The American Public’s Shocking Lack of Policy Knowledge is a Threat to Progress and Democracy

By Justin Doolittle, Truthout | Op-Ed, October 12, 2013

Excerpt

The genuinely shocking degree of public ignorance regarding the ACA that has been revealed by this slew of recent polls… ought to be viewed as a very serious political crisis and a grave threat to whatever semblance of health our badly disfigured democratic culture still maintains…..

The public is not just uninformed, but also misinformed…having been helplessly subjected to four years of relentless and fantastically dishonest propaganda regarding the policy on which they are opining…

Widespread civic ignorance is intrinsically beneficial to reactionaries and anathema to progressive politics. The lack of basic, sensible policy knowledge among the general public is hardly limited to the arena of health care…

The Republican Party, as well as what David Frum refers to as the “conservative entertainment complex,” combine to operate an extremely powerful, 24/7 propaganda machine, specifically designed to misinform Americans and spread an inherent distrust of any progressive policy ideas…

The reality of a massively uninformed public, though, is simply incongruous with this vision of a progressive future. So long as colossal swaths of the population are in the dark about the major policy issues of our time, the political scene will be ripe for ultra-right-wing demagogues and faux-populists to thwart progress at every turn...The vibrancy and legitimacy of our democratic culture depend on it.

Full text

With implementation of the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) finally upon us, pollsters have been busy soliciting current public opinion of the law, as the fanatical Republican Party continues its quixotic mission to destroy it. Ludicrous though it is to subject such a complex and multi-dimensional law to an up-or-down, binary referendum, the American people continue to “disapprove” of the ACA by a modest margin; this polling dynamic has been relatively consistent since 2010.

Far more interesting than the fatuous and oversimplified “approve or disapprove” question, though, is the more concrete polling data that reveals public perception of what is, and is not, actually contained in the reform package. Surely, before subjectivity even enters the equation, there must be a coherent, objective understanding of the law itself. Any negative – or positive – opinion about the ACA that is premised on a thorough lack of knowledge of the law’s actual substance may, of course, be dismissed as essentially meaningless.

The genuinely shocking degree of public ignorance regarding the ACA that has been revealed by this slew of recent polls, more than three years after the law was signed by President Obama, should not be something to which we respond by simply shaking our heads and lamenting that the American people are so “disengaged.” No, this ought to be viewed as a very serious political crisis and a grave threat to whatever semblance of health our badly disfigured democratic culture still maintains.

The public is dramatically uninformed, and misinformed, about the law. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 76 percent of people currently lacking health insurance “didn’t understand the law and how it would affect them.” Just 51 percent of respondents were aware of the existence of the exchanges that launched; 49 percent were aware of the subsidies available for low-income people.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll asked respondents about the exchanges and even provided several choices of launch dates: October 1; Other date in 2013; Date in 2014; Other; or Don’t know/Refused.

Given the structure of the question, the results are astonishing: 64 percent of the public refused to even venture a guess, with just 15 percent answering correctly that the exchanges were set to launch on October 1. Among the uninsured, the bloc of people the new marketplaces are designed to help, it was even more striking: 74 percent did not know, and just 12 percent answered October 1. The poll was taken less than two weeks before the exchanges were set to go live.

As the years pass, there is virtually no evidence that accurate information about the ACA is successfully penetrating the public consciousness: Kaiser concluded “the public’s level of awareness about exactly which provisions are – and are not – included in the health care law has generally not increased in the three and a half years since the law was passed.”

If anything, the trend is going in the opposite direction, with the public having actually become less informed with time: Levels of awareness of other key provisions have either remained stable or declined over time.

For example, the shares who are aware of the law’s subsidies, Medicaid expansion, and closing of the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” have all decreased since right after the law’s passage in 2010 (by 12 percentage points, 6 percentage points, and 7 percentage points, respectively). This leaves substantial shares unaware that the law includes each of these key provisions.

The public is not just uninformed, but also misinformed, about the most consequential social reform signed into law in many decades. More than half of Americans reported to Kaiser that a public option was, in fact, included in the ACA. More than 40 percent believe that the law provides subsidies to undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance, establishes something very closely resembling a death panel, and cuts benefits for seniors currently enrolled in Medicare (43 percent, 42 percent and 42 percent, respectively).

These statistics simply preclude any kind of serious discussion about the law’s “popularity” or lack thereof. It would be no more absurd to approach a group of 12-year-olds and inquire about their views of the conflict in Syria. And that analogy actually understates the case, because the 12-year-olds in question could at least respond honestly and instinctively, without having been helplessly subjected to four years of relentless and fantastically dishonest propaganda regarding the policy on which they are opining.

It’s worth remembering that these are the central provisions of the ACA. If so many citizens are unaware of the core tenets of the law, including those which are specifically geared to benefit them and have generated an enormous amount of media attention, it stands to reason that the dozens of smaller-scale programs and reforms contained within the law are unknown to virtually everyone except the most dedicated policy wonks.

What percentage of the public, for example, is aware of the provisions that

-   Prohibit insurance companies from imposing annual dollar limits on coverage, the cause of so many bankruptcies among American families?

- The 85 percent Medical Loss Ratio provision (requiring that percentage of premiums be spent on actual care rather than administration) that has already resulted in billions of dollars in rebates?

- The expansion of free preventive care?

- The development of Accountable Care Organizations, Electronic Health Records, and bundled payments, to finally address the rampant structural dysfunction in health care?

- The myriad cost control mechanisms?

Our health care system has long been an unconscionable international scandal, with terribly high costs and tens of millions of citizens lacking access. Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress presented a unique opportunity to finally address the problem. The long and often grotesque legislative process eventually produced a law that, while further postponing the country’s eventual and inevitable embrace of some sort of single-payer system, contained a number of exceptionally propitious ideas and long overdue reforms. It’s a clear and undeniable step forward for health care in this country. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to coherently argue – even for those of us who support single payer – that the ACA, in its totality, is not exceedingly preferable to what had been the status quo, at least from a utilitarian perspective.

How then, can the public be so consistently antipathetic about the law, given that it merely removes some of the most excessive brutality from the American system of health care, while making a multifaceted effort to both expand access and control costs?

It’s been theorized that the broad aversion stems from the fact that around 85 percent of American adults already have health insurance, are reasonably satisfied with it, and are therefore anxious about any sweeping overhauls of a system that is, as they see it, working tolerably well for them.

To be sure, there is some truth to this. For all the systemic problems with health care in this country, most Americans families do have health insurance, and, within this group, many families are facing other, often quite dire economic challenges. Understandably, they might have wanted federal policymaking to be focused elsewhere in 2009 and 2010 (on the foreclosure crisis, for example).

Less Than Half Know About Closing “Doughnut Hole”

Of course, this explanation fails to account for the lack of support for the numerous cost-control mechanisms in the ACA, which, if effective, will benefit everyone, not just the currently uninsured; or, for example, the closing of the dreaded Medicare “doughnut hole,” something that benefits all seniors – and something that, to this day, less than half of Americans know is included in the law.

Nevertheless, due to various social, political and economic realities, not everyone will support sweeping social legislation, and this is unavoidable. The one strain of opposition – or indifference – to the ACA that is not unavoidable, though, and on which the progressive movement should focus, is that which is based on pure lack of information.

Thomas Jefferson once said that, “though the people may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand.” This is especially true when what they are being asked to approve is something as complicated and far-reaching as the ACA.

Widespread civic ignorance is intrinsically beneficial to reactionaries and anathema to progressive politics. The lack of basic, sensible policy knowledge among the general public is hardly limited to the arena of health care.

It’s no great secret which political actors are responsible for this democratic crisis. Our national political media is led by people like Chuck Todd, who, in a moment of breathtaking honesty, openly confessed that he does not view the dissemination of accurate and factual information as part of his job description as a journalist.

The Republican Party, as well as what David Frum refers to as the “conservative entertainment complex,” combine to operate an extremely powerful, 24/7 propaganda machine, specifically designed to misinform Americans and spread an inherent distrust of any progressive policy ideas.

Indeed, going down the line of policy realms on which the public is ignorant, in virtually every instance, it benefits the ultra-right-wing. Indifference to climate change is rampant. The public judges levels of income inequality in the United States to be much less dramatic than they are in reality. Support for the extraordinarily idiotic “balanced budget amendment” is overwhelming. In all of these cases, wildly uninformed public opinion serves to provide tactical support to Republicans and aid them in their vicious ideological crusades.

There is cause for optimism about the future of progressive politics in the US Demographic realities, seismic shifts in public attitudes on social issues and a lasting feeling of abomination at the unhinged lunacy of the Bush years are just some of the reasons to feel hopeful about our political direction over the long term.

The reality of a massively uninformed public, though, is simply incongruous with this vision of a progressive future. So long as colossal swaths of the population are in the dark about the major policy issues of our time, the political scene will be ripe for ultra-right-wing demagogues and faux-populists to thwart progress at every turn. Progressives have to confront the fact that, technically, Republicans are right when they say that the ACA is “unpopular” or that “the American people” want a balanced budget amendment. This has to change. The vibrancy and legitimacy of our democratic culture depend on it.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19279-the-american-publics-shocking-lack-of-policy-knowledge-is-a-threat-to-progress-and-democracy

The Conservative Crackup: How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind

By Kim Messick, Salon.com, September 1, 2013

In a recent article, I argued [2] that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” [3] – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats” [4]), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956 [5], when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region [6] of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

In “Rule and Ruin,” [7] his wonderful history of the collapse of Republican moderation, the historian Geoffrey Kabaservice documents the process by which conservative activists remade the Republican Party in their image. (If I could recommend only one book this year to students of American history, it would be this one.) Filling a broad canvas with an enormous wealth of detail, Kabaservice shows us that conservatives always thought of themselves as engaged on two fronts: Moderate Republicans were as much the enemy as liberal Democrats. William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself “in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.”

One can’t help but admire the tenacity, focus and creativity that conservative activists brought to their task. They transformed the Republican Party at every level: from the grass roots, where they assumed control of local bodies such as city councils, caucuses and county commissions, to the state and national party machinery. They also built a network of institutions [8] designed to cultivate and publicize conservative ideas. These ranged from relatively sophisticated periodicals and think tanks (National Review, the early Heritage Foundation) to rawer, more demotic facsimiles (the American Spectator, the Cato Institute). Groups such as the Moral Majority arose, especially on the religious right, and new media technologies allowed for the consolidation of conservative voices on talk radio and cable television.

These actions were all part of the same relentless design: to purge the Republican Party of moderate voices and to install conservatives in every position of meaningful power and influence. But they had another side as well. Because as a party shapes itself it also shapes its electorate. And a party engaged in a process of purification, if it wants to continue to win elections, needs a similarly purified electorate.

The realignment of Southern whites must be understood in this context. When they deserted the Democratic Party in the mid-’60s, they presented Republicans with a huge electoral windfall. Republicans then had to decide how to invest this unexpected capital. In doing so they had to balance at least two things: numbers and intensity. Numbers are important, of course — you can’t win elections without them — but it’s an old adage in politics that an intense 51 percent is better than a relaxed 55 percent. The Republican decision to embrace an increasingly radical version of conservatism should be seen, in effect, as an attempt to leverage the intensity and loyalty of their new Southern voters. These qualities were expected to offset the loss of any moderate or liberal supporters who might abandon the party as it lurched to the right.

It was a perfectly rational strategy, and it worked brilliantly. Between 1968 and 1992 — 24 years, an entire generation — Democrats won exactly one presidential election, the post-Watergate campaign of 1976. But after ’92 the strategy began to break down on the national level, due mainly to demographic factors: There simply weren’t enough rural white voters anymore to win presidential elections in a consistent way. But by then the right was fully in control of Republican politics and uninterested in sharing power (or policy) with their moderate brethren. They developed a narrative to counter any suggestion that ideological rigidity was the cause of the party’s losses in national (and, increasingly, statewide) races: the quixotic claim [9] that it had nominated “moderates” unable to bring out the conservative majorities who lurk, abandoned and bereft, in the heartland.

In the meantime the ritual purges have continued — the immediate denunciations, thundered from various media pulpits, whenever a Republican politician utters an unorthodox opinion; the threat (or reality) of primary challenges to silence dissent; the invocation of paranoid fantasies that inflame “the base” and make them ever more agitated and vindictive.

Now, in 2013, we have the politics that 50 years of this process have created. The Democratic Party has fewer conservatives than it once did, but is still a broadly coalitional party with liberal and moderate elements. It controls the coasts, has strength in the industrial Midwest, and is making inroads in the upper, more urbanized South and in Florida. It confronts a Republican Party almost wholly dependent on the interior states of the old Confederacy. (The party continues to win in the mountain and prairie West, but the region is too sparsely populated to provide any real electoral heft.) Because of its demographic weakness, it is more beholden than ever to the intensity of its most extreme voters. This has engendered a death spiral in which it must take increasingly radical positions to drive these voters to the polls, positions that in turn alienate ever larger segments of the population, making these core voters even more crucial — and so on. We have a name these days for the electoral residue produced by this series of increasingly rigorous purifications. We call it “the Tea Party.”

The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” [10] — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t designed to function in these conditions.  The peculiarities of our system — a Senate, armed with the filibuster, that gives Wyoming’s 576,000 people as much power as California’s 38,000,000; gerrymandered districts in the House; separate selection of the executive and the legislature; a chronically underfunded elections process, generally in partisan hands and in desperate need of rationalization — simply won’t permit it. What we get instead is paralysis — or worse. The Republican Party, particularly in the House, has turned into the legislative equivalent of North Korea — a political outlier so extreme it has lost the ability to achieve its objectives through normal political means. Its only recourse is to threats (increasingly believable) that it will blow up the system rather than countenance this-or-that lapse from conservative dogma. This was the strategy it pursued in the debt ceiling debacle [11] of 2011, and if firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have their way it will guide the party’s approach to the same issue this fall, and perhaps to government funding (including “Obamacare”) as well. Realignment and polarization have led us to gridlock and instability.

The relentless radicalization of the Republican Party since 1964 is the most important single event in the political history of the United States since the New Deal. It has significantly shaped the course of our government and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But this means it has also shaped the individual life of every citizen— the complex amalgam of possibilities and opportunities available (or not) to each of us. The conservative visionaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted a new world. We’re all living in it now.

* The 1928 election is something of an exception to this statement; eight Southern states, offended by Democratic candidate Al Smith’s Catholicism, voted instead for Herbert Hoover. But it seems safe to regard this election as an outlier; FDR won every Southern state in the next four presidential elections.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/conservative-crackup-how-republican-party-lost-its-mind

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kim-messick
[2] http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/the_tea_partys_paranoid_aesthetic/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixiecrat
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#South_in_Presidential_elections
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#.22Southern_strategy.22_today
[7] http://www.amazon.com/Rule-Ruin-Moderation-Destruction-Development/dp/0199768404/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377452992&sr=1-1&keywords=Rule+and+ruin
[8] http://www.amazon.com/The-Rise-Counter-Establishment-Conservative-Political/dp/1402759118/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
[9] http://spectator.org/archives/2012/11/08/when-conservatism-is-a-secon
[10] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/08/19/our_dysfunctional_politics_106815.html
[11] http://www.amazon.com/Not-Ask-What-Good-Representatives/dp/1451642083/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377461798&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=%22ask+not+what+good+we+do%22
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservativism
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/south
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democratic-party
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-war
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Two Political Parties Are Remarkably Far Apart on Basic Issues

By David Morris, Institute for Local Self Reliance, June 18, 2013 – The following content was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website [2]. posted on Alternet,org

Excerpt

The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses.  But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite.  In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship:  Republicans 20, Democrats 13. In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded.  An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government.  Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack.  Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically…What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict libertyIt is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily…One could hope that in 2014 the stark evidence emerging from state capitols about the difference between the parties can lay the foundation for a nationwide debate on the purpose of government and the ends to which collective authority should aspire that goes beyond the are-you-for-it-or-against-it attitude that contaminates and diminishes that debate.

Full text

The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses.  But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite.  In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship:  Republicans 20, Democrats 13.

In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded.  An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government.  Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack.  Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically.

Democrats believe that governments should not only secure our borders but also advance our personal security.  As reflected in recently enacted state laws, that belief translates into policies extending health care access to as many as possible, raising the minimum wage and expanding unemployment insurance. Republicans vigorously oppose this use of government.  They insist we should not be compelled to be our brothers’ keeper. Of the 13 states that so far have refused the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding health care coverage to millions of their residents, for example, Republicans dominate 12.  All six of the states that are leaning that way are Republican controlled.

What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict liberty.  They assert that government-created health exchanges interfere with the right of insurance companies to manage their own affairs while the requirement that everyone have health insurance constitutes an act of tyranny.  Minimum wage laws interfere with the economic liberty of business and the freedom of the marketplace.

Republicans argue that taxes, especially those that tax the rich at higher rates than the poor, interfere with our liberty to pursue happiness by amassing unrestrained wealth.   In the last legislative session Democrat-controlled California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota raised the income tax rate on millionaires while in the last two legislative sessions, Republican-controlled Kansas reduced such rates by 75 percent and legislators in Kansas as well as in North Carolina and Nebraska are openly pushing for the complete elimination of the income tax.

It is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily.

When it comes to personal liberty, however, Republicans believe in big government. As former Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum observed, “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”  Even if their wants or passions do not harm others.

This legislative session Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota joined 9 other states and the District of Columbia in extending the freedom to marry to include those of the same sex. Meanwhile, of the 25 states with constitutional prohibitions on same sex marriage, 22 are completely controlled by Republicans.  None are Democrat dominant.

Of the 17 states that have enacted medical marijuana laws, 10 are Democratic and only two are Republican. (The rest are not controlled by a single party.) As if to put an exclamation point on this difference, the same day last November that voters in Washington and Colorado approved the legalization of marijuana, voters in Arkansas handily defeated a proposal to allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes with a doctor’s prescription.

Gun control is an issue that for Republicans and Democrats affects both liberty and security. For Republicans the ability to own unlimited numbers of guns and carry them whenever and wherever one wants with a minimum of government oversight, constitutes an essential part of freedom while allowing the owner to protect herself from physical harm.  For Democrats widespread gun ownership significantly contributes to physical violence inside and outside the gun owner’s household; thus in this case unrestrained liberty must give way to regulation.

In this legislative session while Democratic states like New York and Connecticut and Maryland tightened gun laws, more than a dozen GOP states scaled back their already minimal gun laws. Statistician Nate Silver insists, “Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic (or) whether she lives in the south…”

For both Democrats and Republicans liberty means being able to participate in influencing the political decisions that affect our lives and futures.  But here again their conception of liberty differs significantly. For Republicans it means the liberty of money, allowing individuals to spend unlimited amounts to elect candidates and lobby legislators while restricting the liberty of people by making voter access more difficult.  For Democrats it means the opposite.

Recently Colorado, Delaware and Maryland have enacted laws making it easier for people to register and vote while Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia have made it harder. Nine of ten states that have voter photo ID laws are Republican dominated.

One could hope that in 2014 the stark evidence emerging from state capitols about the difference between the parties can lay the foundation for a nationwide debate on the purpose of government and the ends to which collective authority should aspire that goes beyond the are-you-for-it-or-against-it attitude that contaminates and diminishes that debate.

 

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/democrats-and-republicans-differ-drastically-liberty-and-security

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/david-morris
[2] http://www.ilsr.org/liberty-security-democrats-republicans-differ/:
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/arkansas
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/candidate-position
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/colorado
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/connecticut
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/declaration-independence
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/delaware-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democratic-party
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/district-columbia
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/indiana
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/institute-local-self-reliance
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/kansas
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/maryland
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/massachusetts-0
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/minnesota
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nate-silver
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nebraska
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/new-york
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/north-carolina
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/person-career
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/person-location
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/political-parties-united-states
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-0
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[26] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-senator
[27] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rhode-island
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rick-santorum-0
[29] http://www.alternet.org/tags/statistician
[30] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tennessee
[31] http://www.alternet.org/tags/virginia-0
[32] http://www.alternet.org/tags/washington-0
[33] http://www.alternet.org/tags/candidate
[34] http://www.alternet.org/tags/federal-government
[35] http://www.alternet.org/tags/health-insurance
[36] http://www.alternet.org/tags/insurance-0
[37] http://www.alternet.org/tags/unemployment-insurance-0
[38] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Gridlock and Its Causes

by Gary Hart, HuffingtonPost.com, 05/27/2013

There is not a lot of honest exploration of the root causes of what is now widely known as political gridlock. Most political journalism simply reiterates the fact that the legislative branch of government is virtually dysfunctional and deplores the fact.

But this did not happen by accident or in a vacuum. And it will not end until voters tire of it and replace those responsible. Throughout most of American history the U.S. government worked more or less the way it is supposed to, with occasional lurches to the left or the right.

Dysfunction in the early 21st century has its causes. A deep recession caused by deregulation of and consequent predictable speculation in the finance and housing sectors. Two extremely prolonged wars with no clear victories. Large budget deficits caused by tax cuts that failed to stimulate growth and revenues and running the wars off-budget.

This cumulative discontent produced predictable anti-government movements ironically directed not at the political forces that created these policies but at those who opposed them. The journalistic fiction of political “equivalence” is simply that — a fiction meant to avoid pinning the tail on the elephant and being accused of liberal bias.

Anyone who believes the administrations of Carter, Clinton, and Obama are liberal, let alone “socialist,” are living in a dream world. In fact, Democratic members of Congress, including many party leaders, voted for the Iraq invasion and the Bush tax cuts. Any fair assessment of both parties’ performance will show that Democrats have supported Reagan and Bush policies vastly more than Republicans now in office have supported Obama policies. In fact, it is the official, publicly-announced policy of the Republican party to oppose every Obama administration initiative, including appointment of cabinet, sub-cabinet, and judicial nominees.

If you are locked into an ideology that government is bad and ineffective, you have a stake in proving that to be the case, despite the election of a president and administration twice by substantial majorities. Whether a gridlock-committed Republican party will pay a price for opposing the will of the people remains to be seen. At the least it is a high-risk political strategy and at the most it is a rejection of majority government and jeopardization of the national interest.

There is mounting evidence that some Republican elected officials are beginning to foresee the cliff over which Tea Party representatives are headed and fear the damage, even destruction, the Republican party might suffer. It is ludicrous in the extreme for new Tea Party members to claim respect for the House and the Senate and then behave in the most disrespectful manner possible. If these radical individuals wish to alter the American form of government, juvenile behavior is hardly the way to achieve it. Anti-government forces must acknowledge that the size and shape of the national government does not change that much when Republicans are in power.

As always, it is up to the American people to decide what they want. But we must make up our minds. We cannot have a government that works by electing those who want it not to work.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-hart/gridlock-and-its-causes_b_3343154.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=052813&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

Ten Years After – Editorial, New York Times

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, March 19, 2013

Excerpt

Ten years after it began, the Iraq war still haunts the United States in the nearly 4,500 troops who died there; the more than 30,000 American wounded who have come home; the more than $2 trillion spent on combat operations and reconstruction, which inflated the deficit; and in the lessons learned about the limits of American leadership and power.

It haunts Iraq too, where the total number of casualties is believed to have surpassed 100,000 but has never been officially determined; and where one strongman was traded for another, albeit under a more pluralistic system with a democratic veneer. The country is increasingly influenced by Iran and buffeted by the regional turmoil caused by the Arab Spring.

In 2003, President George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to wage pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein and a nuclear arsenal that did not exist. They promised a “free and peaceful Iraq” that would be a model of democracy and stability in the Arab world…Yet none of the Bush administration’s war architects have been called to account for their mistakes, and even now, many are invited to speak on policy issues as if they were not responsible for one of the worst strategic blunders in American foreign policy…

Iraq is a reminder of the need for political leaders to ask the right questions before allowing military action and to listen honestly rather than acting on ideological or political impulses. Mr. Bush led the war, but Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress endorsed it. Iraq also shows the limits of America’s influence in regions where sectarian enmity remains strong and where democracy has no real history…The Iraq war was unnecessary, costly and damaging on every level. It was based on faulty intelligence manipulated for ideological reasons. The terrible human and economic costs over the past 10 years show why that must never happen again.

Full text

Ten years after it began, the Iraq war still haunts the United States in the nearly 4,500 troops who died there; the more than 30,000 American wounded who have come home; the more than $2 trillion spent on combat operations and reconstruction, which inflated the deficit; and in the lessons learned about the limits of American leadership and power.

It haunts Iraq too, where the total number of casualties is believed to have surpassed 100,000 but has never been officially determined; and where one strongman was traded for another, albeit under a more pluralistic system with a democratic veneer. The country is increasingly influenced by Iran and buffeted by the regional turmoil caused by the Arab Spring.

In 2003, President George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to wage pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein and a nuclear arsenal that did not exist. They promised a “free and peaceful Iraq” that would be a model of democracy and stability in the Arab world. While no one laments Saddam’s passing and violence is down from peak war levels, the country is fragile, with grave tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and Arabs and Kurds that could yet erupt into civil war or tear the state apart.

A State Department travel warning last month described Iraq as dangerous, with numerous insurgents, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, still active, and said Americans were “at risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.” On Tuesday, a wave of car bombings and other attacks in Baghdad killed more than 50 people and wounded nearly 200.

Yet none of the Bush administration’s war architects have been called to account for their mistakes, and even now, many are invited to speak on policy issues as if they were not responsible for one of the worst strategic blunders in American foreign policy. In a video posted recently by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Wolfowitz said he still believed the war was the right thing to do. Will he and his partners ever have the humility to admit that it was wrong to prosecute this war?

President Obama opposed the Iraq war from the start and has been single-minded about ending it, withdrawing the last combat troops in 2011. American influence in Iraq has greatly declined since then and Mr. Obama’s attention, like that of most Americans, has shifted to other priorities. Iraqis are responsible for their own future. But the country is a front line in the conflict between moderate Islam and Al Qaeda, not to mention its role as an oil producer. It requires more sustained American involvement than we have recently seen.

Iraq is a reminder of the need for political leaders to ask the right questions before allowing military action and to listen honestly rather than acting on ideological or political impulses. Mr. Bush led the war, but Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress endorsed it. Iraq also shows the limits of America’s influence in regions where sectarian enmity remains strong and where democracy has no real history.

That experience is informing American policy judgments more generally. It has affected decisions about Syria, where President Obama has been right to move cautiously. For a long time the Syrian opposition was divided, and it was hard to know which group, if any, deserved help. It also made sense not to rush into another costly war in another Arab country that could fuel new anti-American animosities and embroil the United States for another decade.

But with the Syrian conflict in its third year, the fighting has already spilled over the borders, destabilizing its neighbors, even as Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels play a bigger role. The reasons for opposing direct American involvement in Syria remain strong, but the United States needs to calibrate its policies continually and should not allow the Iraq experience to paralyze its response to different circumstances.

The lessons of Iraq, however, seem to fade when it comes to Iran. Many of the conservatives who strongly supported the charge into Iraq are fanning calls for United States military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. President Obama has also been threatening “all options” if negotiations to curb Iran’s ambitions are not successful, and many lawmakers seem ready to take action against Iran soon.

The Iraq war was unnecessary, costly and damaging on every level. It was based on faulty intelligence manipulated for ideological reasons. The terrible human and economic costs over the past 10 years show why that must never happen again.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/opinion/ten-years-after-the-iraq-war-began.html

Where the past isn’t even past. Right and Left in Democratic Politics: The Long View

by Rick Perlstein, The Nation, March 18, 2013

It was only after the ascension of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that the Democratic party began to be regarded as fundamentally liberal.

Here’s a pet peeve of mine. It’s when people refer to the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Or who say of a Democrat who makes consistent moves to the right, “Why doesn’t he just join the Republicans?” It’s not the underlying sentiment; I want Democrats to stop doing right-wing stuff as badly as anyone. The problem is descriptive—and, ultimately, strategic. The fact is that the Democratic Party in modern times has always had a conservative wing, one frequently as strong or stronger than its liberal wing, and as such, when progressives speak of the party as a vehicle that naturally belongs to them, as if by right—until conservatives stole it from them—they weaken progressivism. The fact is, the history of the Democratic Party has always been one of ideological civil war. And if you don’t realize you’re in a war, how can you win it?

Let’s review the game tape. Take it all the way back to 1924—when both parties had both left- and right-wing factions (before that year, the great progressive reformer Robert “Fighting Bob” Lafollette of Wisconsin was a Republican), when there was no reason to believe the Democrats would be the ones to become the nation’s established left-of-center party, and when at the presidential nominating convention the civil war came down to 103 ballots (and gubernatorial fistfights on the convention floor) over issues like Prohibition and whether the party should be for the Ku Klux Klan or against it.

It was of course with the ascension of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and after that the idea of the Democrats as an institutionally liberal party became credible, though many delegates who voted for him at the convention didn’t necessary think or know they were voting for a liberal. Many voters didn’t think so, either, but just marked the ballot for him because he had a “D” beside his name: They were Southerners, and saw the Democrats as the only political bulwark against the racial mongrelization of America. The progress of the New Deal, we now understand, rested on a fragile and complicated coalition joining visionary progressives and the most fearful reactionaries—and when an overconfident Roosevelt overreached to try to put the reactionaries in their place, in 1938, he almost lost control of the whole thing.

With the coming of the civil rights era, the war played out against that precise template: Northern progressives asserting themselves, Southern reactionaries threatening to pack up their votes and go elsewhere—a melodrama that began with a bang in 1948 when Strom Thurmond led Dixiecrats out of the convention and into his own segregationist presidential run, and reached its apotheosis in 1964 when five Southern states went for Goldwater. That, of course, truly began the slow steady transition to ideological realignment, with more and more Southern Democrats voting Republican in each election.

But, wouldn’t you know it, a new issue immediately arose to muddy anew what it meant to be a Democrat. In 1968 the floor of the convention once more split right down the middle, fistfights included, this time over the question over whether the Vietnam War was a good thing or a bad thing. But the end of the war didn’t bring ideological unity, either. In fact, the fist post-Vietnam election, post-Watergate, in 1974, inaugurated today’s order of battle between the right- and left-leaning wings of the party. Democrats gained forty-nine seats in the House and three in the Senate, giving the party of Jefferson and Jackson an approximate two-to-one advantage over the Republicans. People assumed a liberal deluge was in the offing, Congressional Quarterly noted predictions that the 94th Congress would become “a labor-orchestrated puppet show.” Ronald Reagan said, “The small fires that at first threatened free enterprise are growing daily into full-scale four-alarm blazes,” predicting, “We’re going to see a flood of expensive, spectacular, and ill-conceived legislation which can’t be derailed or even tempered by the voices of moderation.”

In fact, something like the opposite happened—as could have been predicted by the language of the “Watergate Babies” on the campaign trail.

Thirty-six-year-old Gary Hart was more or less the ideologist of the bunch. His memoir of the McGovern presidential campaign, which he had managed two years earlier, called liberalism “near bankruptcy.”Time called him a “liberal.” “Traditional ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ slogans,” he wrote back in an angry letter to the editor, “are simply not adequate to cope.” He said the best way out of the energy crisis was “to work together. There will be a lot more cooperative ventures between the environmentalists and the energy developers.” His stock speech, “The End of the New Deal,” argued that his party was hamstrung by the very ideology that was supposed to be its glory—that “if there is a problem, create an agency and throw money at the problem.” It included lines that could have come from Commentary, the neoconservative magazine Jerry Brown, who was friends with Hart, liked to read and quote. Like: “The ballyhooed War on Poverty succeeded only in raising the expectations, but not the living conditions, of the poor.” (That was false: the poverty rate was 17.3 percent when LBJ’s Economic Opportunity Act was enacted in 1964 and 11.2 percent as Gary Hart spoke.) He called those who “clung to the Roosevelt model long after it had ceased to relate to reality,” who still thought the workers, farmers and blacks of the New Deal coalition were where the votes were, “Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats.” He held them in open contempt. His outmaneuvered opponent, a once-popular two-term conservative incumbent, said Hart seemed to be “trying to get to the right of Attila the Hun.” A 32-year-old congressman-elect from Michigan, James Blanchard, said “I’m not entirely sure what my political philosophy is.”

There was a political reason for this. These new Democrats, seeds for Bill Clinton’s capital-n New Democrats, were replacing Republicans in predominantly suburban districts. They spoke to the desires of a white-collar constituency—and not that of the fading urban proleteriat (“We’re not a bunch of little Hubert Humphreys,” Hart famously said). And though many of them, including Hart, frequently did yeoman’s work to reimagine progressivism for a new generation (for instance, in the field of environmentalism), some of them, and their immediate successors, also did yeoman’s work selling off great chunks of the old Democratic agenda to corporate bidders—like Tony Coelho, the California congressman elected in 1978 who became head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1980. Exulted a Dallas venture capitalist about this new/old breed of Democrat in a 1986 profile of Coelho, “I’m one of the biggest contributors to the Governor of Texas, but can I get him on the telephone? Hell, no. Sometimes it takes a week. I call Tony any hour fo the day or night and he gets back to me immediately. Some days he just calls to ask how I’m doing. That pleases me tremendously.”

This battle goes way back. It’s written into the Democratic Party’s DNA. Acknowledge the other side, study them—take them seriously. Don’t let them play the underdog; that just advantages them, too. We’re in a fight here—always have been. They think they are the party—just as confidently as we believe we’re the party. The only way to make our vision of this party a reality is to work for it—and not to act surprised when their side works for it, too.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/173393/right-and-left-democratic-politics-long-view#

Deep Philosophical Divide Underlies the Impasse

By JOHN HARWOOD, New York Times, March 1, 2013

WASHINGTON — Let’s play truth or consequences with the budget sequestration that took effect on Friday.

That can be difficult through the fog of political war that has hung over this town. But a step back illuminates roots deeper than the prevailing notion that Washington politicians are simply fools acting for electoral advantage or partisan spite.

Republicans don’t seek to grind government to a halt. But they do aim to shrink its size by an amount currently beyond their institutional power in Washington, or popular support in the country, to achieve.

Democrats don’t seek to cripple the nation with debt. But they do aim to preserve existing government programs without the ability, so far, to set levels of taxation commensurate with their cost.

At bottom, it is the oldest philosophic battle of the American party system — pitting Democrats’ desire to use government to cushion market outcomes and equalize opportunity against Republicans’ desire to limit government and maximize individual liberty.

And they are fighting it within a 21st-century political infrastructure that impedes compromise.

Those government initiatives include Social Security from F.D.R.’s New Deal, Medicare and Medicaid from L.B.J.’s Great Society, and the 2010 national health care law. President Obama wants to keep them in roughly their current forms — even as the wave of baby boom retirements makes them costlier than ever.

His Republican opponents are the philosophic heirs of conservatives who opposed their creation in the first place. Beginning in 2009, they gained fresh momentum in the quest to roll them back.

While the Great Recession depressed tax revenues, the Wall Street bailout and stimulus bill gave Americans sticker shock; deficits topped $1 trillion annually. So in 2011, the newly elected Republican House began pushing President Obama backward in budget fights that forced significant slowing of federal spending and some significant spending cuts.

Their climactic showdown over the debt limit in 2011 damaged the nation’s credit rating. With both sides battered and exhausted, Republicans joined Democrats in seizing the so-called sequester as the means to end the impasse.

Then Mr. Obama stopped backing up — and moved to generate momentum of his own.

The right’s soft spot, as Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich learned amid the conservative ascendancy of the 1980s and early ’90s, is the popularity of expensive “entitlements” serving the elderly.

“Cut spending,” as a general invocation, is popular. “Cut spending for your mother’s Medicare” is not.

Mr. Obama used his re-election campaign to isolate and attack that vulnerability. Acknowledging the need for some entitlement cuts, he offered voters this budgetary choice: his smaller cuts combined with tax increases on affluent Americans, or the Republicans’ bigger ones without tax increases.

More Americans, as polls have repeatedly shown, prefer Mr. Obama’s approach. He won the election.

Now the president is trying to wield his public opinion advantage as a club to back Republicans down.

The budget cuts of 2011, like sequestration now, targeted smaller “discretionary” programs that don’t command the support Medicare and Social Security do. Mr. Obama argues, and some Republicans agree, that Washington has cut most of what it can from those.

He continues to advocate comparatively modest Medicare cuts focused on reimbursements to doctors and hospitals — more near-term cuts, in fact, than Republicans have been willing to specify. But at one high-profile event after another, in Washington and across the country, he accuses Republicans of preferring reduced benefits for old and vulnerable Americans over higher taxes on the affluent.

Opponents blast him for “campaigning” instead of governing. Yet those events have become his method of seeking outcomes that negotiations with Republican leaders haven’t produced.

It worked soon after the election when he forced Republicans to accept some tax increases in the “fiscal cliff” deal. It worked again when Republicans declined to fight anew over the debt limit until May, at the earliest.

That doesn’t mean it will work again by making Republicans accept a second tax increase.

Over the last generation, polarization has melted away the alloy that once narrowed differences between Republicans and Democrats, leaving both as masses of near-pure ideological ore.

The Republican rank-and-file is purer — more conservative than the Democratic rank-and-file is liberal.

Resisting tax increases is a matter of such deep conviction that some senior Republicans believe House colleagues would fire John A. Boehner as House speaker for conceding to Mr. Obama again. For less ideological Republicans, the partisan composition of their districts and states can make following national opinion riskier (against a more conservative primary challenger) than defying it (against a Democratic general-election foe).

The difficulty of winning a second tax increase may ultimately make the president regret the fiscal-cliff deal, which brought only half the new revenue he considers necessary.

For now, he seeks to grind down his opposition as the impact of sequestration mounts for air travelers, education programs and the Pentagon. Against Republicans’ solid edge on the issue of spending restraint (in this week’s NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll), he wields wide Democratic advantages on helping the middle class and protecting Medicare, and a narrow one on handling taxes.

The survey showed 50 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Obama’s job performance. Only 29 percent expressed a positive view of the Republican Party.

Among demographic groups, the only one viewing Mr. Boehner’s party more positively than negatively was white Southerners (by just 39 percent to 35 percent at that). More than twice as many Americans credited Mr. Obama, as compared with Republicans, with emphasizing themes of bipartisan unity.

Even if numbers like those don’t threaten the House Republican majority in 2014, they alarm party strategists who’ve watched their nominees lose the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. Mr. Obama’s hope: the fact that Congressional Republicans are insulated from national opinion doesn’t make them impervious to it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/us/politics/a-peek-under-the-hood-of-sequestration-politics.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130302&_r=0

Politicians Massively Overestimate Conservatism Of Constituents: Study


By Luke Johnson, The Huffington Post   03/04/2013

Politicians, especially conservative ones, massively overestimate the conservatism of their constituents on the issues of gay marriage and universal health care, an academic paper published Sunday has found.

David E. Broockman of the University of California at Berkeley and Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan surveyed nearly 2,000 state legislative candidates in the 2012 election and asked them what percentage of their constituents they thought supported same-sex marriage, a universal health care system and abolishing all welfare programs.

The result was a vast conservative misperception. Constituents, on average, supported gay marriage and universal health care by 10 percentage points more than their politicians had estimated. For conservative politicians, the spread was around 20 percentage points, meaning that conservative legislators tend to greatly overestimate how conservative their constituents actually are.

“For perspective, 20 percentage points is roughly the difference in partisanship between California and Alabama,” the authors write. “Most politicians appear to believe they are representing constituents who are considerably different than their actual constituents.”

The authors note that the conservative imbalance is particularly severe. “This difference is so large that nearly half of conservative politicians appear to believe that they represent a district that is more conservative on these issues than is the most conservative district in the entire country,” they write.

The authors note that their findings rebuke Nixonian notions of a “silent majority,” or more recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s contention that “real America” supported her and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz) 2008 ticket.

Moreover, the findings seem to have different implications for conservative and liberal politicians. Many conservative legislators, fearing primary challengers more than a general election against a Democrat, are perhaps more responsive to pressure to move further right, even while their constituents hold a different view.

For liberal politicians, they appear to have more freedom than they may have initially perceived to act on issues such as gay marriage and health care. But the perception that constituents’ wishes are more limited means that a politician may think that 60 percent of constituents need to agree before moving forward with a policy, hence, the idea of a universal health care system is often seen as out-of-reach, though it may not be.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/politicians-conservatism_n_2806684.html

The Ignorance Caucus

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, February 10, 2013

Excerpt

[The Republican] party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions…while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs…

Full text

Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)

But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.

What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?

Still, the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.

And there are many other examples, like the way House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Do actions like this have important effects? Well, consider the agonized discussions of gun policy that followed the Newtown massacre. It would be helpful to these discussions if we had a good grasp of the facts about firearms and violence. But we don’t, because back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue. Willful ignorance matters.

O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/opinion/krugman-the-ignorance-caucus.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130211&_r=0

Mocking the Right’s ‘Free Market’ Agenda Is Almost Too Easy — A Real Problem Is That the Dems Don’t Challenge It By Elizabeth DiNovella and Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank inter­viewed about his new book — Pity the Bil­lion­aire: The Hard-Times Swin­dle and the Unlikely Come­back of the Right - inter­viewed by Eliz­a­beth DiNovella The Pro­gres­sive, posted on Alternet.org, July 20, 2012

Excerpt

Frank looks at the con­ser­v­a­tive argu­ments for aus­ter­ity in an eco­nomic down­turn. In the after­math of the col­lapse of Wall Street, the Repub­li­can Party mor­phed anger at big busi­ness into anger at big gov­ern­ment…
Even though dereg­u­la­tion played a major role in cre­at­ing our eco­nomic woes, con­ser­v­a­tives have been call­ing for more deregulation—and win­ning office on this plat­form. “The reborn Right has suc­ceeded because of its ide­al­ism, not in spite of it,” Frank says. “This idea that we can achieve a laissez-faire utopia, where every­thing will work per­fectly, is very attrac­tive to peo­ple.”…
…That’s how con­ser­v­a­tives actu­ally run the gov­ern­ment here in Wash­ing­ton: They run it by run­ning it into the ground. They sab­o­tage it. Sab­o­tage is the word for their gov­ern­men­tal phi­los­o­phy.…
The idea of my book is that this should not be attrac­tive to peo­ple in the mid­dle of a reces­sion that just won’t go away because this is the very phi­los­o­phy that got us into trou­ble in the first place. But in some ways, this is exactly what peo­ple reach for in hard times: A phi­los­o­phy that removes doubt and that offers you some reas­sur­ance in what is frankly a very fright­en­ing time.…
…but one of the only rea­sons that it works is that the Democ­rats let it hap­pen. They never seem to be able to fight back, never seem to be able to fig­ure it out. They really can­not talk about the phi­los­o­phy that moti­vates their actions and their leg­isla­tive deeds…. the Democ­rats, from Pres­i­dent Obama on down, have been almost com­pletely unable to tell us why it is that gov­ern­ment needs to get involved in these sec­tors of the econ­omy.

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Cultural critic Thomas Frank loves a paradox. Why has the worst economic crisis in generations led to a resurrection of free market orthodoxy? How can Budget chairman Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, rail against “corporate cronyism” and then enjoy $700 worth of wine with hedge fund manager Cliff Asness?

In his provocative new book, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, Frank looks at the conservative arguments for austerity in an economic downturn. In the aftermath of the collapse of Wall Street, the Republican Party morphed anger at big business into anger at big government.

The GOP’s “anti-big-business message catches the bitter national mood,” Frank writes. “What the Right actually does is deliver the same favors to the same people as always.”

Even though deregulation played a major role in creating our economic woes, conservatives have been calling for more deregulation—and winning office on this platform. “The reborn Right has succeeded because of its idealism, not in spite of it,” Frank says. “This idea that we can achieve a laissez-faire utopia, where everything will work perfectly, is very attractive to people.”

And the Democrats? Where are they in this debate over government intervention in the market?

“The liberals could not grab the opportunity that hard times presented to advance their philosophy,” Frank argues, noting their technocratic talk turned people off.

Frank may be best known for his 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. His other books include The Wrecking Crew and One Market Under God. A columnist for Harper’s and a founding editor of The Baffler, he is also a former opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area. I spoke to him by phone.

Q: What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street?

Thomas Frank: I wish them success. They’ve brought a lot of ideas into the national debate that were completely outside the debate before, and that’s so important. Speaking from personal experience, I wrote a book twelve years ago where one of the main points began with the concentrations of wealth in this country. And that was regarded as an unacceptable, stigmatized topic back then. It was outside the consensus. Well, it’s inside the consensus today. The President is talking about it; even the Republican candidates are talking about it. We have Occupy Wall Street to thank for that. That is a great thing.

Q: Do you think that there’s a space for a populist alliance between the tea party and Occupy Wall Street?

Frank: No, I don’t think there is. You’re not going to get the tea party leaders to sign up for something that demands we re-regulate Wall Street. That’s just not going to happen. These guys are laissez-faire ideologues at the end of the day. But you can fight for the support of the voters that were swayed by the movement. You can do that, and you should do that.

Q: You covered many tea party rallies and one of the big mantras you heard early on was, “Let the failures fail.”

Frank: “Let the failures fail.” It’s attractive, isn’t it? It sounded good to me when I heard it at the very first tea party rally in Washington, D.C., in February 2009. A protester had that on a sign he was carrying. At that moment, people were infuriated by the bank bailouts.

The bailouts were just an outrage, straight up. An abomination. “Let the failures fail” was a good slogan for that anger. Let all the losers go down. Why prop them up? At a certain gut level, that sounded exactly right to me.

But if you look into it a little bit deeper, that’s actually the philosophy that the United States did not accept in the Great Depression. That’s the opposite of the road that we actually went. That’s what Hoover’s Treasury secretary wanted to do. Just let the Depression take its course. Let everyone get ruined. And then, people will recover and things will be fine on the other side. Hoover rejected that advice, and, of course, Roosevelt did the very opposite of that. But the leading protest movement was urging us to accept that advice.

Q: You write in Pity the Billionaire that the tea party’s actual function was to ensure the economic collapse caused by Wall Street did not result in any unpleasant consequences for Wall Street. We see that happening now. No one’s gone to jail and there’s little new oversight over Wall Street.

Frank: Look at what Republicans are doing. They’ve all sworn to reverse the Dodd-Frank law that set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If they can’t overturn the law, they say, they won’t fund the office, they won’t appoint anybody to run it. They’ll disable it somehow. They’ve all sworn to do this.

That’s how conservatives actually run the government here in Washington: They run it by running it into the ground. They sabotage it. Sabotage is the word for their governmental philosophy.

Q: In 2008, the American right was supposedly finished, yet by 2010, the right was in ascendancy all over again. What happened?

Frank: That’s the big question of our times. You have this financial catastrophe that was directly a result of ideology as anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the collapse of the Soviet Union. You have this largely deregulated financial sector and these fly-by-night mortgage lenders who are outside anybody’s regulatory purview. You have this shadow banking establishment, and between them, they contrive to completely destroy the global economy.

When that happened, pundits here in Washington assumed this was the end of the road for conservatives, that they’ve had their thirty years and we did what they wanted and it ended in disaster. The pundits said that the Republican Party had to moderate itself or face irrelevance. The Republican Party didn’t do that; they did the opposite. They swung hard to the right, and enjoyed one of the greatest victories of all time in the 2010 elections.

They declared that conservatives had really never gotten a chance. We had never gone all the way with conservative ideology. We’d never completely done away with government, or the liberal state, so conservatism was in no way responsible for what happened, they claimed. Therefore, the only alternative was to double-down on our commitment to the free market ideal. This became a utopian faith on the right. You especially saw this at tea party gatherings.

Q: But the right also depicted itself as an enemy of big business. Can you talk about that?

Frank: This is the secret to conservatism’s success. The right was able to recast itself as a populist movement. Well, they’ve been doing that a lot in the past thirty years, but it was even worse this time around. They became a protest movement for hard times. Sometimes they pretend to be protesting the enemy—big corporations and big banks. If you read their literature, they say things like that all the time.

Congressman Paul Ryan wrote an article in Forbes magazine called “Down with Big Business.” If you read it, it sounds like he’s very critical of capitalism and the big corporations that run this country. But at the end of the day, he thinks the way to bring big business down is by going after big government. Very fascinating, this sort of twist that they always do. You can say all you want about how the banks screwed everybody over, but the culprit is the same as it ever was: government. That’s who you’re supposed to be rising up in anger against.

Q: Meanwhile, Ryan is raking in big money from these big corporations that he’s supposedly denouncing.

Frank: They fund him extravagantly. It’s not really a surprise to find out that these people who are doing all the denouncing are also the favorites of people like the Koch brothers, the oil billionaires in Wichita, Kansas.

One PAC that supported Newt Gingrich made a video attacking Mitt Romney for being a venture capitalist. It really went after him in a very strong, populist way, talking about how many workers’ lives Romney and Bain Capital ruined over the years. It’s very powerful, but what’s funny is that they also claim that this is not real capitalism. What Mitt Romney does is not real capitalism. [Laughing] You know, if we could just get back to real capitalism, the authentic thing, then we wouldn’t have Bain Capital out there buying up steel mills and firing everybody. Which is completely absurd.

Q: Ideology trumps reality.

Frank: That’s right. And all of that stuff is taken from the literature of the 1930s. There are a lot of cultural patterns that are repeating themselves.

One of the stranger ones is this ideological blindness that people would inflict on themselves in the 1930s. I’m specifically talking about the left here, the far left. We’re talking about the Communist Party. Either the Communist Party members or people who sympathized with it would go on trips to the Soviet Union, a famous set-piece of ’30s literature. And they would somehow never manage to notice all the disasters that were going on around them. They were completely conned. They would blow off all the reporting that they had seen when they were back home here in America. They would not believe anything bad about their heroes in the Soviet Union, right up until the day that Stalin went out and signed a treaty with Adolf Hitler. It took them all by surprise.

That ideological blindness is repeating itself. But you see it now on the right, which similarly has a utopian idea, a utopian political solution that we’re supposed to be working toward. Some of these guys deliberately mimic Communist language and Communist strategy from the old days, such as Dick Armey’s group, FreedomWorks, which is funded by the Koch brothers.

Their utopia is a different one. It’s a free market one. If we could just get to that point where government completely drops out of the picture and the business class is completely unshackled from the restraints of the liberal state, then we will finally reach economic utopia.

The idea of my book is that this should not be attractive to people in the middle of a recession that just won’t go away because this is the very philosophy that got us into trouble in the first place. But in some ways, this is exactly what people reach for in hard times: A philosophy that removes doubt and that offers you some reassurance in what is frankly a very frightening time.

Q: So where were the Dems when all of this was happening? The tea party spent the summer of 2009 talking about death panels.

Frank: It’s all well and good to sit around and make fun of the funny things that conservatives say and the hilarious gaffes that they make, but one of the only reasons that it works is that the Democrats let it happen. They never seem to be able to fight back, never seem to be able to figure it out. They really cannot talk about the philosophy that motivates their actions and their legislative deeds.

Look, I’m very liberal. I support a lot of the things that the Democrats have done. I want some kind of national health care. I don’t think they went anywhere close to far enough on that. I liked the stimulus. I’m really glad that the Obama Administration had a big stimulus package.

However, the Democrats, from President Obama on down, have been almost completely unable to tell us why it is that government needs to get involved in these sectors of the economy. They just can’t talk about it. And when they do talk about it, they always defer to the experts. “We need to do this because the economists say we need to do it.” That’s not going to convince anybody.

The politics of it, they think, will take care of themselves. People will naturally want a stimulus package. People will naturally be happy that they bailed out the banks and kept Great Depression II from happening. It never occurs to them that they have to go out there and fight for these things.
Elizabeth DiNovella is culture editor of The Progressive. This interview originally aired on WORT-FM, Madison, Wisconsin’s community radio station.

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