Paul Krugman on the New
Class War in America
In case you haven't noticed, modern American
politics is marked by vicious partisanship, with the great bulk
of the viciousness coming from the right. It's clear that the
Republican plan for the 2006 election is, once again, to
question Democrats' patriotism. Continued
Democracy Now! Runtime 15 Minutes
Class War Politics
By PAUL KRUGMAN
York Times' -- -- In case you haven't noticed,
modern American politics is marked by vicious partisanship,
with the great bulk of the viciousness coming from the
right. It's clear that the Republican plan for the 2006
election is, once again, to question Democrats' patriotism.
But do Republican leaders truly believe that they are
serious about fighting terrorism, while Democrats aren't?
When the speaker of the House declares that "we in this
Congress must show the same steely resolve as those men and
women on United Flight 93," is that really the way he sees
himself? (Dennis Hastert, Man of Steel!) Of course not.
So what's our bitter partisan divide really about? In two
words: class warfare. That's the lesson of an important new
America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches ," by
Nolan McCarty of Princeton University, Keith Poole of the
University of California, San Diego, and Howard Rosenthal of
New York University.
"Polarized America" is a technical book written for
political scientists. But it's essential reading for anyone
who wants to understand what's happening to America.
What the book shows, using a sophisticated analysis of
Congressional votes and other data, is that for the past
century, political polarization and economic inequality have
moved hand in hand. Politics during the Gilded Age, an era
of huge income gaps, was a nasty business - as nasty as it
is today. The era of bipartisanship, which lasted for
roughly a generation after World War II, corresponded to the
high tide of America's middle class. That high tide began
receding in the late 1970's, as middle-class incomes grew
slowly at best while incomes at the top soared; and as
income gaps widened, a deep partisan divide re-emerged.
Both the decline of partisanship after World War II and its
return in recent decades mainly reflected the changing
position of the Republican Party on economic issues.
Before the 1940's, the Republican Party relied financially
on the support of a wealthy elite, and most Republican
politicians firmly defended that elite's privileges. But the
rich became a lot poorer during and after World War II,
while the middle class prospered. And many Republicans
accommodated themselves to the new situation, accepting the
legitimacy and desirability of institutions that helped
limit economic inequality, such as a strongly progressive
tax system. (The top rate during the Eisenhower years was 91
When the elite once again pulled away from the middle class,
however, Republicans turned their back on the legacy of
Dwight Eisenhower and returned to a focus on the interests
of the wealthy. Tax cuts at the top - including repeal of
the estate tax - became the party's highest priority.
But if the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a
Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have
the last three elections been dominated by talk of
terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a
party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to
focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no
better way to do that than accusing the other party of being
unpatriotic and godless.
Thus in 2004, President Bush basically ran as America's
defender against gay married terrorists. He waited until
after the election to reveal that what he really wanted to
do was privatize Social Security.
Pre-New Deal G.O.P. operatives followed the same strategy.
Republican politicians won elections by "waving the bloody
shirt" - invoking the memory of the Civil War - long after
the G.O.P. had ceased to be the party of Lincoln and become
the party of robber barons instead. Al Smith, the 1928
Democratic presidential candidate, was defeated in part by a
smear campaign - burning crosses and all - that exploited
the heartland's prejudice against Catholics.
So what should we do about all this? I won't offer the
Democrats advice right now, except to say that tough talk on
national security and affirmations of personal faith won't
help: the other side will smear you anyway.
But I would like to offer some advice to my fellow pundits:
face reality. There are some commentators who long for the
bipartisan days of yore, and flock eagerly to any politician
who looks "centrist." But there isn't any center in modern
American politics. And the center won't return until we have
a new New Deal, and rebuild our middle class.
Award-winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman spoke last
week at an event here in New York entitled "The New Class War in
America." In addition to his work as a New York Times columnist,
Krugman is also a professor of Economics and International
Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of several
books, including "The
Great Unraveling : Losing Our Way In The New Century."
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