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New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who is in charge of political messaging for Senate Democrats, offered a solution today to topple the Tea Party and its campaign to shrink government: emphasize government programs that Tea Party members like.
Schumer, who spoke at the Democrat-aligned Center for American Progress in Washington, identified the Tea Party fault line as "the obsessively antigovernment philosophy of the Tea Party elites does not meet the actual needs of the Tea Party membership."
His solution: "By proudly and repeatedly voicing a generalized philosophy that government is a force for good and highlighting specific issues which demonstrate how government can be part of the solution, not the problem, we can take America back to a place where gridlock fades, smart government-oriented solutions pass, and the middle class once again can reclaim the American dream."
The speech and its analysis of the Tea Party’s structural, cultural and political roots is classic Schumer: It's focus, in the end, is the middle class. That’s a focus Schumer has advocated for over the past decade. In 2007, he wrote a book about it - "Positively American" - that was subtitled: "How the Democrats Can Win in 2008."
Schumer suggested Democrats blew it by not challenging the Tea Party attacks on government that began in 2009 and by focusing almost exclusively on crafting and passing the Affordable Care Act in President Barack Obama's first two years in office.
“After we addressed the financial crisis, we turned our attention towards healthcare reform instead of the growing problem of income inequality,” he said in his speech. “It was a worthy goal but it wasn’t at the top of most Americans’ to-do lists…. [because] for the 90 percent who had employer sponsored health care or government health care… it seemed beside the point.”
Schumer’s focus is clear from his answers to the two questions he took.
One audience member asked about income inequality - an issue that new New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today was calling a “crisis” in his speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.
Schumer said the real issue is the “middle class decline in income.”
He explained: “People define it as income inequality. But as I mentioned, the average American is more interested in how he and she can do than how somebody else is doing. Now when middle class incomes go down, it does create more anger at the highest income people.
“But the solutions, and the way to win, is to mainly focus on how to help them. It shows in the polling data, and I think it’s shown in where Democrats in the Congress are headed.”
The second question was about whether Schumer thought it was a mistake to take up the health care overhaul so soon in Obama’s first term.
“My criticism was not in doing it - we should have done more economic issues - but in letting the explanation of both the Affordable Care Act … be predominant and ignoring the other issues that were more important to the average American.”