H.L. Mencken gets a workout in election years when voters are reminded by pundits of the curmudgeon’s observation that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
Mean. But true?
If you’re a Democratic strategist, this seems to be the motto operandi. If you’re a Republican strategist, you’re thinking: Better dumb that down.
There now, if everyone is equally offended, we can proceed.
First, let’s dispense with Democrats, as voters are likely to do this November for countless reasons. Chief among them is the recent debut of the Democratic “strategy” of hurling “pocketbook” legislation at Republicans that has no chance of passing.
This is not exactly a paradigm-shifting strategy. Minimum-wage debates are sort of like funeral suits. You keep them handy for those glum times when respect for dying ideas must be paid. Giving strategists their due, the bills are catchy, using as they do the poll-tested word “fairness” in their titles. (For some reason, I have an irresistible urge to enlist Phil Dunphy from “Modern Family” to say: “Geniuses.” )
The minimum-wage campaign is obviously an effort to bestir the Democratic base to turn out at the polls, where Republicans tend to show up in greater numbers during midterm elections. But Democrats can’t force votes in the Republican-controlled House, so this “strategy” is mainly something to talk about. At best, they get to reiterate the familiar trope that the GOP is the heartless, greedy, obstructionist Party of No.
Even if House Speaker John Boehner ignores the minimum wage, which he will, the consequences of inaction fall at his feet, not at any individual congressman’s. Thus, it may not hurt the generic GOP brand as much as Democrats hope. Also, even if a minimum-wage bill is passed by the Senate in the next few days, who cares? Republicans really have only one vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, so, theoretically, the political benefit is more a positive for Democrats who get to vote for it than it is a negative for Republicans.
In the meantime, Republicans benefit from a time of record distrust of government, even though, irony observed, they have earned their own share. But being viewed as obstructionist on more government spending and economic tinkering may not be such a bad thing.
As for seeming uncaring, this is harder to shed if only because supporting a wage increase seems like such a decent idea. Which it is — in times of economic stability. It is not such a great idea when viewed in the context of broader economic implications and the probability that raising wages will do more harm than good. For sure, raising wages won’t create jobs and, more likely, would cost jobs for the very population we all want to help. Low-wage earners usually lack job skills, which won’t be acquired in the unemployment line. It also makes little sense to apply one national wage when costs of living are so diverse across states.
Again, none of this matters. The wage increase won’t go through. Democrats know it. Republicans know it. The only people who may not know it are the dead and busy. Thus, this is much ado about nothing . . . for everything.
If Democrats can make Republicans look nasty enough, maybe a few more single women, low-income workers and minorities will turn out in November. That’s not nothing. If Republicans prevail, after all, the Obama administration is finished. That’s everything. So the stakes are high even if the strategy seems not so lofty.
Mostly the Democratic campaign agenda reflects desperation: If all you can do is attack your opponent, chances are you have nothing much to sell. Poll after poll shows Americans aren’t buying what the Democratic Party is selling.
Strategy, meanwhile, cuts both ways.
Boehner also can force votes on vulnerable House Democrats — jobs votes such as the Keystone XL pipeline that squeeze Democrats between their union base and environmentalists. And then there’s the gift that keeps on giving, Obamacare, not to mention the economy, record debt, higher taxes and dubious leadership in foreign affairs.
Now where was I?
Oh, yes, fairness. To wit: It is highly probable that Mencken, who referred to the South as the “Sahara of the Bozart” and pilloried rural Christians as “ignoramuses” during the 1925 Scopes trial, would have little good to say about today’s GOP, for which the South is Ground Zero.
Then again, he rarely said anything nice about anyone.