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Monday, October 24, 2016

WASHINGTON — When he opened the 114th Congress, House Speaker John Boehner declared that “too many are working harder only to lose ground to stagnant wages and rising costs.”

Jeb Bush called the fundraising arm of his presidential exploration “The Right to Rise PAC.” It’s a nice play on words emphasizing his hope for a conservative revival and his promise to put forward ideas that would help “all Americans to rise up” and “to move up the income ladder.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), another possible 2016 candidate, has a new book out called American Dreams that, not surprisingly, is about “restoring the American Dream” and ending what he calls “opportunity inequality.”

The skeptic might write off such pronouncements as a tribute to the miracles that focus groups and polling can call forth. Republicans are well aware that wage stagnation is likely to be a central — perhaps the central — issue of the next campaign. And since the economic recovery is now so strong that the GOP can no longer complain that President Obama failed to bring the economy back to health, Republicans need to focus their criticisms elsewhere.

There are many reasons for skepticism, not the least being that improving middle-class living standards doesn’t even seem to rank with the Republicans’ obsessions: wrecking Obamacare, blocking the president’s executive actions on immigration and repealing Wall Street reform. But this does not mean that the new rhetoric on the right is without significance.

On the contrary, a truly revealing leading indicator in politics is the moment when those on one side of the political debate are forced to talk about the problems that the other side sees as most pressing. Doing so inevitably reinforces their opponents’ worldview and suggests a retreat from their own ideology.

The last time this happened in a big way involved the response of many Democrats to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory over Jimmy Carter. For years afterward, they regularly fell all over themselves to sound Republican, peppering their speeches with praise for “markets” and “entrepreneurship.” Social spending became “investments in human capital.”

In his 1984 book on the era, The Neoliberals, Randall Rothenberg pointed to one of the key slogans of the revisionist Democrats who were arguing that the party needed to reach beyond the ideas of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The solutions of the thirties will not solve the problems of the eighties.”

Of a sudden, as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan liked to say, that line has been recast. At least some conservatives are acknowledging that the solutions of the 1980s will not solve the problems of the second decade of the 21st century — meaning that there are voices on the right (among them David Frum, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam and my Washington Post colleague Michael Gerson) making the case for moving beyond Ronald Reagan.

Admitting that it is neither the ’80s nor the ’90s anymore is the first step toward backing away from the Reagan-Thatcher view of economics that has been surprisingly durable for 35 years: that markets need little regulation, that social programs are overrated or even harmful, and that taxes should always be kept as low as possible.

How much have things changed? Last week, I was part of a group organized by the Center for American Progress that issued a report on how to promote inclusive prosperity. Most striking to all of us was just how much the economy has been transformed by globalization, technological change, shifts in employment relationships, the decline of worker bargaining power, the rise of “short-termism” in corporate behavior, and the shift toward a less progressive tax system.

The report included concrete suggestions for how to lift the wages and living standards of those left behind involving substantial but hardly radical public interventions. Many have worked in countries similar to ours. What’s clear is that if we keep relying on the answers of the 1980s, expecting remedies based on a hands-off government to improve things, we are destined for disappointment.

So far, the proposals coming from the right (such as Rubio’s changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit) are inadequate to the task at hand. Much of the current conservative program, including killing the Affordable Care Act and enacting more tax cuts for the wealthy, would actually make things worse.

Nonetheless, the rumblings you are hearing from the right are the sounds of an old consensus in the process of disintegrating. For those who want to deal with today’s problems, it’s a promising sound.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

  • Dominick Vila

    After six long years of Republicans controlling the narrative, what is clear to me is that President Obama’s focus on income inequality, the minimum wage, refocus on investment in infrastructure, diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, pursuance of an agreement to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, and his focus on social rights for ALL citizens, have put the GOP on the defensive. Hearing Mitch McConnell taking credit for the economic recovery and job creation record, after admitting that his policies of obstructionism to delay the economic recovery, which caused so much misery to millions of Americans, were designed to ensure President Obama was a one-term president, is nothing short of comical.

    • FireBaron

      Remember, Dominick, Republicans love “facts”, as long as they are of their own devising. Unfortunately, none of their facts stand up to any empirical scrutiny

      • edwardw69

        To us they don’t stand up: go over to Newsmax and see what is happening.

        • holyreality

          Must I?

          It is like touring the worst of the vile.

          • edwardw69

            It’s pretty sickening, but look at the bright side: they are only about 20% of the voting population.

          • holyreality

            Unfortunately they have been framing the debate so much that people who don’t follow the news accept the lying meme spoon fed to all of us daily.

    • edwardw69

      You captured the gist of the Republican plan: the recovery is due to Republicans opposing Obama’s policies, and would have been quicker under Republican policies. The economic catastrophe of 2007 was due to the Democrats capturing the Senate in 2006. And so on. These arguments are springing up all over the boards and will be continually repeated for the next two years.

      • holyreality

        Freddie/Fannie “forced” those hapless banks to loan money to darkies who then proceeded to quit paying them back.

        Boo hoo!

        • Dominick Vila

          …consistent with W’s “ownership society”…

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    All I hear from the GOP bulls today is desperation. Their version of change reminds me of the Trojan Horse. The Trojans, being the “winners” of the war with the Greeks haul a huge wooden horse built by the Greeks into their city unaware it’s loaded with …you guessed it…Greek soldiers. You know the rest of the story.

    The GOP is self-destructive. The reason is their idiocy in believing everything must be in reverse. They want to “take their country back.” Is “back” the best direction? Or, is “back” the GOP ideal to keep control when the rest of the country has long ago moved on.

    For the past 6 1/2 years the only element of function in the GOP has been obstruction. They will get as good as they gave from the Democrats. That’s usually how adults react to childish behavior from immature minds of the GOP.

    • Gary Miles

      I like to give credit where credit is due Eleanore. I have read several of your comments today, you should seriously consider applying for a job writing for MSNBC. I do say this in all honesty, you sound just like Rachel Maddow in the videos I have seen her in. If I didn’t know better, I would believe you already write for her. Incredible similarity.

      • Except eleanore is a man hating liberal feminist.

        • Eleanore Whitaker

          No…Eleanore is not a man hating liberal feminist. Eleanore is a progressive populist who loathes rip off artists, corruption and conservatives masquerading as patriots. You kennyboy/debbygirl are just a jealous little twit.

          The measure of any human being is the accomplishments and goals they reach. Yours are still wallowing in slime.

          • We’ve been through this before, haven’t we? You spew lies and fabrications about yourself and anything else your liberal mind can come up with. I don’t need to impress anyone, especially a lying liberal. I was really hoping you were gone along with the rest of the vile creatures that got tossed off. Too bad.

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            I am going to call your bluff you chicken livered liar. I’ve already provided you with the ISBN numbers for both of my published books. I’m on linked in with dates and company names for whom I’ve worked. You need to start impressing your self turd bun.

            I have no intentions of EVER giving you the satisfaction of thinking you control me or anyone else. You’re a pathetic little sociopath who argues with anyone who refuses to kiss your butt.

            An alien life form like you has no place in intelligent forums. You add nothing. You do nothing and you are NOTHING. Now, shut your pie hole. Your bad breath is causing mass air pollution. Eat your heart out you jealous twit.

          • There it is. All that vile, man hating nasty liberal BS that you are known for. You are only important to yourself. I still think you need professional help, along with an intervention for your cat hording.

          • James Bagley

            Good grief — are you still suffering from low-T? There’s really no excuse in this day and age, and picking a fight with Eleanore won’t make you feel any better.

            Take some helpful advice and go see your doc — a little dab of gel every day and in time you may grow a pair again. I’m just trying to help, so don’t go kicking the kitty-cat in frustration. It must be terrible to be so fearful of everything.

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            James..Thank you. This person is quite mentally unbalanced and full of hate. I cannot imagine what this person’s parents ever did to them to make them so hateful and angry. One of my friends, a clinical psychologist, tells me that such individuals suffer from extreme degrees of inferiority and isolation. They generally gravitate toward extreme sociopathic narcissism and believe only they can be the fount of all power, knowledge and control.

          • James Bagley

            This particular person is a curious example. He (she?) appears fearful of everything, and runs to hide behind the curtains and bark from a safe distance. The exaggerated bravado is a front, and I’m convinced it’s a sad case of low testosterone.

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            There “it” is…the planetary alien who can’t admit which gender “it” is. Yes…I am important to myself. I’m also very important to the 3900 plumbers, electricians, horticulturalists, environmentalists and industrialists I write SEO copy for. And what do you do all day except whine, complain and sit on your double wide duff looking for “prey” so you can get off on bashing anything that doesn’t go your way.

            But do play your childish immature games. I don’t own a cat, a dog or any pet. Why would I need one when you suffice for my pet ape who rages and rattle around your cage?

          • holyreality

            It appears the troll got a bite 😛
            Don’t let him reel you in, spit the hook and ignore him/her- it.

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        Gary…I’m flattered. However, I should tell you I am not now considering leaving my novel writing or the SEO copywriting I provide to online clients.

        I can’t say much about Rachel Maddow since I have not really ever watched her videos. As you can guess, I don’t really have much time. Writers, like computer programmers, spend most of their time in front of a computer. I just this morning finished a short story that took me nearly 2 weeks to write between SEO copywriting projects.

        I can say that many women in the US have similar mindsets for one reason: Education. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to attend excellent schools, work with top of the line professionals in business and learned to rely only on ourselves, are a breed that some men loathe. Not all men. Some. Generally, the more intelligent men respect intelligent women. The rest are threatened to the max by female intelligence or genius. But, thank you for the compliments.

    • holyreality

      “Back” as in back to the good ole days when Gatsby was fabulous and Rockefeller and JP Morgan were patriotic free marketeer Aynian heroes.

      Many a TPer is a ‘history’ buff, a specific ‘history’ conservative talk radio and cable spoon feeds them, we know what that entails.

      Trashing their false meme is attacking their entire being, you MUST ‘hate America’ if you dare question the meme. The way to get the message through this mentality is direct.

  • charleo1

    “Too many are working harder only to lose ground to stagnant wages and rising costs.” J. Boehner, (R. Ohio) Speaker. They talk so pretty, and populous too! As they prepare for the big Presidential Election, only a trifling, 2 years, and 2 billion dollars away. Well, most of them do. Except for those that say such things as, “They have a way of shutting that kind of thing down.” When speaking of why women, if they are truly raped, seldom if ever, become pregnant. The problem becomes, once elected, they follow that latter guy, and not the more moderate sounding slicker talkers, like Speaker Boehner. Who try to front the outfit, a la Ronald Reagan. Who was so good, he could spoon feed the most toxic elixir of huge tax cuts for billionaires, and wage destroying trickle down promises to millions of unsuspecting Middle Class families. Many not realizing, even to this day they’ve been conned. But oh my, how they miss Reagan. They wouldn’t vote for him today. But they miss the , “Aw shucks!” I’m just everybody’s Granddad, shtick. The thing for me about post election Republicans is, once in, they’ll be going along, doing what they do. Talking about freedom, and family values. While thinking up new regulations to prohibit contraception, and criminalize abortion, eliminating regulations, and increasing subsidies, and broadening tax deductions for the super wealthy, and corporations. Then, we’re watching the evening news, and the guy is talking about this little problem in the Savings, and Loan industry, or something or other about the company books at Enron, or a how a little known, but huge conglomerate insurance co. has created this something or other, that may have the entire World economy on the brink of collapse! Humm. Well, who’s watching the store up there? Not the Republicans. They’ll tell you right up front, except around an election. That they don’t believe in store watching. Not in the Constitution, so not big government’s job. Well, what about my job then? Not the government’s job either. In fact, we need to really talk about this government dependency thing that’s taking over the Country here of late. Yes, we’ll need to bail these insurance cos. and banks out the hole. There’s just no getting around that, if we want to have an economy tomorrow. But after that, we’ve really got to have a serious discussion with the American People about this unsustainable, and job killing debt, and spending. That’s the GOP.

    • Gary Miles

      The only thing the R clan will offer up is more of the same, an elite globalist. The only thing the D clan will offer up is more of the same, an elite globalist. Some choice!

      • charleo1

        On the bright side for those who share your concern. The fastest growing trend in American politics, are voters that self identify, and register as neither Democrats, or Republicans, but as Independents. The draw back to this is, Independents
        are a very diverse group themselves. Including both the far
        Right, and equally diverse, Libertarian Wing. Those of the disaffected left, represented by environmental groups like
        Green Peace, and Move Tell me if I’ve omitted an
        important faction. To add to this, the Independents are also
        intentionally marginalized by both the major Parties in the
        primary process in most States. Shunned by both Parties in the various televised debates. Especially near the end of the campaigning process. And are always underfunded. Again,
        due to their numbers consisting of adherents from both ends of the political spectrum.

        • Gary Miles

          I agree. In the end, the two clans OWN the elections. Basically, they ultimately choose who gets elected, which supports the claim that elections are an illusion of choice. I’m not affiliated with any political group or movement. You know were I stand from past discussions. In the end, the people are RULED by 2 clans of wealthy elites. When it becomes only ONE clan doing the ruling, the people are screwed. If that happens, welcome to NAZI America, because that’s what will happen. It don’t matter which clan either.
          To be polite, I hope you and yours have a wonderful day!

    • holyreality

      Blaspheme all the Reagan Narrative. Trickle down is tinkle upon, invisible hands are fairy dust, freemarket ideals are unicorns festooned upon one’s vehicle.

      Repetition of these blasphemies may dissuade devout Reaganites, but will imprint upon their grandchildren’ memories.

      I mean really, how can invisible hands ever exist beyond superstition?

  • Tony Torres

    Bottom line is, if are not rich the GOP does not give a damn about you. I what I really do not understand is, why people vote against their own interest. Prime example the TEa Party they want less government but they want all that it brings. The GOP lies,lies and lies every time before elections ( so do Dems but not as bad) and once in office they either do not do what they said they would or try to screw the middle and poor class but yet people forget very,very soon and vote them in. That is fucking crazy!

  • Allan Richardson

    Saying that letting oppressive CEO types have everything they want will result in their generously offering higher wages, better benefits, and more jobs? That’s like the folks who said, just let the plantation owners keep their slaves another century, and they will decide on their own to let the go and hire them back as well paid employees!

  • Theodora30

    This could be the sound of change but I am betting that it is just the sound of spin. These are the same guys who have been saying for years that tax cuts, especially for the rich, pay for themselves. Lying is their standard tactic because they know our compliant media will let them get away with it.

  • plc97477

    I think it is time to change the name of the gotp. We need to start calling it the etch-a-sketch party.

    • G.O.P. = Greed, Oppression & Propaganda. Ergo, the current name is fine.

  • The worst thing we could do would be to assume that, because these Republicans are actually talking about income inequality, that it must mean they actually give half a crap about it.

    It doesn’t. They will talk about the issues, but they will not do anything to try to alleviate them (more likely, they will go out of their way to make them even worse). All it means is that they recognize they will never be able to sell Voodoo Reaganomics ever again and hope to use trickery to get us to vote Republican instead.

    Gabriel Gomez tried this when he ran for John Kerry’s vacant Senate seat by naming his PAC “Americans For Progressive Action.” Needless to say, it didn’t fool anyone.

  • Stuart

    Democrats win message wars. Republicans win elections. Please explain.

  • highpckts

    All these candidates policies change on a dime depending on what they “think” and I use that word loosely, the public is concerned about! All they want is the White House and they will say anything to get there. They have an oral and proven track record of just the opposite of what they say so they certainly won’t get my vote.