The government joins the people in tightening it's belt.  Such a wonderful image, isn't it?

Just one problem, it's misleading as hell.  See, the government doesn't practice austerity by depriving itself of something.  It does it by depriving YOU of something.

There's just one more problem, as well:  America needs more austerity the way it needs a sharp kick to the teeth.  One way to put it to people is that when all is said and done, America's basic economic problem is a economic-crash induced bout of austerity.  More of it will only compound the problem.

The meme Republicans employ is one of responsibility, of not passing on burdens to our children in doing something selfish for ourselves.  Suffer in silence, they say, endure this hardship, and we'll come out stronger for having weathered the cycle instead of trying to artificially shorten it, and fail to work through the underlying causes.

Well, that's a nice story, but it suffers the vice of being completely untrue.

We know the business cycle is not natural, that our economy's suffering quite a bit of slack.  We know that if we don't act, that our nation's going to be stuck in the doldrums for quite a while, and that will compound deficit concerns with economic ones.  And we know damn well that there's very little responsible about those telling us to be responsible here.  

But that's what we know.

Communicating it to those outside is critical.  If we don't make converts and recruits, our ability to impose pressure on those who oppose progressive reforms is reduced.  So, we need to have arguments ready, and be willing to frame and reframe our arguments appropriately.

I think we have better options than rough populism to sell our policies.

One key, critical point to be made is that our basic economic problem is one of forced austerity.  Those who could work, and businesses that could produce, are being sidelined by the aftereffects of a major functional failure of the system.  This is not merely the correction of a bubble.  Such a correction, having overshot its mark, would itself be corrected.  So far, that correction hasn't sprung back, and it seems like we're stuck in the long term at 9-10 percent unemployment.

Growth is not out of control, nor is inflation.  Inflation, in fact, is anemically low.  The problem in government is not one of excess, so programs designed to curb excesses will have the opposite of their intended effect.  This is especially true given the fact that it's the average citizen's belt that gets tightened when austerity is enacted on a federal or state level.

Ask them:  Do you feel like you're being extravagant?  Are you really trying to live beyond your means, or has your cost of living gone up despite your best efforts to keep yourself above water?

Tell them, essentially, that real austerity, one way or another, costs them.  State, municipal and federal workers go out and spend money in the community just like everybody else.  So do the folks on Social Security or Disability.  We're taking money out of our own pockets, denying our own businesses and service customers by trying to crack down on their wages as expenses.

Research the state taxes and fees, and regale them with information on just how much extra they're paying, due to budget shortfalls.  Tell them that the Federal Government could help minimize that, and keep money in their pockets that the states would otherwise take in new fees and taxes, or not provide them through benefits and programs.

The key here is to give them a conscious impression of what they have to lose, and then tell them that taking that loss will not benefit them.

Then tell them that essentially, by forcing Obama to renew tax cuts for the Rich, they're essentially putting paid to any real notion that they actually care about real austerity.  I mean, if they were serious, if they weren't simply pushing some sort of ideological anti-government agenda, they'd have pushed against the tax cuts entirely, since they are a liability.

It will not be a good idea to go through the nuances of a Daily Kos Pie-Fight about who is responsible for the renewal of the Tax cuts for the rich.  I think it should be obvious:  The Republicans.  Obama never campaigned for it.  And if you're talking to somebody out there beyond the left blogosphere, confusing the issue means have a weaker position to support an end to such a privileging of tax policy, or to rail against austerity imposed as a consequence.

Here's where the class warfare accusations come into play.  Me, I think the best response in this case is to sidestep the accusation.  This isn't about class, this is about looking out for their interests as a person in their position.  Tell them, we granted the rich huge tax cuts, in hopes that it would increase jobs.  We deferred to them on keeping their businesses honest and ethical.  We let them have greater leeway in what they charged, and how they made their money.

We were not repaid, ultimately, with real successes.  We saw our own interests, the interests of our country, harmed by their failure to live up to their promises.

We have no reason to believe that by engaging in the kind of austerity they're proposing, that we, or the nation's economy will come out the other side better.  They are using inappropriate methods to solve our economic problems.  They are putting greater burdens on people who cannot handle them, and relieving them from folks who could do with a few more constraints on their behavior, and obligations on their part.  We can demonstrate from the facts that when given the choice, they do not serve people's interests.  The serve that of their rich and powerful friends.

Tell them that it's time to ask government to serve the interests of the public, and not merely the private, the prosperous, and the powerful.  We've done good for the interests of others, and have been repaid with deprivation.  These interests will now try to impose even more deprivation.

Tell people it's time to stand up for their own interests.

As far as Obama and the other Democrats go, let me say this: rather than directly attack them, our goal should be to keep the matter focused mainly on the issue at hand.  Tell people the truth: that Democrats will follow the path of least political resistance.  If they want to ensure that at least somebody will work towards their interests, they should raise their voice and join it with others to tell everybody in Washington that our budget problems and our economic problems will not be solved on the backs of the poor and middle class.  Make your wishes clear to the government, and if they don't follow through, change the guard in Washington to those who are willing to serve your interests.  You don't have to tear Obama and the other Democrats apart, you just have to make sure that people care about opposing the policy you'd rather not see come to pass.

Originally posted to First Amendment Remedies on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 09:34 AM PST.

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