Op-Ed

GOP must reassure the uneasy middle class

Jeb Bush is getting in shape. According to some, the former governor of Florida has lost about 30 pounds and is looking fitter. More than a few see this as a sign that Jeb is running, not just on a treadmill, but for president in 2016. While he hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the ring, Jeb is on the campaign trail stumping for a number of Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections this November.

Not only does it show that he’s a team player helping fellow members of the GOP in tight Senate races (who will owe him later), it also provides him with a platform to test the political waters and measure his traction.

Bush’s message is quite simple: Republicans need to win back the Senate to change the direction of the country. In North Carolina, while campaigning for state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is challenging vulnerable Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, Bush spoke about the promise of a new American century that can be readily fixed with new leadership in the nation’s capital.

Familiar themes such as undoing some of the burdens of over-regulation, simplifying the tax code — including lowering corporate tax rates, currently the highest among industrial nations, could play well in states where economic recovery has been uneven.

High corporate tax rates have been on the minds of a great many politicians as an increasing number of U.S. companies are seeking shelter offshore. Perhaps as a precursor to running for office, politicians think they must court big businesses in order to win early fund-raising advantages. Fair enough.

Nonetheless, the former governor and all other contenders should perhaps combine this message with a nod to the impact the recession still has on the middle class, which is waiting for the economic recovery to reach their wallets.

Judging by job growth and lower unemployment numbers, most Americans should be feeling some relief, but a recent poll by Pew Research Center shows that 79 percent of Americans think that the current economic situation is still fair or poor. Only 22 percent think the economy will improve within the next 12 months. Despite the declaration that the recession officially ended, most Americans feel that we’re still in its midst. The reason, quite simply, is that the median family income is still lower than it was seven years ago.

In 2013, the median family income was $51, 939 which is 8 percent lower than that of 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Even families headed by college graduates saw an income increase of only 1 percent, while those with some post-secondary study suffered the most with an alarming decline of 11 percent, down to $41,000 a year.

While job growth is on the rise, too many of the positions being filled are part-time. To make matters even worse, hourly wages have stagnated. The hardship for many families is easy to visualize when you calculate that a gallon of milk is more expensive than a gallon of gasoline. Working families need both.

It has been quite a while since middle-class families have thought that their work has been properly rewarded. Working longer hours with more than one job for less compensation will remain the new norm unless meaningful change is introduced to facilitate job creation by America’s companies. This is likely to be the campaign theme for the presidency by the GOP on the road to 2016.

Democratic hopefuls have been equally busy courting corporations and Wall Street types, but sympathetic conversations about the economic have-nots seem to follow them along with the press pool, even when they haven’t said a word. Republicans don’t have that kind of press following, so they’re going to have to work a lot harder if they want the middle class to hear their message.

Republicans better be sure the message gets sent. Jeb Bush and others such as Paul Ryan and Rand Paul can make this case, although Bush has one big advantage — close ties to the Hispanic community. Distrusted by the tea party for his support of Common Core and immigration reform, this Bush could get the attention of traditional conservatives, moderates and independent voters who yearn for leadership. They are among the many who have been left out of this economic recovery.

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