The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Great Divide

The Great Divide

Yesterday The Times
published a highly informative chart laying out the positions of the
presidential candidates on major issues. It was, I’d argue, a useful
reality check for those who believe that the next president can somehow
usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

For what the chart made clear was the extent to which Democrats and
Republicans live in separate moral and intellectual universes.

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

To see the extent to which Republican politicians still cower before
the power of movement conservatism, consider the sad case of John

Mr. McCain’s lingering reputation as a maverick straight talker
comes largely from his opposition to the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and
2003, which he said at the time were too big and too skewed to the
rich. Those objections would seem to have even more force now, with
America facing the costs of an expensive war — which Mr. McCain
fervently supports — and with income inequality reaching new heights.

But Mr. McCain now says that he supports making the Bush tax cuts
permanent. Not only that: he’s become a convert to crude supply-side
economics, claiming that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.
That’s an assertion even Bush administration officials concede is false.

Oh, and what about his earlier opposition to tax cuts? Mr. McCain
now says he opposed the Bush tax cuts only because they weren’t offset
by spending cuts.

Aside from the logical problem here — if tax cuts increase revenue,
why do they need to be offset? — even a cursory look at what Mr. McCain
said at the time shows that he’s trying to rewrite history: he actually
attacked the Bush tax cuts from the left, not the right. But he has
clearly decided that it’s better to fib about his record than admit
that he wasn’t always a rock-solid economic conservative.

So what does the conversion of Mr. McCain into an avowed believer in
voodoo economics — and the comparable conversions of Mitt Romney and
Rudy Giuliani — tell us? That bitter partisanship and political
polarization aren’t going away anytime soon.

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.

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