Most of the campaign for the presidency seems like a schoolyard brawl with lots of name calling and taunting and dares. Nobody seems to have an idea any better than to accuse his opponent of idiocy or criminal activity or intent to destroy
America. And Congress joins the battle with gusto, pushing and shoving and whining like sixth
graders. And the media cheer and
encourage, always looking for some sensational accusation to publish or
announce. And, in the meantime,
significant portions of the populace think President Obama is not a citizen,
cannot say who the Vice President is, or have never heard of Mitt Romney. And all this amid campaigns to get everybody to vote. We don’t need anybody to destroy America. We are doing it ourselves.
The political game has always been rough, but there have been rules and there have been positive messages and plans and proposals and ideas. Here are some data that may explain the widening gap between left and right, disappearance of the political middle, and the increasingly toxic political environment. Click on the chart for a higher resolution view. (Note: A friend just pointed out an error in the original chart. Republicans controlled the Senate 1981-1987 during the Reagan administration. I had the numbers transposed. Corrected graph below.)
From 1960 until 1995 Democrats were in control of both houses of congress (Correction: except for the Senate during six years of the Reagan administration), holding about 60% of the seats vs. 40% for the Republicans. In that environment, partisanship was muted because it was not necessary for the Democrats to all stick together in order to pass legislation and there was no need for Republicans to stick together. There were conservative Democrats interested in fiscal responsibility and liberal Republicans focused on social issues. But that all changed in the 1994 mid-term elections after which, for 12 years, Republicans had a slight edge, and party solidarity became the prime concern. Reaching across the aisle was immediately classified as politically incorrect.
For the first six of those years, Democrat President Clinton and the Republican Congress cooperated with the growing tax revenues resulting from the false prosperity of the dot com boom to generate budget surpluses and begin reducing a national debt that, compared to the economic mess we now have, seems trivial. During the last six of those years, Republican President Bush and the Republican Congress began rebuilding the deficit with tax cuts, unfunded wars, and an expensive Medicare prescription drug plan. Their folly was muted by the growing tax revenues resulting from the real estate bubble, but that came to an end along with President Bush’s second term.
The 2008 elections, in the midst of the financial crisis, swept in President Obama with comfortable Democrat majorities in both houses and allowed the trio of Obama-Reid-Pelosi to ram through an undefined and open ended Affordable Care Act with zero support from Republicans. And the animosity index soared. The expected reaction, a major swing back in the Republican direction, occurred in the 2010 mid-term elections with Republicans regaining their majority in the House but falling slightly short in the Senate. And, as we approach the November 2012 elections, ego protection and defense trump the national interest in every case.
If you come up with a solution to this mess, let me know. But in the meantime, let’s try to resist blaming all our problems on the recent strength of the Republican Party. The seeds of all our economic difficulties, establishment and expansion of unfunded liabilities in the form of social entitlements, were sown in the fifty years 1935 to 1985, usually with bipartisan support and with both Democrat and Republican presidents. And now we are reaping what has been sown.
So, just the fact that Congress was better behaved in earlier decades doesn't mean it was doing a better job.