It Really Does Boggle the Mind

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JONATHAN COHN DECEMBER 1, 2010

It Really Does Boggle the Mind

How are Democrats losing a fight over whether to extend massive tax cuts that benefit only the very wealthiest Americans?

That's the question a lot of us on the left have been asking. Apparently, outgoing Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is wondering the same thing: 

"I think there is a hesitancy to talk using populist language," the Ohio Democrat said in a sit-down interview with The Huffington Post. "I think it has to do with a sort of intellectual elitism that considers that kind of talk is somehow lacking in sophistication. I'm not sure where it comes from. But I think it's there. There's an unwillingness to draw a line in the sand."

Attending the Democratic Governors Association for the last time as a sitting governor, Strickland did not name names with respect to who's guilty of elitism. If anything, he was deferential to the president, arguing that he is not getting the credit he deserves for rescuing the economy from a surefire second Depression.

But his frustration was evident as the discussion progressed. Talking, unprompted, about the debate over the expiring Bush tax cuts, Strickland said he was dumbfounded at the party's inability to sell the idea that the rates for the wealthy should be allowed to expire.

"I mean, if we can't win that argument we might as well just fold up," he said. "These people are saying we are going to insist on tax cuts for the richest people in the country and we don't care if they are paid for, and we don't think it is a problem if it contributes to the deficit, but we are not going to vote to extend unemployment benefits to working people if they aren't paid for because they contribute to the deficit. I mean, what is wrong with that? How can it be more clear?"

I'm not sure "intellectual elitism" is really the big problem here. Ideology has a lot do with it: The Senate Democratic caucus, in particular, includes a lot of relatively conservative members. Campaign finance is also to blame: Even some more liberal Democrats spend a lot of time palling around with wealthy contributors who complain about their tax burden.

The wimp factor is also a problem. Many Democrats are simply too scared to fight right now. They think the merits of arguments don't make a difference--that, between Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, they just can't win media arguments anymore.

Well, maybe they can't. But if that's the case, then I think Strickland is absolutely right: The Democrats should just close up shop.

[h/t Ben Smith.]

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posted in: jonathan cohn, politics, ohio, ted strickland

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