According to talking points distributed today by the White House, Obama will frame his State of the Union speech tonight around the idea that this is a “make or break moment for the middle class” and that the rich continue to get richer without paying their “fair share.”
The GOP prebuttal, as articulated by John Boehner today, is that Obama is practicing the politics of “division and envy” in a way that’s “almost un-American.” This echoes Mitt Romney’s recent comments about how concerns about inequality are rooted in “envy,” and his recent go-back-to-Russia confrontation with an Occupy protester.
Today’s New York Times/CBS News poll sheds a bit of light on where the public is on these questions:
What about upper income Americans? Do you feel upper income people pay more than their fair share in federal income taxes, less than their fair share, or is the amount they pay about right?
More than fair share: 11
Less than fair share: 55
About right: 24
Fifty-seven percent of independents say upper income people aren’t paying their fair share; even 37 percent of Republicans agree with this.
The pol also finds that 52 percent of Americans support taxing capital gains and dividends at the same rate as income earned from work; 54 percent of independent agree.
When confronted with these sorts of findings, Republican operatives will tell you that such polling is misleading. Despite what people tell pollsers, Republicans can win the tax argument by persuading voters that Dems are looking to hike taxes across the board, on small business people and the non-wealthy, and not just the rich. They’ll tell you that this plays into perceptions of profligate tax-and-spend Dems that have been ingrained into voters for a long time.
Whether that’s true or not, the GOP argument right now is going even further than this. Boehner’s comments today, and Romney’s recent comments, suggest Republicans are adopting a broad strategy of casting the Dem attacks on inequality as an assault on the essence of capitalism itself, as an attack on the underpinnings of American life and greatness.
Yet the polling all suggests that broad majorities of Americans simply don’t agree with this frame, and that it’s completely out of step with this political and economic moment, among middle of the road voters and even sizable blocs of Republicans.
So here’s my question: Are Republicans right that such stuff does activates unspoken stereotypes about Dems in ways that serve the larger GOP argument? After all, “centrist” Dems in marginal districts and red states are awfully quick to believe this. Or are Republicans making the “envy” case because they don’t have any other argument left to make? Who is the intended audience for this “envy” stuff, anyway? Does anyone listen to it or even hear it?