Arnold Kling  

Deficit Reduction Politics

Two Strains of Conservatism... Deficit Reduction and Tax Poli...

Steve Teles writes,

The party base has significantly more leverage over elected officials in the Republican than the Democratic party. The chance of being successfully "primaried" if you are a Democrat is low, and in any case there is not the kind of organized, mass base that is capable of exercising discipline over those who carry the party label. So assuming that Democratic elected officials think that it is important to engage in a cross-party conspiracy for deficit reduction, they will generally be able to get away with it (even if it means imposing uncomfortable changes, up to a point, on their base). That, therefore, narrows the question to whether Republican elected officials believe they can get away with entering into negotiations

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

Steve is an expert on politics, and I am not. But I wonder if his analysis takes into account labor unions. If labor unions are strongly opposed to a policy, can Democrats support it and survive? I know that here in Montgomery County, Maryland, folks have been "primaried" for failing to toe the teachers' union line.

At lunch yesterday, I offered my view that it is in President Obama's interest to endorse the Bowles-Simpson proposal on deficit reduction. My lunch companion disagreed, because some of the elements in the proposal are anathema to labor.

Getting rid of the health care deduction would be unacceptable to labor, for example. Note, however, that in the Bowles-Simpson formulation, getting rid of deductions is an "option." The President could endorse keeping the deduction and having higher tax rates without disowning the Bowles-Simpson plan as a whole.

In any case, what struck me about what Teles is saying is that it sort of runs counter the stereotype of the right-wing masses as obedient to authority while left-wing masses are less hierarchical. If he is right (and I am skeptical), then it is the Democrats who are more willing to accede to the judgment of their leaders.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Hyena writes:

A labor union that wanted to primary a candidate would require an alternative. The problem with that candidate is that she'd be unelectable, being "the labor union candidate", and so the Democratic Party establishment will oppose them. It seems really unlikely that they'd be able to poach a good candidate either. Unless labor support alone can push a candidate through the primary, unions will have no success with the strategy.

As to who's more hierarchical, my impression is that it depends on whose coalition is more fragile. As long as the coalition is strong, electability will matter enough to keep primary challenges low. Once it begins to fall apart, the primary system becomes a tool for expressing dissatisfaction with the direction of the Party.

Prakhar Goel writes:

Haha. Arnold, you are over thinking this. What we have here is a classic case of projection. The Democratic party is completely beholden to Unions and public servants (which broadly considered includ public sector workers, the universities, the NGOs, etc...). However, he has spent so much time in this mix that this is the only way he can analyze political parties. Just a cursory look at his prior posts is enough to assure oneself of the conclusion he surely planned out before he ever got to the reasons behind it. Once that was decided on, the only question was how to justify said conclusion and thus we have the above post.

Once again, you betray your obsession with words and your lack of understanding of political speech. The post very likely wasn't an indication of critical thinking or anything even close. It was propaganda designed to convince his readership and quite possibly himself of the corrupt nature of the Republican party and the political pressure groups associated with said party. Pointing out the influence of unions is a waste of time since he is already aware of their existence on some level. Just that mentioning them does not serve his purpose.

May I again suggest reading Dante: Politics as Wish by James Burnham. It covers this topic in far more detail.

John Fast writes:

Bryan Caplan ought to find the article by Teles to be very interesting since it seems related to his model of political behavior.

Troy Camplin writes:

Your last comment about the left being more likely to defer to their leaders sounds right to me. It's a natural outcome of their Cartesian individualism (vs. the more Scottish enlightenment individualism of the American conservative, which rejects leftist philosopher-kings). We see the left's tendency to support dictators throughout history, throughout the world. Shouldn't we therefore expect the Democrats to act more than way than the Republicans?

Hyena writes:

Mr. Camplin,

You support a foreign dictator because he's on your side, not because your political priors demand dictatorship. What was it they said about Batista?

Doc Merlin writes:

"If he is right (and I am skeptical), then it is the Democrats who are more willing to accede to the judgment of their leaders."

The party of "listen to the experts" and central planning as more willing to accede to the judgement of their leaders?

Color me shocked!

8 writes:

This has long been the case. Even a Democrat, Harry Truman said as much: "When a leader is in the Democratic party he's a boss; when he's in the Republican party he's a leader."

Democrats always talk about marching orders and conspiracies on the right because they assume the right is organized in the same manner as the left.

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