If poll questions tell us such things, one of the keys to President Obama’s reelection in 2012 was that he always, always, always outscored Mitt Romney on the “which candidate cares about people like you?” question. And among those who said (in exit polls on Election Day) that “cares about people like me” was the most important attribute, Obama got the votes of 81 percent.
Yeah, yeah, Romney was very rich, and he said the 47 percent thing, and he had an elevator for his cars and all that. But cares-about-people-like-you is central to the Democratic Party’s image. And it’s a huge advantage. And Republicans know this.
Sometimes they respond by accusing Dems of waging “class warfare,” which is not too far from invoking the Communist menace. Recently they have adopted the phrase “free stuff,” as in Democrats are always offering “free stuff” to get your votes, which I suppose is meant to combine an accusation of bribery and an invocation of a more complicated argument that, since nothing is really free, Democrats’ ideas will inevitably lead to higher taxes or higher deficits and economic collapse.
We are at an interesting moment on this cares-about-people thing. The U.S. economy is growing. It actually has been pretty much throughout the Obama years, and growing faster and more steadily than most economies in the world. But apparently some Republicans are no longer denying that it is growing. The unemployment rate is approaching a number that is usually considered healthy, or at least in the normal range. But, by every accounting, the recovery has mostly benefited the affluent more than the middle and lower classes.
Republicans have now started complaining that the recovery is not helping the average American enough. They have begun invoking the phrase “income inequality,” which we usually hear more about from Democrats.
House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview on last weekend’s “60 Minutes” that “frankly the president’s policies have made income inequality worse.” Sen. (and undeclared presidential candidate) Ted Cruz said at the “Freedom Partners” meeting last weekend that “The people who have been hammered for the last six years are working men and women.”
When Democrats talk about about income inequality, Republicans often portray it as the first step down the road to class warfare. But when Republicans fret about income inequality, it strikes me as the first step toward arguing that they care about people like you.
The next question is what do they propose to do about it?
The daily “First Read” memo from NBC News this morning puts the question squarely. Under the subhead “The GOP’s problem with their new income-inequality message,” the NBCers ask: “So, how do you fix it?”
Obama favors raising the minimum wage. He favors closing tax loopholes that benefit rich individuals and corporations. He wants to make two years of community college available for free. The single biggest thing that Obamacare did to provide health insurance to those who couldn’t afford it was to expand the Medicaid program for the working poor. He has lots of ideas that — without getting sucked in here to the argument over how effective they would be — clearly and straightforwardly take money from the rich and provide benefits to the non-rich. Republicans oppose all those things. But now, fairly suddenly, they are asking to be taken seriously as the party that is concerned about income inequality.
So, what policies do they propose to reduce income inequality? Stay tuned.