The Perils of Moderation
In the past Europeans have often been critical of American political parties for being non-ideological coalitions dedicated to election-winning and deal- making. Now these distant days seem like a golden age of common sense and pragmatism!
We hear a lot over here about Republican ideological commitment, currently manifested in intransigence over raising the debt limit. But we're not sure what to make of the Democrats. If American politics is polarized, it's difficult to make out where President Obama's party is situated. They are certainly nowhere near as liberal as the Republicans are conservative - in fact, the partisan battle seems to be right v center-right rather than right v left. Paul Krugman's commentary "The Centrist Cop-Out" in yesterday's New York Times has certainly resonated over here.
President Obama has made so many concessions to the Republican preferences on taxation and spending that it is difficult for us outsiders to make out what the fight is all about. The agenda seems dominated by the party that controls just one chamber of Congress, while the party that controls the other chamber and the White House appears in retreat from power. This was not how it was when the balance was reversed during the first six years of the Reagan presidency.
Whatever happens in 2012, the political prospects seem very bleak for any renewal of progressive politics. As Larry Elliott points out in today's Guardian, a short-term fix over the debt limit and the budget might help Obama get reelected but whoever is in the White House in 2013 looks likely to be faced with having to make massive spending cuts and preserve the Bush tax cuts.
The Age of Reagan pronounced dead by many in 2008 seems very much alive - only more so than when the Gipper was president.
The US needs to put its fiscal house in order, but in a way that spreads the burden to ensure that the well off make a reasonable contribution in the national interest. If the Democrats want to find out what happens when a conservative fiscal retrenchment program is implemented, they can check out the UK; slow to zero economic growth, serious youth unemployment; fundamental weakening of the public services, and the worst hits falling on everybody but the rich!
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