Wednesday :: May 14, 2003

Will Democrats Begin to Aim Their Fire at the Right Target?


by Steve

A criticism of Kerry that I totally agree with.

But at least Kerry, who rolls out his own health insurance plan tomorrow, has finally decided to refocus his attacks on the real target and begin acting like a first-tier candidate. And it comes not a moment too soon, when pundits and state party officials are noticing that none of the candidates are doing what is necessary to be seen as an opponent of an incumbent president, and are instead spending too much time positioning themselves at other Democrats' expense.

There is plenty of time and opportunity to go after Bush, even in the face of good poll numbers for Top Gun. Despite still-high approval numbers, the recent NYT poll shows that any Democrat who begins the assault on the tax policies of this administration and isn't afraid to engage in class warfare will score points.

The number of Americans who said they had confidence in Mr. Bush's ability to manage the economy dropped seven points, to 47 percent, in the month the president has been pushing his tax cut plan in speeches in Washington and across the nation. The poll also found that many Americans say that instead of cutting taxes, the nation should use the money to cut the deficit or finance a national health care system.

In other words, the more he talks about his tax cut plan, the more voters lose confidence in his ability to manage the economy. Earth to Dems: Are you missing something here?

Focus. Focus. Focus.

Americans overwhelmingly said the nation's health care system needed fundamental change or a complete overhaul, and they said the Democratic Party was better equipped to do that.

Respondents also said that the Democrats would do a better job of creating jobs and improving education. In addition, the number of Americans who named the economy as the chief problem facing the country continued to climb, to 29 percent in this poll, up from 23 percent last month, suggesting the potential potency of the issue that both the White House and Democrats believe could prove pivotal in next year's presidential election.

Whatever enthusiasm Americans have for their president has, so far at least, not extended to what Mr. Bush has identified as his chief domestic goal now that the war is nearly over: slashing taxes. Almost uniformly, the Democratic presidential candidates have called for rejecting either all or most of Mr. Bush's tax cut, describing it as economically damaging and tilted unfairly to the rich, and the findings suggested that this argument could eventually have some resonance.

A plurality of those polled, 41 percent, said they believed that Mr. Bush's tax cut could help the economy. But 48 percent rejected one of Mr. Bush's central arguments for tax cuts, saying the cuts were not very or not at all likely to create jobs. In addition, 58 percent said they did not expect to find any more money in their paychecks as a result of Mr. Bush's tax cuts. And 63 percent of respondents said the tax cuts in 2001 had not helped the economy.

On matters of economic policy, Americans appear to have a different set of priorities from their president's. For example, 81 percent of respondents said that the country should make sure Americans had access to health care, rather than cut taxes. And 58 percent said the priority should be reducing the deficit.

And yet,

Continuing a historical trend that has played to the advantage of the Republican Party, the Times/CBS News poll found that Americans overwhelmingly saw Republicans as better able to make the right decisions on terrorism and to keep the military strong.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Republicans would do a better job of protecting the United States against terrorist attacks; just 18 percent said the same thing of Democrats. And 66 percent said Republicans were more likely to make sure the nation's military forces were strong, compared with 19 percent who expressed such confidence in Democrats.

The poll suggested that Republicans have continued to do a better job in laying out an agenda that is clear to Americans. Democrats have long thought that that would change as attention moved away from Capitol Hill, where Democrats are in the minority and thus do not have a platform, and to the presidential campaign, thus improving the party's standing with the public.

Thus, it is good that Kerry is returning his attention to the real target. He and the rest of the candidates need to focus on 3-4 simple-to-remember issues that form the basis for an easy to identify agenda against Bush, and to hammer it relentlessly over the coming months. And it would help if Kerry and the rest of them showed a little spine on the issue of tax fairness, and played the revenue-draining Bush agenda against the unmet needs that the voters are starting to pay attention to again.

But will they?

Steve :: 6:10 PM :: Comments (10) :: Digg It!