Krugman Misrepresents the Left-Right Divide in U.S. Politics: In his contribution
to the debate over whether there is a group of open-minded "reformed"
conservatives, Paul Krugman misrepresents the central focus of the
left-right divide in national politics. He tells readers:
"Start with the proposition that there is a legitimate left-right divide in
U.S. politics, built around a real issue: how extensive should be make our
social safety net, and (hence) how much do we need to raise in taxes? This
is ultimately a values issue, with no right answer."
This is not an accurate characterization of the left-right divide in U.S.
politics since there is actually little difference between Republicans and
Democrats or self-described conservatives and liberals in their support of
the key components of the social safety net: Social Security, Medicare,
Medicaid, and even unemployment insurance. Polls consistently show that the
overwhelming majority of people across the political spectrum strongly
support keeping these programs at their current level or even expanding
them. The main impulse for cutting back these programs comes from elites of
both political parties who would like to pay less in taxes....
I think there is a distinction here after all. Republicans who support these
programs do so because (often based upon a misunderstanding of how these
programs are funded) they believe it is their money. Each month they contribute
to Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Compensation, the government
keeps it safe for them somewhere, and then at some future date they will spend
the money they contributed. It's their money. They don't want the programs
eliminated, but they do want to stop the "underserving" from spending the money
they contributed. Democrats, on the other hand, are much more likely to support
these programs as a means of lifting the unfortunate -- i.e. as a social
insurance transfer from those who had good luck with where they were born,
family wealth, education, health, and so on to those who had bad luck of one
type or another. To put this another way, I don't think the elites in the
Democratic Party mind paying higher taxes to support these programs even if it
means that there are transfers from the fortunate to the not so fortunate (but
they are naive with their "we need to save the programs through cuts now to
avoid cuts later" arguments). Republicans mind quite a bit.
We can see this distinction more clearly through another point Dean makes:
There are much smaller programs that are designed primarily to help the
poor or near poor where there is a clearer partisan divide (e.g. TANF, SSI,
WIC). While it may be more accurate to describe the debate over these
programs as a values issue (with a strong racial component), they amount to
a relatively small portion of government budgets. These programs may be
important to the people directly affected, but they are not central to
debates over the budget.
It is plausible to argue that these anti-poverty programs have taken an
outsize role in national debates, but this is largely because the electorate
is poorly informed about their size. In that case the debate is not over
values (I would be for cutting back TANF too if I thought it was one-third
of the federal budget), but simple an issue of misinformation.
Another way to say this is that as soon as many conservatives think their money might go to
someone else, the underserving poor in particular, they object.
I don't mean to imply that there are no Republicans using the ideological
issue of smaller, less intrusive government as a cover for policies that serve
special interests (businesses, the wealthy). Many do. I just don't think the statement
that "there is actually little difference between Republicans and Democrats or
self-described conservatives and liberals in their support of the key components
of the social safety net: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and even
unemployment insurance" is fully accurate. There's an important distinction that
underlies the concept of social insurance, the distinction between a society where risks that individuals cannot control are shared broadly or felt individually, and it's important to recognize this difference between the two political parties.