Paul Krugman: On Being Partisan
Paul Krugman on partisanship and what it will take for it to end:
On Being Partisan, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: American politics is ugly these days, and many people wish things were different. ... If all goes well, we’ll eventually have a new era of bipartisanship — but that will be the end of the story, not the beginning. ...
You see, the nastiness of modern American politics isn’t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. It’s a symptom of deeper factors — mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that we’ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when that economic polarization is reversed.
After all, American politics has been nasty in the past. Before the New Deal, America was a nation with a vast gap between the rich and everyone else, and this gap was reflected in a sharp political divide. The Republican Party, in effect, represented the interests of the economic elite, and the Democratic Party, in an often confused way, represented the populist alternative. ...
[T]he G.O.P.’s advantage in money, and the superior organization that money bought, usually allowed it to dominate national politics. ... Then came the New Deal. I urge ... everyone ... who thinks that good will alone is enough to change the tone of our politics — to read the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt...
F.D.R. faced fierce opposition as he created ... Social Security, unemployment insurance, more progressive taxation and beyond ... that helped alleviate inequality. And he didn’t shy away from confrontation.
“We had to struggle,” he declared in 1936, “with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. ... Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by “modern Republicans” who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.
The history of the last few decades has basically been the story of the New Deal in reverse. Income inequality has returned to levels not seen since the pre-New Deal era, and so have political divisions in Congress as the Republicans have moved right, once again becoming the party of the economic elite. The signature domestic policy initiatives of the Bush administration have been attempts to undo F.D.R.’s legacy... And a bitter partisan gap has opened up between the G.O.P. and Democrats, who have tried to defend that legacy.
What about the smear campaigns, like Karl Rove’s...? Well, they’re reminiscent of the vicious anti-Catholic propaganda used to defeat Al Smith in 1928: smear tactics are what a well-organized, well-financed party with a fundamentally unpopular domestic agenda uses to change the subject.
So am I calling for partisanship for its own sake? Certainly not. By all means pass legislation, if you can, with plenty of votes from the other party: the Social Security Act of 1935 received 77 Republican votes in the House, about the same as the number of Republicans who recently voted for a minimum wage increase.
But politicians who try to push forward the elements of a new New Deal, especially universal health care, are sure to face the hatred of a large bloc on the right — and they should welcome that hatred, not fear it.
Previous (1/22) column: Paul Krugman: Gold-Plated Indifference
Next (1/29) column: Paul Krugman: The Sum of All Ears
Update: This came up in comments. If you go to "Political Polarization and Economic Policy," and follow the link at the bottom "Immigration and Political Polarization" you'll find the following graphs [the graphs are a follow-up to "Class War Politics"]:
Click on graphs to enlarge
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics |
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