Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Summit as Setup: If its Sunday it’s party polarization

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2010 at 9:48 am

I’ll just share a few really brief thoughts this morning about progress in Washington. I am working on a few books about American political discourse and my data source of choice these days is the history of the television show Meet the Press. Watching the shows from the series is a fantastic way to learn about the history of political debate in the country. Over time, I have become adept at picking up on choice lines. A few weeks ago when Alan Greenspan came on to speak about the economy, there was a jaw dropper in which he admitted that he was now convinced that because Americans would not allow for cuts in Social Security we would have to raise taxes. To see why this was such a big deal, read Paul Krugman’s column today. I can find no way to overestimate the importance of this Greenspan conversion (which is precisely what I think it is), but that is story for another time.

Well, this Sunday, the best line came from Congressman Mike Pence, who claimed that the upcoming Obama summit would amount to nothing because the Democrats spell summit S-E-T-U-P.  This is against a backdrop of truly stunning social science findings, in which students of polarization have found that government leaders have become extremely polarized over time, while the people have only slightly moved toward their partisan and ideological camps on the basis on specific issue positions (for an interesting if complicated study see Baldassarri and Gelman). Mike Pence is a great model for the upcoming Republican leadership, silver coiffed, staunchly conservative, and no nonsense in his approach, Pence is the quintessential Hoosier politician. Being a Hoosier myself, I know them when I see them. This extreme cross party distrust is really fascinating and troubling in some ways, but it surely will finally break some of those old rules of comity in the Senate, even if it takes a Republican Senate to do the dirty work.

If you somehow hope that the center will hold, just look at the Mccarty, Poole and Rosenthal data on polarization. The story is that polarization tracks economic inequality. You can bet that after the great recession that the Gini coefficient is on the rise. Why would this be? There is more to fight over in federal politics. The money is big now and the stakes are high. This helps us to understand what the recent supreme court decision on corporate and union soft money spending will do. No, comity is on the way out. I am just waiting for John Kasich to come back and bring that old time 1990s politics back. We have already seen what Dick Armey could do for the town hall meetings and the Tea Party rebellion.


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