That’s good advice for Democrats as well.
If Democrats play their cards right, a combination of political and demographic forces, and dangerous precipitating events, could create a tipping-point moment, when they can advance their priorities not just on taxes, but also on guns, marriage for gays and lesbians, immigration, and even climate change.
But first they must recognize that tax increases might pass, but not because the GOP had a sudden change of heart on higher rates. That progress on gun legislation isn’t inevitable after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. That recent gains on marriage for gay couples do not suggest a national embrace of civil rights and equality. That immigration reform won’t happen just because Latinos showed up for President Obama in November. And that progress on climate change won’t come simply because of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
If Democrats and their progressive allies are to achieve real gains during Obama’s second term, they must understand how we got here, and they must be willing to challenge some of their most cherished ideas and messages. If they do not, this historic opportunity could easily be squandered.
Keep taxes in balance
In the fiscal debate, taxes have, for the first time in decades, been turned from a Democratic liability into an asset. Ever since Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale with the “tax and spend” label in 1984, Democrats have been on the defensive. But Obama put the question of raising taxes front and center in 2012. By reelecting the president, a majority of voters endorsed his plan. Republicans understand that, and some now say privately that they’ve lost the tax fight.
Rather than raising taxes to fund new social spending, however, Obama explicitly connected higher taxes to fiscal responsibility, making clear that he was proposing a balanced plan that would include tough choices on spending. That means that, as part of the “fiscal cliff” talks and future budget negotiations, Democrats can demand tax increases on the wealthy, but only as part of proposals that also include sizable spending cuts. A plan involving tax increases alone would be rejected by moderate voters and clearly is immovable in a divided government.
Back gun safety and rights
Another change in the political landscape, the widespread call for new gun laws, came in the worst way possible. The slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School may be a tipping-point moment because it has affected many of our political leaders not as policymakers but as parents. We are finally beginning a serious discussion about preventing these tragedies. Stalwart supporters of the National Rifle Association, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), are proclaiming that something must be done. Obama has pledged “meaningful” action and has put Vice President Biden in charge of his effort.