Dem strategists focus on middle class in new book

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This book cover image released by Blue Rider Press/Penguin Group shows "It's the Middle Class, Stupid!," by James Carville and Stan Greenberg. (AP Photo/Blue Rider Press/Penguin Group)

“It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!” (Blue Rider Press/Penguin Group), by James Carville and Stan Greenberg

Longtime Democratic political consultant James Carville and strategist Stan Greenberg have written a recipe for President Barack Obama’s re-election in their book, “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!”

Neither is working directly for Obama. But their credentials are immense, and it was Carville, as an adviser to then-candidate Bill Clinton, who in 1992 led the charge with the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid!” — the campaign come-on that the book’s title apes.

Essentially, they’re saying the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as members of the middle class, and Americans are both savvier than politicians realize and more disaffected than ever. So, whether you believe the middle class is shrinking statistically or not, it’s up for grabs. And Democratic candidates are risking everything unless they immediately — and repeatedly — tell voters how they will cut the deficit, heal the economy and guarantee the long-term health of the middle class.

Carville’s and Greenberg’s recipe includes raising the tax rate on the highest incomes (but in line with what they see as a deep-seated American respect for financial success, not going after wealth itself); investing in education, research, infrastructure and innovation; and getting out of Afghanistan and similar conflicts. All this must be done, they say, with equal parts deficit cuts and tax increases.

To introduce their ideas, they present pages and pages of quotes from focus groups and numerous charts of demographic data, economic trends and survey responses. It’s all very timely, with references to Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget, to what must happen “this fall” and to the health care reforms the pair would pitch, whether or not the 2010 overhaul survives (the Supreme Court mostly upheld it last month, after the book went to press, but Republican leaders now vow to block the overhaul’s implementation and repeal it). And the book does get more readable and cohesive as it progresses.

But Carville and Greenberg largely omitted the guideposts that readers need to get from one point to the next. And much of the impressive evidence they marshal gets obscured by the book’s format, in which they mimic the frothy back-and-forth of the TV talk shows where Carville shines.

Here’s a sample from Carville: “Every cockamamie, goofball, jackass, stupid idea that has come up in the last 30 years has come from Representative Ryan and his ilk. I’ll be glad to enumerate (etc.). … It’s not enough that the working poor have been crushed and he and his kind have gotten every kind of break; they have to have more.” Greenberg frequently modulates, telling Carville: “Well, it is a little more complex.” … “Well, let’s just say there is a fog machine on our side too.” … and “You are not far off.”

Here, separately, Greenberg comes the closest to a conclusion, this time addressing the reader: “We’ll be honest with you: Only if Obama and the Democrats run on the principle that ‘it’s the middle class, stupid!’ do we have any chance as a country to address the state of the middle class and their dreams. … The deep problems at the heart of this book have to be at the heart of our politics.”

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