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April 01, 2014 11:25 PM Grading Kathleen Parker’s Latest Work

By Martin Longman

Oh, Kathleen Parker, you actually knew it was insane to enlist H.L. Mencken on your side of a political argument and, yet, you did it anyway.

H.L. Mencken gets a workout in election years when voters are reminded by pundits of the curmudgeon’s observation that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
Mean. But true?
If you’re a Democratic strategist, this seems to be the motto operandi. If you’re a Republican strategist, you’re thinking: Better dumb that down.
There now, if everyone is equally offended, we can proceed.
First, let’s dispense with Democrats, as voters are likely to do this November for countless reasons. Chief among them is the recent debut of the Democratic “strategy” of hurling “pocketbook” legislation at Republicans that has no chance of passing.

Today is actually the day, while we were watching Dennis the Menace, that I taught my 4 year old son the meaning of the word “curmudgeon.” He wanted to know why Mr. Wilson was so unhappy. The word seemed to make him happy.

Now, as to Ms. Parker’s argument, when she talks about “pocketbook legislation,” she is thinking chiefly about the effort to raise the federally-mandated minimum wage. She thinks that the Democrats are going to take a shellacking in November and she thinks that this effort to raise the minimum wage is one of the “chief” reasons why. But, of course, recent polling showed that 50% of respondents would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to raise the minimum wage while only 19% would be less likely to support that candidate. Whether you ask people in Nebraska (where the effort stalled) or Connecticut (where it just passed), people strongly support raising the minimum wage. Could it be that Ms. Parker is totally full of crap? Could it be that the Democrats’ fortunes in November are not going to be hampered by fighting (however futilely) for a raise in the minimum wage?

This is not exactly a paradigm-shifting strategy. Minimum-wage debates are sort of like funeral suits. You keep them handy for those glum times when respect for dying ideas must be paid. Giving strategists their due, the bills are catchy, using as they do the poll-tested word “fairness” in their titles. (For some reason, I have an irresistible urge to enlist Phil Dunphy from “Modern Family” to say: “Geniuses.” )

Did you catch that cultural reference? For the record, I did not.

This “dying idea” has been enacted in 21 states, and eleven states have indexed their minimum wage to the inflation rate. Fighting for workers on the bottom of the economy is not analogous to keeping a suit pressed and handy in case someone you love happens to go to the great beyond.

What the hell is wrong with this woman?

The minimum-wage campaign is obviously an effort to bestir the Democratic base to turn out at the polls, where Republicans tend to show up in greater numbers during midterm elections. But Democrats can’t force votes in the Republican-controlled House, so this “strategy” is mainly something to talk about. At best, they get to reiterate the familiar trope that the GOP is the heartless, greedy, obstructionist Party of No.

Finally, Ms. Parker has an iota of a point. The Democrats can’t force the Republicans to have a heart, but they can highlight the fact that they don’t. So, making this point is going to backfire?

Even if House Speaker John Boehner ignores the minimum wage, which he will, the consequences of inaction fall at his feet, not at any individual congressman’s. Thus, it may not hurt the generic GOP brand as much as Democrats hope.

Argumentative! Begging the Question!

Refusing to even have a vote on an issue that the president pushed in his State of the Union and that the vast majority of people support is not something that can be contained at Speaker Boehner’s airbrushed feet. It makes for a savory campaign attack that can hit Republicans in even seemingly safe seats.

Also, even if a minimum-wage bill is passed by the Senate in the next few days, who cares? Republicans really have only one vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, so, theoretically, the political benefit is more a positive for Democrats who get to vote for it than it is a negative for Republicans.

If the Republicans don’t win any open seats in November, they will have a very bad night. We’ll see if Ms. Parker says “So what?” if that happens.

In the meantime, Republicans benefit from a time of record distrust of government, even though, irony observed, they have earned their own share. But being viewed as obstructionist on more government spending and economic tinkering may not be such a bad thing.

Non-sequitur!

Again, people support raising the minimum wage, which means that they don’t see it as “more government spending” (because, it’s not) or as undesirable “economic tinkering.” If the Republicans sometimes benefit from raising people’s skepticism of government, this is not one of those times.

As for seeming uncaring, this is harder to shed if only because supporting a wage increase seems like such a decent idea. Which it is — in times of economic stability. It is not such a great idea when viewed in the context of broader economic implications and the probability that raising wages will do more harm than good. For sure, raising wages won’t create jobs and, more likely, would cost jobs for the very population we all want to help. Low-wage earners usually lack job skills, which won’t be acquired in the unemployment line. It also makes little sense to apply one national wage when costs of living are so diverse across states.

First she said that “seeming uncaring” wasn’t a problem, but now she says that the perception is “harder to shed.” This woman did not do well in Symbolic Logic (I received an ‘A’). In any case, we all knew that she would get around to arguing that raising the minimum wage will screw over poor people. That’s an assertion that can be tested empirically, and her whole essay, heretofore, has been about assessing how stupid people really are and whether they are stupid enough to fall for the Democrats’ “pocketbook legislation.” Seems to me, that these are two different issues and Ms. Parker has forgotten that.

She was arguing that the Democrats’ strategy wouldn’t be politically successful, and then she started making a different argument entirely.

Again, none of this matters. The wage increase won’t go through. Democrats know it. Republicans know it. The only people who may not know it are the dead and busy. Thus, this is much ado about nothing . . . for everything.

I’m getting dizzy. So, now, she’s changed track again and is arguing that the only way the Democrats’ strategy could conceivably “matter” is if they succeeded in passing a hike in the minimum wage. I thought that the whole premise was the everyone knew it wouldn’t pass and the discussion was about whether the rhetoric would benefit them politically.

And what is that “for everything” doing there? Doesn’t the Washington Post have some editors?

If Democrats can make Republicans look nasty enough, maybe a few more single women, low-income workers and minorities will turn out in November. That’s not nothing. If Republicans prevail, after all, the Obama administration is finished. That’s everything. So the stakes are high even if the strategy seems not so lofty.

She just went from “it doesn’t matter” to it’s “not nothing” and “that’s everything.” I may have to get suited for a neck-brace.

Mostly the Democratic campaign agenda reflects desperation: If all you can do is attack your opponent, chances are you have nothing much to sell. Poll after poll shows Americans aren’t buying what the Democratic Party is selling.

Okay, first, the minimum wage is not the entirety of the Democratic campaign agenda and, second, trying to raise the minimum wage is not an attack on your opponent. I can also cite poll after poll that shows that Americans prefer what the Democrats are selling to what the Republicans are selling.

Boehner also can force votes on vulnerable House Democrats — jobs votes such as the Keystone XL pipeline that squeeze Democrats between their union base and environmentalists. And then there’s the gift that keeps on giving, Obamacare, not to mention the economy, record debt, higher taxes and dubious leadership in foreign affairs.

None of which, even if true, has any bearing on whether pushing a minimum wage hike will redound to the benefit of Democrats.

Now where was I?
Oh, yes, fairness. To wit: It is highly probable that Mencken, who referred to the South as the “Sahara of the Bozart” and pilloried rural Christians as “ignoramuses” during the 1925 Scopes trial, would have little good to say about today’s GOP, for which the South is Ground Zero.
Then again, he rarely said anything nice about anyone.

So, Ms. Parker is aware that it was totally inappropriate to enlist H.L. Mencken in her argument because she knows that he would never stop vomiting on the modern Republican Party.

So, in honor of Benghazi, ObamaCare, Duct Tape, and the modern GOP in general, I leave you with a quote from H.L. Mencken:

“Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Now, where is that man’s birth certificate?

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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