Op Ed

Can Democrats Win Rural State Vote?

New York Times visits Colfax, WI, where Obama-Trump swing voters talk politics.

By - May 13th, 2019 01:31 pm
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Colfax Municipal Building in Colfax, Wisconsin. (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Colfax Municipal Building in Colfax, Wisconsin. (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Who doesn’t like to see their state featured with a front page story in the Sunday edition of The New York Times?  From Colfax, Wisconsin reporter Jeremy Peters made clear the race for president in 2020 will be hard fought in a number of counties along the Mississippi River.  With the economy being a focal point for many voters who cast ballots for President Obama, but then in 2016 voted for Donald Trump, means the way economic data is presented to them in the campaign will be key for the eventual victor.

Peters found a perfect type of Wisconsin voter to talk with when interviewing Bubba Benson. Voting across party lines, and seeming to base a final decision on personality and style rather than partisan underpinnings, Benson sums up many citizens in our state.

They are the rare places where the highly tribal nature of today’s politics is less entrenched and where a voter like Mr. Benson can hold seemingly contradictory opinions on candidates. In 2016, he said his first choice for president was Senator Bernie Sanders. He could not bring himself to vote for Mrs. Clinton — “not after what she did to Bernie” — so he voted for Mr. Trump.

With a few more dollars from a tax cut which passed in 2017, along with his current job, Benson is pleased with the state of the economy. The psychological lift from a paycheck is a very real determining factor in elections.

But how do Democrats present a larger economic picture for the Benson type voters–who live as he stated “paycheck to paycheck”? How do candidates engage voters about the deeper currents  of the economy? After all, while Benson was pleased to have received a tax cut data proves the law was designed to benefit the very rich in the nation, along with corporations. The price tag for the tax cut has been estimated to be as high as $1.9 trillion over 10 years.

Not only were the tax cuts applied unevenly, but also came with a most lop-sided win for corporations.

By 2026, changes to individual tax rules expire, while corporate changes are permanent. Unless Congress acts, 53 percent of all taxpayers will see a modest tax hike by 2027, the Tax Policy Center says, including almost 70 percent of middle-income families.

The average voter in the counties on the western edge of our state are not engaging in stock buy-backs, as large corporations did following enactment of the law. Nor will those voters see a raft of new jobs being created by businesses which received tax cuts. Instead what those voters, and their children, will be facing are higher and higher piles of red ink due to the growing federal deficit. And we know what comes next.

To curb those deficits some elected officials, as surely as the sun rises in the east, will argue spending decreases will need to occur with program cuts. The people living ‘paycheck to paycheck’ will be the first to feel the impact of such actions.

This spring the impact of the tax cut was felt in another way as individual tax refunds were slightly smaller than last year. At the end of March the amount of money the government refunded was $6 billion below that time last year. Numbers underscore the point. The average refund this spring is $2,873, about $20 less than last year. But nearly 1.6 million fewer people are getting refunds. Data over the many years have shown that those refunds are often the largest check a person may receive in a given year. Those refunds are used for the new large-ticket items which then also adds revenue for local businesses.

We all should feel good for Benson as he has a job, a sense of pride, and seems optimistic about the future. But candidates also must find ways to connect and better communicate with independent-minded voters about the long-term, and more complex arrangements of our economy. Because when the economy slows it will be the men and women in places like Colfax who will feel the impact and wonder what happened.

They will ask themselves what they did wrong.

But the answer will be what we did wrong as a nation regarding creation of economic policy.

Gregory Humphrey writes for the Caffeinated Politics blog.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

One thought on “Op Ed: Can Democrats Win Rural State Vote?”

  1. frank a schneiger says:

    Mr. Benson appears to be part of that group of white voters who felt ignored, victimized and condescended to by the “liberal coastal elites.” While these elites certainly exist, it was not they who screwed people in “flyover country,” although many Democrats were certainly complicit in the screwing. No, it was actually the corporate and financial elites, now firmly entrenched by the Trump administration, and, in places like Wisconsin, ably assisted by tools like Walker, Ryan, Johnson and the Republican legislative crowd who have willingly carried out the Koch brothers, Hendricks, Menard’s anti-government, soak the poor agenda, along with the no-tax/gut all regulations corporate and Wall Street program.

    To pull this off and distract people from the reality of what was occurring, there was a need for scapegoats, and, whatever Mr. Benson says about his taxes, it is the attacks on scapegoats, immigrants, minorities, Muslims, LGBT people and liberals that has fueled the rise of Trumpism and kept the Republican Party afloat as a virtually all-white operation. At Trump’s Nuremberg style rallies, it isn’t the tax cuts that get the applause., It”s the hatred of the scapegoat groups that generates the biggest cheers from the red hatted faithful, including most recently cheers for the call to shoot those seeking asylum here, a call that the President of the United States did not find offensive.

    So, here are a couple of questions for Mr. Benson. When, in hard times or crises, did liberals and their supporters living in cities fail to come to the aid of rural and small town people? When did your current reactionary and racist leaders actually do so?

    Even more important, you maintain (falsely) that these liberal, urban elites didn’t show empathy for you and your group. How is it that you, in your remarks, think only of your pocketbook and only in the short-term? Where is the empathy for the families torn apart by our immigration policies under this government? For the poor people being kicked off SNAP and other benefits to pay for your tax cut? For the millions who may starve in Yemen as our proxy Saudi Arabia wages a genocidal war with our support? For those in high tax states who are paying for your tax cut by having their taxes increased? And for the calamitous fiscal situation we will face when the inevitable economic downturn comes?
    Finally, and maybe most important, why do you expect others to empathize with your situation when you show none for the situations of those who are far worse off than you will ever be? There aren’t that many clear “lessons of history,” but one of them is that “Hooray for me, and screw you” does seem to be a contagious disease.

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