Monday, October 07, 2013

A new political alignment coming?

The current reckless turn of the Tea Party-ized Republican Party has got me thinking about possible changes in the left-right lineup going forward.

It's hard to go wrong figuring on the subservience of Congress to business lobbies.

But exactly how that plays out matters. At a high level, it's the difference between Republican-friendly cynicism ("The lobbyists control everything so why worry about changing anything, you're just wasting your time") and a reasonable understanding of the complex paths by which business lobbyists attempt to work their will in Congress.

Lydia DePillis writes about business lobbies and the Republican Party in Why big business failed to stop its worst nightmare in D.C. Washington Post 10/02/2013:

Congress has been changing in ways that would make it harder for business to push collectively for large, ambitious reforms. Committees were weakened, meaning more big-ticket items are routed through party leadership and become subject to the whims of the election cycle. And earmarks were eliminated, making it more difficult to win votes by offering favors to recalcitrant legislators.

"You can't sit down with members and say, 'We need your vote, tell me what I can do to make this an easier vote for you, are there things that are unrelated to this that are helpful in your district?' " says one business trade group lobbyist who asked to remain anonymous. "That's a killer, in my opinion. All the criticisms of Tom Delay and the old style, that worked."

The next fundamental shift came with the rise of the Tea Party, which abhorred the bailouts of the auto industry and big banks. Their emissaries in Congress bear no affection for corporations that depend on public investments in things like education, research and infrastructure, talking instead about small-business owners. The antipathy is mutual.

"The Tea Party comes in and it isn't a case of being responsible," says Greater Washington Board of Trade Director Jim Dinegar. "They don't want to spend a dime, they want to reduce, reduce, reduce. It's a very effective and destructive third party that doesn't play well with others."

At the same time, big business torpedoed moderates that had backed Obamacare and financial regulatory reforms, helping a band of hard-core free-market conservatives take back the House in 2010.
It's hard to get it right figuring on the a strong third party establishing itself.

But we may be looking at a fundamental new alignment. Because the Republican Party seems to be effectively giving up on being a Presidential party for the foreseeable future. And the Repblicans have carved out their present-day version of a Solid South with heavily gerrymandered districts heavy on older white voters. Many of those districts actually are in the South.

But it's also hard to imagine the Republican Party evolving into a current version of the Democratic Party that once existed with the segregated South as a reliable member of the coalition, cooperating broadly in the same party with a more-or-less liberal Northern wing. The media's effort to find even the "moderate" wing they assume must be hiding in the Republican Party somehow is becoming increasingly comical.

Krugman is brave enough to suggest that this could well be a turning point in the standard media attitude toward the Republican Party (Shorting Out The Wiring 10/05/2013):

... there’s a ... possibly profound form of damage the GOP is doing to itself, one that will cast its shadow for a long time.

It goes back to something Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo used to say — that Washington is, in effect, wired for Republicans. Ever since Reagan, the Beltway has treated Republicans as the natural party of government. Sunday talk shows would feature a preponderance of Republicans even if Democrats held the White House and one or both houses of Congress. John McCain was featured on those shows so often you would think he won in 2008.

And there was a general presumption of Republican competence. It's hard to believe now, but Bush was treated as a highly effective leader who knew what he was doing right up to Katrina, while Clinton — now viewed with such respect — was treated as a bungling interloper for much of his presidency. Even in the last few years there was a rush to canonize Paul Ryan as a superwonk, when it was quite obvious if you looked that politics aside, he was just incompetent at number-crunching.

But I think the last two years have finally killed that presumption. It wasn't just that Romney lost — his shock, the obvious degree to which his campaign was deluded, was an eye-opener. And now the antics of the Boehner bumblers. [my emphasis]
But if the Republican Party is no longer a Presidential party, big business will inevitably find it important to bolster the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, which is depressingly strong already.

For the last few decades, the left-right splits on major issues in Congress have broadly pitted the Democratic Party against the Republicans, with a small group of Blue Dog Democrats allying with the Republicans on the right. With the Republicans still competitive as a Presidential party, the insurgent tactics of the Congressional Republicans during the Clinton years could be seen by business sponsors as a messy, unsavory but entertaining necessity to capture the Presidency.

But without the reasonable possibility of gaining the Presidency, the Republicans will have to rely on the Democrats to a greater extent. Yet one of the effects of the Republican gerrymandering and aggressive partisan polarization has been to knock Blue Dog Democrats out of Congress, so that they are a rump caucus.

I don't want to speculate more at this point. But one effect of the Republican Party converting itself into Southern Massive Resistance reincarnated, we can expect a strong push to make the Democrats an even more reliable party of business than it already is.

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