A couple of years ago there was a debate... between Alice Rivlin and Paul Krugman. Alice Rivlin thought that organizations like the Brookings Institution at which she worked had a role: you could design and argue for good policies, convince senators and influential House members of their value for the public interest, and then build a bipartisan coalition from the center out--either to the left or to the right, depending on which ideological extreme's price for coming on board to support sensible policies that worked was least obnoxious.Go read the whole post. It starts with a discussion of today's Sunday morning talk shows in which the moderator tried to pin down Republican senator Orrin Hatch. Rather than simply answer the question honestly, you got to see the squirm, the duck-and-cover, the lie-with-a-straight-face response of a polished professional politician. Sickening.
Paul Krugman said no: that that strategy worked only as long as the ideological lines of party cleavage were blurred, which would be the case only as long as there were (a) a larger number of relatively liberal northerners who voted Republican because Lincoln freed the slaves, and (b) a large number of relatively conservative southerners who voted Democratic because Lincoln freed the slaves. Once the parties realigned, zero-sum partisan loyalties would dominate: Republicans like Hatch would think hard whether it was more important to vote for a bill because it was good for America or vote against it because then you could paint the Democratic president as a failure and pick up seats in the next election, and make their decision. You had, Paul said (I think: I wasn't there) to pick your party and then work hard to make its policies the best policies possible because "bipartisanship" was no longer a viable legislative strategy.
We saw this in 1993, when Clinton's centrist bipartisan deficit-reducing budget--half tax increases, have spending cuts--attracted not a single Republican vote. We saw this in February, when Obama's centrist stimulus package--2/3 spending increases, 1/3 tax cuts (Clinton was Mr. 43%, Obama is Mr. 54%), and 2/3 the size that would have been appropriate--attracted zero Republican votes in the House and only three in the Senate. We are seeing this on cap-and-trade, where the number of Republicans willing to sign on to do something about global warming if they can then shape the bill in the direction of economic efficiency is close to zero, and now on health care too.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Politics in America
Brad DeLong has a posting on his blog that summarizes the state of politics in America. He is summarizing a debate within the Democrats as to the best strategy to advance useful legislation: