must be playing hockey in Hell today because I find myself in agreement with Sarah Palin regarding Newsweek‘s cover photo choice.  It’s a cheap shot and one the magazine should have resisted taking.

It’d be one thing if she posed for Newsweek in this get-up, but the backstory is that magazine bought the picture from a stock agency that reps the photographer who did a photo shoot for the August, 2009 issue of Runner’s World (which seems to be asserting that it has a one-year exclusive on the photo so there may be an actual lawsuit from this).  I’m not sure I would have been smart enough, were I staffing the shoot, to have asked the photographer, “And, what’s the rights agreement for these photos between you and Runner’s World?”

And, most of the world, not being media sophisticates like your average SRC reader, will probably look at the cover and – not unreasonably – assume that Ms. Palin knew exactly what she was doing and for which publication.

Newsweek maintains that picture is entirely consistent with their regular practices.  As Editor Jon Meacham wrote:

“We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do. We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard.”

This is the most interesting image of Sarah Palin available? I’m having trouble believing that.

– Austin

The End of Unallot?

Five months ago, we ruminated about “Unallot,” the magical fiscal fiefdom created by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

    “Don’t let it be forgot
    That once there was a spot,
    For one brief, shining moment
    That was known as Unallot.”

In the magical kingdom of Unallot, a Governor who feigns surprise about huge deficits that have been forecasted and publicly discussed for months can effectively dub himself a King who is free to unilaterally dictate budgets without involving the co-equal branch of government that is constitutionally authorized to appropriate funds.

Well, today, the Minnesota House voted along party lines to support a lawsuit that would unallow Unallot, setting up a consitutional showdown that now has national political implications. The lawsuit also impacts thousands of vulnerable Minnesotans. Finally, I’d argue, the lawsuit will also affect future Repubican legislators who could be be flattened by future DFL Governors taking up residence in Unallot.

    “Unallot! Unallot!
    I know it gives a person pause,
    But in Unallot, Unallot
    Are those really the legal laws?”

In short, the third co-equal branch of government, the judiciary, will soon decide whether the gubernatorial kingdom of Unallot is real, or make believe.

– Loveland

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“Dithering” Doublespeak

Decisions have you really thought it throughOne of the things that uncredentialed fake journalist Jon Stewart does on Comedy Channel that many credentialed real journalists don’t do is connect the dots of recent events. Stewart and his writers don’t just regurgitate the news of the day and look at events in isolation. They dig until they uncover the larger story, and then Stewart speaks sleuth to power.

I wish Stewart could do more of that kind of probing in Minnesota. Among many other things, Minnesota Congressman John Kline’s recent statements might be of interest.

For instance, in a recent Star Tribune commentary about Afghanistan, Congressman Kline demanded fast decisionmaking from Democrats. Like Vice President Cheney, Congressman Klein was deeply troubled by President Obama’s alleged “dithering.”

But in a news release just a few months earlier, Congressman Kline was highly critical of fast decisionmaking by Democrats on the health care reform bill.

Let me see if I have this straight. Deliberation on a life and death issue like war is traitorous, but deliberation on a life and death issue like health care is a must? In one instance pondering is due deliberation, but in another it is deadly dithering?

Politicians like Kline often want to force decisions when they think the likely decision will go their way, and slow decisions when they think the likely decision will go against them. But they frame each position in self-righteous terms.

Where is that Jon Stewart when you need him?

– Loveland
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