January 26, 2012

1992 AGAIN:

Thunderdome Election Result of Rhetoric Not Ideology (Ezra Klein, Jan 25, 2012, Bloomberg)

They're right about one thing: The 2012 election matters. A lot. The winning party will probably reap long-term political benefits from holding office during an economic recovery. As for the ideological showdown of the century stuff? It's overblown. The two likely presidential nominees would, if elected, pursue very different economic philosophies and domestic policies. But not nearly as different as they would have you believe.

In addition, there is plenty of legislation passed or proposed in the Bush years that the Obama administration would like to build on or go back to. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which was signed by President Bush, was gutted by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, not by Republican legislation. Much of the administration's campaign- finance reform agenda simply consists of restoring that status quo ante. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to mend, not end, Bush's signature education initiative, No Child Left Behind. Obama's Affordable Care Act strengthened Bush's Medicare Part D. And the president's request, delivered in the State of the Union, for the Senate to pass new rules ensuring a swift up- or-down vote for executive-branch nominations echoes Bush's effort to end the judicial filibuster.

This is not an attempt to extend the foolish critique that there is no difference between the two parties or the two likely presidential nominees. It matters that Obama's proposed tax cuts amount to $3 trillion and benefit taxpayers making less than $250,000 while Romney's would cost more than $6 trillion and are tilted toward the top 1 percent. It matters that Obama would implement the Affordable Care Act and Romney would try to repeal it. It matters that Obama is inclined to strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while Republicans want to weaken it.

But the 2012 election is not an epochal clash of irreconcilable worldviews. Judging from their respective records, Obama and Romney would have little trouble coming to agreement if locked in a room together. That's a very different conclusion than you would draw from listening to their rhetoric, which implies a Thunderdomish battle to the death.

That's true more broadly, too. The two parties are much further apart politically than they are philosophically. If you look closely at the policies both Democrats and Republicans propose when in power, there are ample opportunities for compromise and agreement. But elections are zero-sum affairs, and the one question on which there is no overlap between the two parties is which side should take power in November. The reason politics feels so polarized is that the resolution of that one, irreconcilable question ends up governing the parties' approach to all other questions.

The only thing that saved the Democrats from their 70 years in the wilderness was the original Tea Partier,  Ross Perot, handing the Peace Dividend to Bubba.  Which party gets credit for this one is the only thing at stake in the election. It, combined with Reagan/O'Neill type adjustments to entitlements, has the capacity to save the Second Way for another generation. 

Posted by at January 26, 2012 6:47 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus