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November 09, 2005

Republican Radicalism

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber writes about Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Off Center:

Review of Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Yale University Press 2005: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written a distinctly unusual book. Political scientists don't often write books that take sides in political arguments, and when they do, they usually don't do any better at it than common or garden pundits.... Off Center... is very clearly the work of people who have thought carefully and hard about how politics works.... They start by examining the conventional wisdom that American politics has strong centripetal forces, so that political parties have strong incentives towards moderation.... This political commonplace doesn't appear to be true any more, to the extent that it ever was. The Republicans have been transformed over the last twenty years from a loosely organized coalition in which moderates appeared to have the upper hand, to a party that is astonishingly well disciplined (by the standards of American political history) and dominated by right-wing radicals....

[W]hy hasn't the Republican party been punished by voters for its radicalism?... Hacker and Pierson's explanation has three main components. First, information: Voters are... vulnerable to "tailored disinformation."... Second, institutions: The Republican Party has been able to use its dominance of Senate, House and Presidency to set the agenda and to sideline opposition. Finally, networks: "New Power Brokers" like Tom DeLay have been able to assemble networks... rewarding and protecting loyalists while brutally punishing those who go off-message....

Hacker and Pierson can explain how the Republican party has succeeded in bringing through radical policy shifts that go against public preferences. Their analysis of the 2001 tax cuts, the Bush energy plan, and the Medicare drugs bill shows how highly objectionable policies can be crafted to fleece the public without raising much in the way of public opposition.... [A]ssiduous propaganda disguised the fiscal impact of the [tax] cuts.... Republican leaders made sure that they were sent to the floor for voting without opportunity for proper debate or for consideration of alternatives. "Sunsets," "phase-ins" and "time-bombs" were deployed to make the measures temporarily more palatable and to disguise their true costs and long term consequences. "Backlash insurance" provided protection to Republicans who signed onto the agenda...

Posted by DeLong at November 9, 2005 02:32 PM