Thursday, December 07, 2006

Moderate Republicans a lost species, Democrats recognizing the class war

By one measure, the 110th Congress will have the fewest moderates since the 19th century. This finding is based on an analysis of voting records by Keith T. Poole, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, and Howard Rosenthal, a New York University politics professor.

For the purpose of the study, a moderate is defined as someone whose votes consistently fall near the middle of the political spectrum on both fiscal and social issues.

The decline in moderates has had a greater impact on Republicans than Democrats. According to Poole's calculations, almost half of House Republicans were moderates 30 years ago, compared to well under 10 percent today. The professors argue that the decline of moderates in Congress has increased polarization.
The polarization is more the result of economic issues than social issues according to their colleague Dr. Nolan McCarty. There is a free PDF download of the paper McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal wrote about the history of polarization in American politics and how to measure it, which became the first two chapters of the book. The important chapter three explores income polarization of voters as the politicians became more polarized. Their findings concerning the links between mounting inequality, immigration, and the rise of political polarization are vital to any understanding of American politics.

In other chapters not online they also other insights:
In a chapter worth the book’s price, the authors show that astronomical gains for the very wealthiest have opened up opportunities for the “passionate rich” to invest in the ideological extremes. The “swift-boating” of Kerry was not an aberration; it is the new status quo. Democratic victories and policies, if and when they happen, will certainly activate a right-wing backlash.

....As they demonstrate, income inequality has grown least among regularly participating voters. It has done the most damage at the bottom end of the income scale, where both immigrants and citizens are less likely to vote. A voter backlash, by definition, has to come from voters. Not surprisingly, Republicans have pushed voter-identification legislation to discourage lower-income voting and promoted a policy to make immigrants wait 17 years for the right to vote.

....Would America be better off with a “centrist” coalition via divided government, as under Clinton? In a sobering conclusion, the authors show that divided government is actually worse. Legislative stalemate paradoxically increases the power of the presidency and hurts the poor, who are left to fend for themselves as government freezes up. For example, McCarty and colleagues demonstrate that states with Democratic governors and Republican legislatures, other things equal, have the least generous welfare programs.
The next big issue for Democrats should be the growing inequality gap. The scientists have demonstrated pretty conclusively that political polarization is indeed related to economic inequality. They show how ideological polarization and income inequality fell together from 1913 until 1957 and that both inequality and polarization have been rising again since 1977. As liberals say, the Republicans have been waging class war and the poor and Democrats have been losing. With the recent reversal in Congress and the growing populism among Democrats the Democratic leadership may be getting the message. The campaign for the presidential nomination and Congressional actions next year will see how much this knowledge has sunk into the party leadership.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

No comments: