By MARSHA MERCER
Last July, Democratic leaders unveiled “A Better Deal,” the party’s new slogan and agenda, with high hopes.
“Many Americans don’t know what we stand for,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, wrote in The New York Times. “Not after today.”
Democrats believe they lost the White House in 2016 in part because they failed to tell people what they stand for. So they piled on the B word.
The full new slogan is “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future,” which “some have mockingly compared to the Papa John’s pizza slogan, `Better Ingredients, Better Pizza,’” the Associated Press reported.
Many Democrats feared their rebranding effort was just OK. It lacked the pizzazz of “Make America Great Again,” originally used by Ronald Reagan and revived by Donald Trump.
To reconnect with the working- and middle-class voters who flocked to Trump last time, the Democrats’ new economic plan includes such worthy, if familiar, ideas as infrastructure jobs, raising the minimum wage, paid family and sick leave and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
This week, for better or worse, Democrats doubled down on A Better Deal, with two new planks – one to drain the swamp of political corruption and another to help overworked and underpaid teachers.
The Better Deal for our Democracy calls for voting rights protection, tighter laws on lobbyists and foreign agents, citizen commissions to redraw congressional districts, and even a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and rid politics of big money.
A Better Deal for Teachers is a wide-ranging plan that involves spending $50 billion over a decade to help states and school districts raise teacher pay and recruit more teachers, and another $50 billion to pay for school infrastructure, including new classrooms and technology.
The plan offers a stark contrast with Trump, who proposed to cut federal education funds 5 percent in his fiscal 2019 budget.
But here’s the kicker: Democrats want to raise taxes. The plan takes what amounts to a Yes New Taxes pledge to pay for the education initiatives. They don’t want to raise your taxes – just roll back Trump’s tax cuts on the top 1 percent of the wealthiest taxpayers.
And so once again a Democratic tax hike is center stage of a campaign.
When Walter Mondale accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1984, he memorably declared: “Mister Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”
Mondale’s point was the next president would be forced to increase taxes to reduce the federal deficit. It’s a quaint notion now, but in the last century people actually worried about ballooning deficits.
So much for honesty. Mondale got a one-way ticket home to Minnesota. But he was right: Reagan raised taxes in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987.
Trump grudgingly agreed to more federal spending than he wanted in the last omnibus spending bill passed by Congress, but he has often said he loves debt. He will not be inclined to raise taxes under any scenario.
Here’s a question: Is it still folly in an election year to promise to raise taxes – even if only on the rich and if the money goes to teachers?
We know Trump’s answer. He will propose more tax cuts before November. No Republicans running for Congress would dare suggest raising taxes and many may go along with more cuts.
Trump already is beating the tax drum.
“Nancy Pelosi and the group – you heard her the other day – she wants to raise your taxes. They want to get rid of the tax cut bill and raise your taxes. Somehow I don’t think that plays well, but you never know, right?” he told an anti-abortion rights fundraising gala Tuesday night.
Democrats believe voters will support tax increases for projects they believe in -- especially if someone else pays for them. Voters generally support higher taxes for the rich.
But Democrats may be making too bold a bet with their pledge to raise taxes in this political climate.
Middle-class voters could reward Democrats in November – but if Republicans can stoke fears Democrats will next raise their taxes next, it could be repeat of Mondale’s mistake.
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.