Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Left Battles Right, And Center Wins

"Everything comes down to left vs. right," President Nixon told me one morning in the late 1980s. "Everything." I don't remember the subject, just the way he clinched his fist and set his jaw as he spoke. I'd wondered lately if he was wrong. If the political culture wars as decried by Rick Perlstein and Andrew Sullivan were finally over. If we'd entered a new, post-partisan era. Evidently not, as the New York Times reports:

In cobbling together a plan that could get through both the House and the Senate, Mr. Obama prevailed, but not in the way he had hoped. His inability to win over more than a handful of Republicans amounted to a loss of innocence, a reminder that his high-minded calls for change in the practice of governance had been ground up in a matter of weeks by entrenched forces of partisanship and deep, principled differences between left and right.

While the media theme of the week has been party-line Republican opposition to the bill, I've been more struck by the intensity of the ideological pressure from the left. Many obviously hope the economic crisis will form the pretext for a permanent 20-25% increase in the size and scope of the federal government. For promoting tax cuts instead of social and infrastructure spending, Republicans were accused of defying the will of voters as expressed at the polls in November, opposing the creation of 600,000 (Paul Krugman) or even 4 million jobs, and refusing to work with the dashing young President. Besides, argues Will Bunch, the Reagan tax cuts didn't even work:
In the case of Reagan's massive 1981 tax cut, it did start the great divergence of wealth between the very affluent and the middle class in this country, but it didn't save the American economy, which actually slid into a deep recession the next 15 months.
The success of the 1981 tax cuts by themselves appears to be an article of faith. Others argue that the cruel 1982 recession ended thanks to low interest rates and massive deficit spending (which, after all, is the flip side of tax cuts not accompanied by spending cuts). Those factors, low interest and high deficits, we've definitely got again -- along with both massive Keynesian spending and tax cuts designed to spur consumer spending and business investment. I'm as happy with the bill as it's possible to be about spending nearly $800 billion of taxpayers' money. Better a hodgepodge reflecting a broad range of ideas than a package dominated by left or right.

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