A Field Guide To American Government, Chapter 1

Monday, 10 May 2004, 8:10 | Category : Politics
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Dave comments on the desirability of social democracy in the United States, reacting to comments by Crooked Timber. What Dave is saying echoes, somewhat, something I’ve thought and said for years – that US government policy is a never-ending reaction to previous US government policy. Currently we’re on a swing through the land of lower taxes and (theoretically) smaller government, although I would challenge anyone to give examples of real reduction in the size of government. 25 years ago, the United States was at possibly the peak of “big government”. It hasn’t always been a “big government” vs. “small government” thing – the late 1800s and early 1900s saw a swing from toleration of excesses by business barons to governmental enabling of labor strength. This isn’t any deep truth; it’s pretty obvious to anyone who observes the US over a period of time, or spends any time at all learning the history of out government. Why it happens is maybe a little more subtle, however. Probably 5-10% of the voting population would, if given their preference, institute a minimalist government, something along the libertarian principle. Another 5-10% would put in place a democratic socialist system like that found in the Scandinavian countries. There’s a 30-35% segment that favors what passes for mainstream Republican policy – they don’t like government involvement (or at least Federal involvement) in schools, health care, and social programs. And about a 30-35% segment that wouldn’t favor what they would call socialism, but do want Federal intervention in social issues like welfare and food programs, and environmental protection, and to some extent, health care. These two blocks tend to vote pretty much the same way election after election. Even a landslide election like the 1984 Reagan-Mondale contest showed Mondale getting 40% of the vote – meaning 4 in 10 of American voters voted against a sitting president, in what is maybe the biggest landslide in US presidential election history. The swing in government policy occurs because of a middle group that makes up maybe 10% of the electorate. Recent elections have shown that political professionals have figured this out, and they are targeted mercilessly in presidential campaigns. And they’re targetted because their opinions, and their votes, change. And when they change, the direction of US policy changes. They are the rudder of American politics, and the reason that the United States will always be moving back and forth between right and left, never sitting calmly on that center line.

One Comment for “A Field Guide To American Government, Chapter 1”

  1. 1Dave

    No, my blog doesn’t support pings (yet). I’ve got to figure out how to implement it in code, since I don’t use MT.

    As for your comments, I think you’ve hit it right on the head. Unfortunately, what concerns me most is how susceptible the middle 10% is to big-money advertising. I am hoping that they are intelligent enough to see through all the bull in this upcoming election and make the right decision.