A holiday week, thin for new economic reports, markets quiet. One subject rises in importance above all: politics!
We are in a political transition unprecedented in our national history. From the Civil War until recently our two political parties were ideologically mixed.
Republicans were the “Party of Lincoln,” electing African-American nominees and economic progressives side by side with the conservative and propertied WASP elite.
Democrats were ethnic and religious immigrants, blue-collar pro-union, welded to Dixiecrats by their hatred of Lincoln and the “Radical Republicans,” liberals side by side with Bible Belt conservatives.
Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the 1960s began to change the mix, but it took a long time. When completed only a dozen years ago, the lines were drawn: Democrats Left, Republicans Right.
As a nation, we are not at all accustomed to the change. The first peculiar result: the rise and fizzle of the “religious right,” and then the Tea Party — extremisms threatening to drag the Republicans to permanent minority.
The center has been the decider in U.S. politics. Our most successful presidents represented their parties’ interests, but governed from the center: FDR, Truman, Ike, Reagan and Clinton. In the last dozen years the second peculiar result of purity: two presidents who campaigned to the center but tried to govern from a wing.
Mainstreamish Republicans in the last two years have tried to squelch the Tea Pots. Extremists of all bents share one wacky notion: Blind to evidence and election result, they are certain that someday the other 80 percent will agree with them. Or be forced to.
At this moment it looks as though the nutty right is fading again, but while we’ve been amused at its shenanigans the same forces have been working on Democrats. A big chunk of that party in self-admiration has moved several notches to the left — and the contest between these pure parties is more and more economic.
The Democrats will be lucky to hold the Senate this fall. Their best angle is social policy, as the Republican social platform annoys so many women that a national majority is impossible. However, the left-heavy push is now “inequality.”
A founding principle of this nation: equality of opportunity, but not guaranteed result. But we have limits, and Democrats are gunning for the filthy-rich. The real agenda, of course, is tax revenue: Since we have borrowed ourselves senseless, the only way to preserve the left agenda is to find a new tax base.
Excessive inequality is a bad thing. Even worse is economic immobility and exclusion, advancement determined by class, or limited by other oligarchy. However, the inequality cry today is immediately suspect. It does not distinguish between income and wealth, the former highly variable year to year, and the second not directly measured in any U.S. database. The wealthy today, as likely as not, are kids at Facebook, Apple or Twitter — hardly robber barons like Rockefeller, Gould and Carnegie.
On the coffee table of every out-there Democrat: Thomas Piketty’s new “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” A comic book rendition of French free-lunch socialism, the platform of Francois Hollande, he of 18 percent approval rating but still certain that it is possible simultaneously to extract the earnings of capitalism and to preserve its effort.
Hand the Republicans an advantage like that and they’ll fumble off into gold standards, government and regulation are Bad, close the Federal Reserve, and play their big trump card: “We’ve got ours and you’re on your own.”
The Senate matters this fall, although this administration isn’t going to do anything anyway.
The big stakes: Next year, will somebody run for president who understands and can appeal to the center? The Democrats expect to coronate Hillary. Hard worker, fine mind, lousy politician (How could Barry steal eight years from you?), and forced into nonstop Clinton-explaining.
Republicans … sheesh. Jeb? Explain, explain: I’m not my dad and I’m not my brother?
We are coming to the end of two failed presidencies, and have a greater need to find the way back to economic progress than any time in our history. Be engaged.
Lou Barnes is a mortgage broker based in Boulder, Colo. He can be reached at email@example.com.