This week, a couple of prominent Democrats write about how they see things after Ted Cruz's upset win over David Dewhurst in the race for U.S. Senate. Next week, we'll feature a couple of Republicans on the same subject.
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With the nomination of Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate and the rise of the Tea Party, it is now clear the inmates have taken over the Republican asylum here in Texas. This creates a tremendous opportunity for Texas Democrats, but only if we’re willing to seize it. And that means not doing everything the same old way.
There is no doubt that a lot of Republicans no longer feel they have a political home. Most of the so-called “establishment Republicans” didn’t sign on with the GOP because of social issues; many are secretly pro choice, pro- (or at least not anti-) gay and pro-immigrant. And they certainly understand the need to invest in education and infrastructure. So why aren’t they Democrats? One word: T-A-X-E-S.
Going back to at least the 1980s, Republicans have routinely been referring to Democrats as “tax & spend liberals.” Instead of doing anything to counteract the image, we have passively embraced it. We constantly talk about the need for rich people to pay more taxes and then wonder why those same rich people aren’t donating money to Democratic candidates. News flash: Rich people like to hang on to their money like everybody else.
When it comes to taxes, the people have spoken. There is no overwhelming desire for a tax increase. When I served in Congress, not one person, either Republican or Democrat, ever approached me and asked that I look for a way for him or her to pay more taxes. Meanwhile, hundreds of people approached and asked for federal money for this or that project. So there’s the rub: People aren’t against government spending, especially on things they care about, but they don’t want to pay more than what they consider their fair share. And right now, everyone believes they’re paying their fair share.
As Democrats, we can either keep trying to talk about greedy rich people or we can decide that we would like to be the majority party here in Texas. And let’s be clear — I’m certainly not suggesting that we cut government spending. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly believe we need to be investing more, not less, in the future of our state and country. We just need to be smarter about where we find the money.
This is actually a traditionally Democratic idea. Most Democrats point to John F. Kennedy as the embodiment of Democratic ideals. So it might surprise some that a tax cut — not an increase, but a tax cut — was President Kennedy’s top legislative priority. He wanted it because he believed the decrease would stimulate economic activity and bring more than three times the amount of the cut into government coffers — dollars that could then be used to fund new programs the administration was proposing. After his assassination, Lyndon Johnson made it his top priority and got the tax cut passed.
So does this mean Democrats should join with Republicans and start cutting taxes indiscriminately? Of course not. But when it makes sense, we shouldn’t draw a line in the sand and act as if we will never consider tax cuts as an economic stimulant. In fact, if Democrats really want to shed our image as the taxing party, there’s a tremendous opportunity staring us in the face. The corporate tax rate in America is the highest, yet it only accounts for about eight percent of our overall revenue. That’s because corporations have moved operations and jobs out of the country in order to avoid paying the 35 percent rate. Many speculate that if the corporate rate drops, jobs and operations move back to the states, helping curb unemployment and greatly increasing tax revenue.
As I type the words above, I can hear fellow Democrats screeching, “Sellout! Why would we do anything to help evil corporate America?” But it’s that attitude that will keep the Democratic Party from moving forward. Corporate America certainly has its undeniable faults and oftentimes demonstrates an amazing level of greed. But it’s also a fact that corporations are not going away and they happen to employ millions of people in America. I don’t think anyone seriously believes we’re going to continue to drive down the unemployment rate without corporations being a big part of the process.
The bottom line is that if we want to grow the Democratic Party, we can’t keep making everything “us against them.” It’s important that we demonstrate that we’re the party of mainstream, sensible solutions. As the Republican Party grows more obstinate, people are going to be looking for leaders who solve problems. Let Republicans be the party of 'no'. We need to be the party that’s actually bringing new ideas to the table. That’s a party people will want to join.
Chris Bell is a former congressman and Democratic candidate for governor of Texas. He practices law in Houston.