There’s an interesting post at New Deal 2.0 on this topic. Of course, anything that agrees with what UTF and I have been saying aout the rightward shift in US politics is going to catch my eye. This post goes even further back than my example of Richard Nixon’s policies being seen as liberal. They us the current debates on entitlements as an example.
In 1954, President Eisenhower famously dismissed critics of Social Security and unemployment compensation as “stupid.” Now leaders in both parties are talking about all kinds of big budget cuts, even though many Americans have been out of work for long periods and have watched their savings and the values of their homes sink, while they were forced to bail out the financial sector.
But what’s really interesting is the topic of polarisation and how it is fueled by money. Polarization is a sharp intensification of divisions between the major political parties. The split between the two major parties first widened out in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It showed in a sharp increase in the number of votes in Congress along party lines. The budget debate is a manifestation of this trend, as is the Republicans casting aspersions on the patriotism of democrats.
When there is a divided government (a president of one party with the opposition controlling one or both houses of Congress), we see the process of confirming nominations grinds to a halt. WHne there isn’t a divided government, members of Congress spend a great deal of time posturing. More congressional votes happen that are not meant to actually pass anything, but rather to send signals to outside groups and supporters. For example, Republicans may craft a bill on abortion that has no chance of being signed into law. But introducing it forces everyone to take a stand. This projects hot button divisions beyond the Congress itself to energize outside constituencies.
Of course, having the media ready to emphasise discord helps to stir up the pot. Statistical studies of media content suggest that the language newspapers use to describe politics varies systematically. Their news stories tend to employ the favorite buzzwords of one of the political parties rather more than the other. Some papers, for example, may describe inheritance taxes as “death duties” — a term favored by Republicans. Others just talk about inheritance taxes. The media tends to reflect the rhetoric favoured by the political contributors in their districts. Since the people who contribute to political campaigns tend to be affluent, the rhetoric favours the rich.
But what is really running the show is money. The 1994 republican win caused the democrats to pay attention and copy their game plan. The Democrats’ decision to emulate the Republicans and follow the money shifts the system’s center of gravity to the right, as both parties frantically cultivate investor blocs. The result is the weird political world we live in. Behind the scenes, investor blocs and businesses maneuver for advantages in both parties. The system’s center of gravity moves to the right, checked only by the diminishing influence of unions and other mass political groups that retain some resources and influence on the Democrats.
The worst part is that post-Watergate safeguards to campaign finance reforms have been steadly trashed. There were enough ways for corporate money to circumvent the system prior to Citizens United with “527s,” independent expenditures, and other devices for spending without limits. The Citizens United decision frees non-Human “citizens” (e.g. Corporations) to disgorge funds directly from corporate treasuries to campaigns, as long as the money is spent independently of candidates’ own campaigns. Much of this money is likely to be impossible to track in public.