Wednesday, December 20, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

The tax bill that just passed Congress and will be signed by Trump without a single Democratic vote has turned both sides into P.T. Barnums.  How can the GOP sell it and how can the Democrats keep it alive as a negative campaign issue in 2018?

It will take more than Paul Ryan's smug grin
to sell this tax bill.
The Democrats are basically right that this is a horrible tax bill that mainly rewards the Republican wealthy  donor class at the long-range cost of the middle class. It is a bill whose internal flaws will need to be revised probably within a year by whatever party is in power. It unconscionably burdens future generations. 

But the Democrats may go overboard in describing the downside horror since most of the public will not feel that in their pocketbooks or daily economy for several years. If it is Armageddon as Nancy Pelosi says, it is delayed Armageddon that gives the GOP room to camouflage.

Something similar is happening with the Foxconn deal, which will be discussed later.

Some eight of 10 taxpayers – including the working class and middle class -- will not sense  any immediate pain from the tax bill  and actually some rewards into 2020. If they only read their own selfish tea leaves, it will take them years to realize the supposed gains have slipped away into greater costs.

The GOP needs to sell the front end of the tax plan as hard as humanly possible to keep voters in 2018 from realizing what is waiting for them around the corner.  As bad as the bill is polling now, look for a blitz of counter-claims for the holidays.

That may work, since we live in an age of instant gratification.  The GOP has the money and advertising largesse – thank-you ads to the wizard Trump behind the curtain are already being planned – and its marketers are quite confident the voters haven’t yet been aroused enough to reject the past techniques of money and soundbite advertising luring them to the cliff’s edge. 

The Republicans think they have the proven inside track  in  this salesmanship game by exaggerating  how much middle class households will get in extra cash without noticing or caring how the donor class and the other filthy rich are getting in the meantime. (It is now estimated that the seven largest banks will see their profits increase by 14%, which translates into billons.) They take away with one hand – personal exemptions – while giving with the other – child tax credits, hoping no one looks at the ledger.

The voters  --  they rightly believe based on past ostrich behavior --  will  not notice how many loopholes remain and that Congress traded away simplified tax codes to favor insiders.

The Republicans are selling a trickle down myth that should have disappeared with Herbert Hoover -- that if the rich do well they will hire more people and raise wages.  Most companies you know will line their own pockets and play up to their shareholders. If they could make money hiring more people, trust me they would have.  When was the last time Wall Street stock went up for adding rather than reducing labor?

For the public to buy this package the citizens will have to cling to such myths as thinking the federal inheritance tax (cleverly renamed the death tax) was harmful to the common man.  The myth, and Trump repeated it, was that  dumping the tax would save the humble farmer who wants to pass his 40 acres on to his family.  Except it is more a gift to those owning 400,000 acres and it is really only a handful of the rich – the millionaires under $22 million – who benefit from this elimination.

The true deficit hawks, if any are left, will balk at the $1.5 trillion expected weight on future taxpayers, but such hawks turned into GOP chickens quick enough.  Remember when Paul Ryan tried to sell himself as a deficit hawk, not a gleeful thumper for a bad bill that outrageously inflates the deficit?

No, deficit hawks seem to evaporate from the Republican Party when it is the GOP spending the money.  No one believes their main canard, that a flourishing economy will pay for the tax bill, since even 4% benchmarks  won’t come close and we are hovering at 3% thanks mainly to a president named Obama.

But the Democrats have to back away and admit the GOP has only a path up on public reception to this tax bill, which is at an all-time low.  Think of that for a moment. Usually the entire citizenry is enthused by tax cuts, but here right now only 25% think this is a good bill and a majority know it will not benefit the middle class as much as the top 1%. It’s hard to imagine such disapproval numbers going lower.

If voters are as easily misled by money and simple exaggerations as they have been in the past, though, the Republicans have a lot of avenues to sell the tax bill before the November 2018 vote.  

Wisconsinites will recognize the similarity of the technique with Foxconn.  Front-load the goodies and hope the voters don’t see the dark side until after the 2018 elections.

A roomful of table questioners greeted
Democratic candidates for governor
Dec. 19 I attended a beer and bingo event much like  speed dating with most  Democratic candidates for governor – organized in a basement union room and attracting an overflow  crowd that even this early wants to hear what these candidates would do in office. 

Among the names who didn’t attend were Kelda Roys and Tony Evers, the state school superintendent who many list among the leaders and certainly has drawn the wrath of Scott Walker.

But almost everyone else was there, including some candidates largely unknown to the public and unlikely  to advance – Jeffrey Rambauch, Michelle Collins and Ramona Rose Whiteaker, who in their own ways reflect the alarm at Walker’s Wisconsin  among all forms of workers even those lacking the tools to be governor.

But the musical chairs technique – rotating the candidates every eight minutes among 9 or 10 tables – drew regular citizens,  candidates for other offices and the informed curious.  Most tables had as many kibitzers as seated participants.

Working Families Party and Our Wisconsin Revolution sponsored this event and want to hold dozens like this around the state to give voters a more intimate look at the leading voices on the Democratic side without subjecting citizens to a long, full fledged forum.

There may be a drawback in how some questions were introduced at the tables, since both sponsoring groups are highly friendly to the Bernie Sanders camp and kept introducing questions  in which they  wanted to hear back echoes of Sanders’ language.  The biggest candidates handled that well by insisting on their own terms.

It was an exercise in rapid-fire sweat-inducing messaging and personal appeal table by table, question by question – one popular candidate, Rep. Dana Wachs, joked that it was the first time he had lost weight at an event offering free pizzas. 

But the candidates did unleash a few gems that speak right to the heart of how the Republicans will try to sell both Foxconn and the tax bill. 

Key question – will the Democrats in 72 counties work together for a change?  All expect the GOP to use geography, race and personal job needs to  “divide and conquer” with Foxconn as they will with the tax bill – turning factions of the opposition against each other. Will the Democrats fall for that again?  Construction workers sure want the jobs but they also want a change in leadership.  College tech students and disenfranchised blacks want jobs, families with kids and families without want tax relief, but will they work together for the long haul?

Wachs and Kathleen Vinehout both noted how important it was for them to become as well known in Milwaukee as they are in northern districts where their progressive policies are well received. Both communicated what I have heard from both Democrats and Republicans who live  in areas like Fox Valley and Eau Claire – the Foxconn deal angers them deeply.  It is far removed from their economies yet they will be part of the tax burden which has now climbed to more than $4 billion.  Wachs pointed out that even Racine is split on the giveaway and fears  it will reward workers in Illinois more than Wisconsin. 

Flynn discussed the hidden environmental impact.  Gronik detailed how much Wisconsin was paying out without sufficient clawbacks. Vinehout has countered Walker’s crazy budgeting quarter by quarter with basic common sense. Mahlon Mitchell asked why companies native to Wisconsin weren’t getting the money they need to grow while interlopers were.

At many tables you sensed their anger at the deal and their fear of how to sell its negatives.  Joined by Mike McCabe they anticipated the Republicans will paint them as anti-business as opposed to anti this size of selling out.

(Generalities? Gronik is selling himself as Mr. Fixit, Mitchell as the fire chief to the rescue,  Flynn as the veteran hand, McCabe as the articulate definer of a common sense way forward, Vinehout as a keen analyzer of  the spending and how to refine it.)

Several candidates  noted that initially the south of the state will be seduced by the construction jobs, the vaunted hiring teams, the special new roads, etc., without worrying about the cost around the corner or, as Flynn said, how Foxconn could well come back hat in hand to ask for more giveaways in a few years.

But a state often split between rural and urban thinking has to knit together for a Democrat to win. Such get-togethers may drive that home.

The candidates concede that the anger at Foxconn in the north may be harder than opposition in the south, just as the tax bill opponents will have to struggle against the initial sense of  benefit to some families and businesses to focus on the future collapses in their sights.

The game for 2018 is to  hope the voters have grown out of responding like Pavlovian result merchants to what is immediately in front of them rather than  to the constrictions lying in wait. 

The battle lines are drawn.  But Democrats have to grow up fast to realize the 
Republicans do have cards to play, and even some aces up their sleeve.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

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