Governor Blagojevich's budget address today demonstrated his team's superb message discipline. He aimed his pitch directly at the middle class, and he cleverly defined the middle class as those earning less than $75,000 a year.
His call for universal pre-school echoed his proposal for universal health insurance for children (AllKids). It also sparked the loudest (positive) response from the General Assembly. The meat of his argument is that middle class families get the shaft. They do the work. They pay the taxes. But they make too much money for most government programs and not enough money to buy private pre-school for their kids.
It's a very Clintonian message (at least in 1992) when he campaigned for the forgotten middle class who work hard and play by the rules but somehow get left behind. And like Clinton, who worked to raise the marginal income tax rate on money earned above $300,000 or so from 35% to 39.6% (and thus raised enough money to balance the budget and make life better for just about everyone), Blagojevich is working to fund universal pre-school by closing corporate tax loopholes that essentially enrich the rich.
It's a great theme for Democrats, and his talent at laying it out gives me more hope than I've had in a long time that he can overcome his current below-50% approval rating to get re-elected. His putative opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, is a well-liked (especially by Democrats, I've found), but not nearly as disciplined with her message; perhaps because, as a moderate Republican in a blue state, she doesn't have a particular message. I think her campaign is fueled more by a surprising of affection and respect from the electorate and the elected, and not so much by a platform or a mission.
That's a good thing for Blagojevich's re-election, since he'll run on a strong, well-defined and frequently-repeated message of making life demonstrably better for people. That's what Democrats are all about. And telling that story about government seems to me to be a great way to win elections.
(On a quick side note, I wonder whether the $10 billion pension obligation bond really does outweigh the two years of not paying into the funds. When Blagojevich made that claim in his address it sure seemed reasonable to me, but the howls of protest from the Republicans -- reminiscent of a Question Time response in the House of Commons -- demonstrate there's a different opinion. If the Administration has put more dollars into the pension fund than any other Administration, does it really matter if the dollars were all put in the first year and not equally distributed over all four years? And yes, I know the 1995 law called for a steep ramp-up in contributions these fiscal years, but shouldn't Blagojevich get credit for the huge contribution two years ago?)