Monday, September 19, 2011


When talking about the Obamas deficit plan, Paul Ryan threw out a lot of catchphrases yesterday, hoping one would stick:

On "Fox News Sunday," Mr. Ryan said it would add "further instability to our system, more uncertainty, and it punishes job creation."

"Class warfare," he said, "may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics."

My first reaction was that denouncing "class warfare" was old-school knee-jerk Republicanism, good for firing up the base but not so good anymore for appealing to the middle. The other talking points -- warnings about "instability" and "uncertainty," the invocation of those before whom we prostrate ourselves in the hope they'll engage in "job creation" -- seemed much more likely to connect with swing voters. Cokie Roberts, of all people, expressed skepticism about "class warfare" talk this morning on NPR:

That's a term that they have tested over and over, and they think it works for them, but probably not in this environment, when people are quite mad and feeling like the fat cats are getting everything.

But I never like to assume that Republicans have made a messaging mistake, because they so rarely do. (It's one of the few things they're good at, and they're very, very good.) I think the entire phrase "class warfare" is intended to fire up the base, but "warfare" is meant to undermine President Obama's attempt to portray himself as the adult in the room, the reasonable man, the person who'd actually like to put an end to partisan warfare. And of course, a black guy with ties to '60s bomb-throwers who engages in "warfare" ...

So it's the main part of the message even if one of the two words is, for part of the target audience, a throwaway.