December 31, 2007

The impossibility of a kinder, gentler politics

Krugman has a great piece up about just how different the parties really are this cycle.

On one side, the Democrats are all promising to get out of Iraq and offering strongly progressive policies on taxes, health care and the environment. That’s understandable: the public hates the war, and public opinion seems to be running in a progressive direction.

What seems harder to understand is what’s happening on the other side — the degree to which almost all the Republicans have chosen to align themselves closely with the unpopular policies of an unpopular president. And I’m not just talking about their continuing enthusiasm for the Iraq war. The G.O.P. candidates are equally supportive of Bush economic policies.

Why would politicians support Bushonomics? After all, the public is very unhappy with the state of the economy, for good reason. The “Bush boom,” such as it was, bypassed most Americans — median family income, adjusted for inflation, has stagnated in the Bush years, and so have the real earnings of the typical worker. Meanwhile, insecurity has increased, with a declining fraction of Americans receiving health insurance from their employers.

And things seem likely to get worse as the election approaches. For a few years, the economy was at least creating jobs at a respectable pace — but as the housing slump and the associated credit crunch accelerate and spill over to the rest of the economy, most analysts expect employment to weaken, too.

All in all, it’s an economic and political environment in which you’d expect Republican politicians, as a sheer matter of calculation, to look for ways to distance themselves from the current administration’s economic policies and record — say, by expressing some concern about rising income gaps and the fraying social safety net.

In fact, however, except for Mike Huckabee — a peculiar case who’ll deserve more discussion if he stays in contention — the leading Republican contenders have gone out of their way to assure voters that they will not deviate an inch from the Bush path. Why? Because the G.O.P. is still controlled by a conservative movement that does not tolerate deviations from tax-cutting, free-market, greed-is-good orthodoxy.

Issues matter and this cycle, it's the Democrats who have the strength. It's also creating a deep contrast between the parties that will play to Democratic advantage. The interesting thing is that many bloggers and some pundits have been talking for years about creating just such a contrast.

There’s a fantasy, widely held inside the Beltway, that men and women of good will from both parties can be brought together to hammer out bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.

If such a thing were possible, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani — a self-proclaimed maverick, the former governor of a liberal state and the former mayor of an equally liberal city — would seem like the kind of men Democrats could deal with. (O.K., maybe not Mr. Giuliani.) In fact, however, it’s not possible, not given the nature of today’s Republican Party, which has turned men like Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney into hard-line ideologues. On economics, and on much else, there is no common ground between the parties.

So much for Obama and the idea that there is some magical common ground we can all come together on. The reality is, the Republicans are not going to let it happen.

Posted by mcblogger at December 31, 2007 12:53 PM

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