He's at it again with What if All Politics Is National? New York Times 09/29/2015.
Edsall has done some good work reporting on the gutter right. He's no Dave Neiwert, but he's good at that.
Still, the impression left by the position he took back in 1991 in his book Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (1991) and in articles in the years immediately afterward stuck with me.
That book basically argued that the party that most successfully defined itself as the anti-black party would be permanently dominant. And he was going out of his way, using some shaky arguments and dubious reading of statistics to make that point. Despite his reputation as a liberal, he certainly seemed to think that outcome was more-or-less desirable. I haven't parsed all the numbers he uses in this piece, but this is a red flag: "From 1960 to 1980, Republican House candidates won just under 60 percent of the districts where Republican presidential nominees performed well."
Well, yes, that is back when the phrase "liberal Republican" hadn't yet started sounding like something out of an over-imaginative alternative-reality novel. I'm guessing that in the former Confederate states, the percentage of Democratic House candidates winning in states that Republicans Presidential candidates carried would be high during that period, as well. Meaning that they would heavily skew his figures. Edsall is just too loosey-goosey with his stats for my taste.
Part of Edsall's thing here is nostalgia for the mythical good ole days of Bipartisanship, Tip 'n Ronnie having a beer together, etc.
My mini-meta view of Edsall's problem is that he's basically lazy in his assumptions. In 1991, he was looking at three successive Republican Presidential victories and assumed that because of the charms of white racism that the pattern would continue as long as the grass will grow and the rivers will run. Then in 1992, California flipped to the Democratic column and has stayed there, which blew Edsall's 1991 assumptions out of the water.
In this article, he's trying to make a permanent trend out of the shift of previously Southern Democratic districts to Republican. But the Republicans milked that particular cow dry long ago. A big part of the Reps' advantages in the states right now has to do with their aggressive redistricting practices and Democratic fecklessness in the "red" states.
In other words, we need that 50 State Strategy back! Edsall makes it sound like some immutable sociological law.
Also, he misses a basic aspect of the political effects of inequality. As Jamie Galbraith explained in his book Inequality and Instability (2012), the most dramatic increases in inequality are actually fairly isolated geographically in a few zip codes around places like Boston, Silicon Valley, New York and Los Angeles. But if the growth in inequality is geographically restricted, Edsall's analysis of the national effects of growing inequality producing increased support for Republicans is based on a false assumption.
Paul Krugman and Robin Wells wrote about another of Edsall's books, The Age of Austerity, that deals with equality and political polarizatio in Getting Away with It Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, Getting Away with It New York Review of Books 07/12/2012. They argued that Edsall was wrong to argue that a struggle over resources resulting from increasing inequality is driving the polarization of politics. They also find a different explanation in what academics call an imminent critique of Edsall's own book:
So where does the embittered politics come from? Edsall himself supplies much of the answer. Namely, what he portrays is a Republican Party that has been radicalized not by a struggle over resources — tax rates on the wealthy are lower than they have been in generations — but by fear of losing its political grip as the nation changes. The most striking part of The Age of Austerity, at least as we read it, was the chapter misleadingly titled “The Economics of Immigration.” The chapter doesn’t actually say much about the economics of immigration; what it does, instead, is document the extent to which immigrants and their children are, literally, changing the face of the American electorate.I haven't read The Age of Austerity. So I don't know if his NYT article from the past week reflects an argument he made there.
As Edsall concedes, this changing face of the electorate has had the effect of radicalizing the GOP. “For whites with a conservative bent,” he writes — and isn’t that the very definition of the Republican base?—
the shift to a majority-minority nation [i.e., a nation in which minorities will make up the majority] will strengthen the already widely held view that programs benefiting the poor are transferring their taxpayer dollars to minority recipients, from first whites to blacks and now to “browns.”[my emphasis in bold]
But it sure seems to me that in 1991, he took the race-driven electoral success of Republicans in the Presidential race and treated it as effectively permanent. Now that the Democrats appear to have a long-term lock on the Presidency, especially in the kind of lazy analysis our Pod Pundits and star reporters apply, Edsall is looking at the race-driven electoral success of Republicans in Congress and state legislatures and treats it as effectively permanent.