In a meeting between House GOP bigwigs and their K Street allies, the question was asked, "how can we message that we're the party of small business owners and we're not defending the rich?" There's no amount of messaging lipstick that will hide that particular pig at this point - as Kevin Drum points out at the link, even the fabled low-information voters know that the GOP is defending the rich from tax hikes.
But it made me think about the bumper-sticker message that the GOP has used effectively since the late 1970s, that they're the party of smaller government, lower taxes, and family values, and why it's not been quite as effective lately.
Smaller government: Ronald Reagan swept into office in 1980 claiming he'd cut large quantities of "waste, fraud, and abuse" from government budgets, and the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, in addition to attacking HillaryCare, ran against spending on things like midnight basketball games.
These attacks made sense to most people: whether or not there was nearly as much "waste, fraud, and abuse" in government as Reagan, his staff, or his supporters believed (there wasn't that much, but there was some), people believed it was there, and didn't want their tax dollars going for it. And people didn't particularly want their tax dollars going for apparent frivolities such as the legendary midnight basketball games. (Didn't matter that they may have made sense on closer inspection: most voters don't have time for that closer look.)
1) But now, the GOP's knives are clearly being sharpened for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. People don't just like these programs - they depend on them. Despite the protestations of the GOP that they're really after those other moochers and takers, people are starting to get the idea that the knives are being sharpened for them this time, not some abstract 'other.'
2) Katrina and Sandy. Most people want the government to do a fairly small number of things, but it wants those things to be done well. The GOP is increasingly obvious in its failure to give a good goddamn whether government works - and it's starting to get on people's radar that they'd be just as happy if it didn't.
Lower Taxes: The Republicans used to be for low taxes for everybody. And while tax cuts for people further down the income ladder may have been cover for giving much bigger tax cuts for those near the top, the folks further down did at least get tax cuts from Reagan and Shrubby. Now that they've successfully done away with income taxes for nearly half the population, the GOP has publicly changed its tune with its "skin in the game" talk, and clearly wants higher taxes on the lower half of the income distribution even as they want to cut taxes on the rich. I don't know how deeply this idea has sunk in yet, but unless the GOP changes its tune, it will sink in over time.
Family Values: this has always been mostly about abortion and gays. But most people are OK with gays now, which ruins that pitch. And while most Americans have mixed feelings about abortion, the GOP has shot itself in the foot by increasingly opposing contraception as well, which most people are strongly in favor of, and shot itself in the other foot by proposing to do away with rape and incest exceptions to abortion, which most people are also strongly in favor of.
And then there's the underlying reality that the GOP's been running against The Other for just about forever. It may have worked as long as the GOP was 'just' running against blacks, hippies, government bureaucrats, and college professors, but it keeps on adding groups to the list, such as Hispanics and Muslims. And while they may not have specifically attacked Asian-Americans, when the attacks on People Who Are Not Like Us get as broad as the GOP has made them, it's not surprising that people who have felt less than completely accepted by white America on account of their race, religion, or other characteristics are feeling that the GOP's hostility is aimed at them as well.
It's not just a demographic battle that the GOP is losing: its Big Ideas are all pretty much played out as well. And between Bush in Iraq and Obama taking out Osama, it can't even claim to be the party of national security anymore.
Update: Take five, Dave Brubeck. And thanks for everything.