Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Republicans, Then and Now

Do you ever wonder why the Republicans of today are so different from the Republicans of the 1950s? Where did all the Eisenhower Republicans go? What happened to the Republican Party which was truly a conservative party, respecting the results of history (the New Deal and the Post World War II consensus of shared prosperity) and concentrating on preserving those results? Paul Krugman, while referring to a new book by three political scientists called "Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches", thinks he has found part of the answer.
What the book shows, using a sophisticated analysis of Congressional votes and other data, is that for the past century, political polarization and economic inequality have moved hand in hand. . . . The era of bipartisanship, which lasted for roughly a generation after World War II, corresponded to the high tide of America's middle class. That high tide began receding in the late 1970's, as middle-class incomes grew slowly at best while incomes at the top soared; and as income gaps widened, a deep partisan divide re-emerged. . . .
Before the 1940's, the Republican Party relied financially on the support of a wealthy elite, and most Republican politicians firmly defended that elite's privileges. But the rich became a lot poorer during and after World War II, while the middle class prospered. And many Republicans accommodated themselves to the new situation, accepting the legitimacy and desirability of institutions that helped limit economic inequality, such as a strongly progressive tax system. (The top rate during the Eisenhower years was 91 percent.)
When the elite once again pulled away from the middle class, however, Republicans turned their back on the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower and returned to a focus on the interests of the wealthy. Tax cuts at the top — including repeal of the estate tax — became the party's highest priority.
I don’t think we can count on another Eisenhower to arise in the Republican Party. So it is up to the Democrats to make the case for shared prosperity and the common good. The Democrats have to change the terms of the political debate from the Republican "you're on your own" to the Democratic "we are all in this together."