For weeks, before and after his vacation, President Obama has been traveling the country with the story of the ditch and the Slurpee. It’s an involved metaphor that casts the United States as an automatic transmission car, the economic crises as a ditch the car drove into, the Democratic party as D, or drive, and the Republican party as R, or reverse. It’s a cute story, even if it strains under its own cuteness. When the president tells it, you can almost imagine the West Wing brainstorming session. (“What’s that last thing you said? George Bush drove us into a ditch? Let’s try to work with that.”) The Slurpee is what Republicans are slurping on the sidelines. As Obama said Monday in Milwaukee, “And we were sweating and these guys were standing, watching us and sipping on a Slurpee. And they were pointing at us saying, how come you’re not pushing harder, how come you’re not pushing faster?” Only Slurpee aficionados get the inside joke here: the GOP has brain freeze.
But does a ditch and a Slurpee make a narrative? I’ve never been convinced. If you polled Americans, my guess is more people would know that Bristol Palin is on Dancing With The Stars than what the ditch means when Obama talks about it. For this reason, Democrats can cheer Obama’s press conference today. The president made his midterm case without reference to gear shifts, ditches or frozen sugar drinks.
Between now and November, what I’m going to remind the American people of is that the policies that we have put in place have moved us in the right direction. And the policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact policies that got us into this mess.
It’s not a situation where they went and reflected and said to themselves, “You know what? We didn’t do some things right. And so we’ve got a whole bunch of new ideas out here that we want to present to you that — that we think are going to help put us on the path of strong growth.” That’s not what happens. The chairman of their committee has said, “We would do the exact same things as we did before Obama took office.” Well, we know where that led.
And — and a perfect example is the debate we’re having on taxes right now.
I have said that middle-class families need tax relief right now. And I’m prepared to work on a bill and sign a bill this month that would ensure that middle-class families get tax relief. Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year — $250,000 a year or less. And I’m saying, we can give those families, 97 percent, permanent tax relief.
And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they’d still get tax relief on the first $250,000, they just wouldn’t get it for income above that.
Now, that seems like a common-sense thing to do. And what I’ve got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they’re insisting we’ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost, over the course of 10 years, $700 billion — and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense. And that’s an example of what this election is all about.
Count me as one who sees the tax cut extension argument as a winner for Obama, since it perfectly casts the post-midterm political stalemate in class terms, a frame where Democrats have long been comfortable.