Magazine article USA TODAY

Dems the Contradictions

Magazine article USA TODAY

Dems the Contradictions

Article excerpt

THE DEBATE over the government shutdown exposed divisions in the Republican Party, just as the debate over the ObamaCare rollout exposed divisions among the Democrats. Divisions over a particular issue may seem serious, but politicians move on to other issues and the public memory is short. However, if a political party's coalition is at odds with itself, then the consequences are serious. In the 1850s, the southern and northern wings of the Whig Party were divided deeply over the expansion of slavery into the Territories. By the end of that decade, the Whig Party virtually had disappeared. The divisions in the Democratic Party over foreign policy and cultural issues were so serious that, from 1969-93, they held the White House for only four years.

Any political coalition can be fragile. It can tolerate splits over particular issues as long as there are large areas of agreement on important ones. The debate within the Republican Party over the government shutdown and cutting off funding for ObamaCare was a debate over tactics. Similarly, the disappointment among Democrats over the rollout of ObamaCare was a debate about timing and technical changes. Few Democrats were calling for the repeal of that law. Both parties have groups that have no time for compromise and those who believe that you have to settle for the best practical outcome. These tactical differences can be mollified by skilled political leaders.

Yet, bridging serious differences among a party's coalition can be beyond even the most skilled politician. The dilemma facing both parties is symptomatic of how difficult it is to find the center in American politics, The divisions within both parties reflect the growing divisions in U.S. life. The stagnant economy of the Obama years has deepened these divisions. Those in the high-tech industry, in the financial sector, and with secure government jobs are prospering. Others are getting by on one form or another of government subsidies (food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, disability payments, rent supplements). Young people, including college graduates, are finding the job market grim. Those with just a high school education are without the necessary technical skills to enter the new economy. Others are seeing their wages stagnate, health care premiums rise, and chances for advancement wither. Factory workers' wages are lower than they were in the early 1970s.

"Almost all of the benefits of growth since the trough of the Great Recession have been going to those in the upper classes," points out Timothy Smeeding of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Middle- and lower-income families are getting a smaller slice of a smaller economic pie as labor markets have changed drastically during our recovery."

Both political parties include constituencies that are prospering and those that are not. The Republicans are funded by the Super PACs from the business class, yet depend upon votes from the poorest states such as Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Alabama, where Tea Party fervor is strong. Despite the dyspeptic nature of the Tea Party, the differences within the Republican Party are not fundamental. These groups are in agreement over the size and scope of the government, the growing tax burden, and the burgeoning debt. …

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