The worst recession in more than 70 years has helped widen the rift between Democrats and Republicans. Indeed, next year’s election campaign will present the sharpest ideological contrast between the two parties in more than 25 years, according to The Hill
The parties will present fundamentally different views of the nation and how it should improve its course. First Lady Michelle Obama presented a proxy of the Democratic vision in a speech last week.
“Will we honor that fundamental American belief that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, and if one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting?” she asked rhetorically. “Who are we? That’s what this election is about.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered Republicans’ take in a speech of his own last week. President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats believe in “the moral basis of class warfare — a false morality that confuses fairness with redistribution, and promotes class envy instead of social mobility,” he said.
Nolan McCarty, a Princeton politics professor, notes the election’s economic focus. “Tax policy, redistribution, regulation. These are all things that members of Congress have been fighting about for the past 30 years, but they are going to really flow out into the next election,” he told The Hill. “It will really be the first election since the 1930s in which there has been such a focus on economic divisions and the role of the state.”
The Occupy Wall Street and tea party movements have defined the extreme edges of each party.
“There had always been a Fifth Column in the Republican Party of appropriators, people who just wanted to spend money,” Grover Norquist, conservative president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Hill. But the tea party has “run over — like with a steamroller! — the appropriators” and pulled those who remained back into “Reagan Republican” orthodoxy, he said.
The economy’s weakness has made the unequal distribution of income a bigger issue, Michael Linden, director for tax and budget policy for the liberal Center for American Progress, told The Hill. “Issues like inequality, stagnating wages and a middle class being squeezed [are] now very tangible.”
Norquist says independent voters’ reactions to these issues will decide the 2012 elections.
After voters focused on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2006 and 2008, “all of a sudden, Obama gets in and decides to spend all this money, and they [voters] flip again, against the Democrats,” he said.
“People say, ‘Oh, they’re [voters are] confused!’ They’re not confused. First they were worried about endless war and empire. Now they’re worried about spending too much and bankrupting the country.”
Bill Lacy, director of the Robert Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas and a top official in Republican presidential campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s, told The Hill that the contrast between Democrats and Republican is starker than at any time since 1984, when conservative President Ronald Reagan faced off against liberal Democrat Walter Mondale.
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