Today I received a remarkable email from the infamous Crossroads GPS, Carl Rove’s gift from the Roberts court, about the battle over tax giveaways for the wealthy. It heralds the release of a survey executed by Glen Bloger of Public Opinions Strategies that purports to show strong majorities favor extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including those in the top brackets. However, when one examines the survey and the accompanying summary memo, it is clear that the survey does not deal with actual public preferences, but with ways to spin the unpopular Republican drive to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest so that their payback to their big contributors does not bite them in the pants. It is, in Bolger’s words, “messaging” research that:
… identifies powerful arguments that Republicans and other limited government advocates can use to puncture the Democrats flimsy rationale for raising taxes on anyone in the midst of a deepening jobs crisis.
And indeed, if you read the survey results you will find that the only way the response comes out in favor of extending tax cuts for the wealthy is when the questions are asked in a specific, emotively misleading way. When people are asked straightforwardly if they favor extending the tax cuts for the wealthy, even a highly partisan survey can’t get more than an even split – which is still many more in favor of the giveaways than almost every other non-partisan survey has found to date. This survey and its resultant messaging formula is relatively weak, and it is not surprising that its author recommends that the GOP continue doing what they have already been doing to poor effect:
— frame the issue as tax increases not extensions of tax cuts;
— fail generally to distinguish between middle-class tax-cut extensions and those for the wealthy;
— seek cover by invoking the recession and beat the “jobs” dead horse until it’s even bloodier than it is now (how this works for the folks who killed the unemployment benefits extension is hard to say);
— neutralize the deficit question by casting the issue as letting people keep their own money, not denying the government its dues.
Of course, this particular pseudo-survey is itself part of the messaging game, the effort to manipulate appearances. It doesn’t, however, strike me as worth the money Crossroads GPS probably paid for it.
What should we do to counter it? We may actually be doing just fine as we are. For example, for the first time in a long time, we may have our Democratic Senator, Claire McCaskill, on our side as indicated by her on-the-money comments after the Senate votes last Saturday:
I’m trying to figure out how anyone can keep a straight face and say they are for deficit reduction when they insist on a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, completely unpaid for,” McCaskill said. “If they think it is OK to raise taxes for the embattled middle class because they are going to pout if we don’t give more money to millionaires, it really is time for the people of America to take up pitchforks.
For once, her wrong-headed deficit hobbyhorse may be working to our advantage. Now it is our turn to contact her and let her know that we approve of her strong stance on the tax giveaways for the wealthy. The Republicans have a weak hand and, as the Bolger memo shows, their bluff hasn’t been working – if we let them win with these cards, we’ll deserve to see our country demolished by the GOP wrecking crew over the coming decade. The next few days will show us if Democrats are just too strongly programed for capitulation to manage a victory, albeit one that will hurt more now than it would have if they had taken it when it was first offered before the midterms.