David Broder's Rotting Corpse Found Under Pile of Data

In the article in the NYT, How Fragile Is The Democratic Coalition? , Thomas Edsall brings the big data to bear on the question of Red America versus Blue America. But, in the end, it is like most of his pieces--a fascinating survey of analysis from many sources that leads to striking, incorrect, conclusions. In this case, Edsall has penned a very sophisticated version of High Broderism.

Click the link and check out all the wonderful information, but be careful what you take away. The assertion that compromise in Congress is difficult because of the "trends [among Democratic voters] toward 'secularization and the subsequent accentuation of individualistic expressive values,' as well as from the backlash against such trends" is simply false.

Like most pieces in the mainstream press, Edsall's analysis assumes that while the two political parties disagree about policy goals, they function in the same basic fashion as vehicles for voter preferences. But they don't. To be an elected official in the Democratic Party you have to appeal broadly to the reality-based community. Not surprisingly, these voters are located in the parts of the country that drive our economy (most of our GDP is utterly dependent on reality). They are not moving "their representatives away from the center." They are the center!

Democratic voters and elected officials support (off the top of my head) the following non-leftist positions:

  1. Milton Friedman's monetary policy (Rand Paul Loves Milton Friedman, but Milton Friedman Would Have Hated Rand Paul), 
  2. The Heritage Institute's health care reform (Heritage Touted RomneyCare, Key Elements Of Health Reform Heritage Now Opposes), 
  3. John McCain's immigration plan (McCain Pushes Immigration Reform Bill[1]), 
  4. John McCain's carbon proposal (In Oregon, McCain touts his cap-and-trade system to fight global warming)
  5. Richard Nixon's Earned Income Tax Credit (The Earned Income Tax Credit Raises Employment),
  6. Reagan-era tax rates (Factcheck: Taxes Lower Under Obama),
  7. Republican controlled Oklahoma's pre-k education plan (Oklahoma's Pre-Kindergarten program now a model for nation), and
  8. The Pentagon's analysis of climate change (Climate Change Causing Pentagon Planning Shift). 

Obama is not FDR, he's GHWB!

Meanwhile, the GOP is not within miles of the center. This is because of how Republican officials are selected. Broad appeal gets you nowhere in the GOP. Instead, candidates seek the approval of the Big Money/Tea Party Coalition, a tiny minority of actual Republican Voters.  The Big Money half of the selection committee is a handful of individuals: the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, The Club for Growth clan, etc. These folks finance the campaigns that bring the other half of the coalition out to vote in Republican primaries: folks who disproportionally come from the Tea Party extreme. Moreover, those voters, when not watching campaign ads, get their news and information from sources like Fox and Limbaugh whose profits are increased by extremism and conflict.

The trends Edsall identifies are both real and important for the future of American public policy, but John Boehner is holding a gun to the head of the American Economy because his job depends on a small cabal of extremists who want low taxes and tiny (pre-Industrial Revolution sized) government, no matter the price. Suburbanites increasing indifference to church is not part of the causal chain.

I'll dig deeper into what Edsall's trends really mean in Part 2. 

Notes: 

1.  "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today offered a robust argument for the immigration reform legislation pending in Congress while directing scorn at his rivals, especially former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for what he said was pandering to Republican Party conservatives who oppose the measure without offering alternatives."