- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press (September 26, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300119755
- ISBN-13: 978-0300119756
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy; With a new Afterword
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"Outdated political science clicho?=s go flying like bad guys in a Kung Fu movie in this revelatory new book. American politics is supposed to be prone to stalemate. Extremists are supposed to be relegated to the dustbin of history. So how come policies so radically at odds with what the American people say they want have been locked in for the next generation? Hacker and Pierson brilliantly nail the case: the Republicans have rigged the system. "Off Center" provides the missing piece from "What's the Matter with Kansas?": how they committed the crime, and where they hid the bodies. Pundits: read it and heed it."-Rick Perlstein, author of "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus"
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I look back fondly on the days when I only disagreed with the Republican Party on general policy issues. The truth is that the current Republican Party is literally tearing Democracy apart at the seams. It starts with the primaries where the GOP consistently throws its support behind right leaning ideologues creating a swarm of like minded sycophants willing to tow the party line. Candidates are controlled by their purse strings thanks to the ballooning cost of elections. They find themselves indebted to those with the biggest pockets and to the GOP itself thanks to a dramatic increase in campaign funds coming from the party itself. Lower and middle class voters are left with almost no voice in Washington. After being elected, Republican politicians are constantly monitored for ideological purity by groups like Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth. Stray too far and next election you'll find yourself with a strong challenger from the GOP itself. The increasingly irrelevant `moderate' Republican's seem to have taken their position in stride voting against party lines only when the votes are irrelevant. It creates a lock step mentality following the lead of the increasingly powerful Executive Branch. "In 2003, [voting along party lines] reached the highest levels in the five decades in which they have been tallied" There is a breakdown in the separation of powers and marginalization of the opposition party as debate is stifled by a Republican Party that seems uninterested in hearing opposing ideas.
Meanwhile the GOP has worked to become the puppet master over lobbyists with Congressman like Tom DeLay DEMANDING support and cash from lobbyists for congressional bills that have yet to be presented like the Social Security reform bill. Companies have to pay for a seat at the table and in the case of the pharmaceutical industry the authors write that it, "now contributes 80 percent of its money to Republicans. PhRMA has essentially become an extension of the GOP."
The authors write, "voters have proved no match for a mobilized and coordinated conservative movements capable of managing the agenda and shaping and distorting the flow of information to citizens." Perhaps nothing is more important to the Bush administration than controlling the flow of information and their mendacity is legendary. From Cheney's blatant lie saying the energy bill contains, "...no new financial subsidies of any kind for the oil and gas industries" to the monumental $135 billion dollar lie about the cost of Bush's Medicare `reform'. The authors quote despicable GOP pollster Frank Luntz who advises that, "A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth" There is such an endless laundry list of egregiousness committed on the American public from government sponsored propaganda to selective leaks to press intimidation.
The authors close with some insight from James Madison who said that "parchment barriers" were not sufficient to protect democratic freedoms. Rules can be rewritten, un-enforced or re-interpreted to their breaking point. The Bush administration has shown even American democracy can be a very brittle thing when those in charge have the desire to usurp it and it's up to the electorate to right the wrongs that have been committed.
Perhaps nothing sums up the current GOP like this quote from Tom DeLay to reporter Elizabeth Drew, "You've got to understand, we are ideologues. We have an agenda. We have a philosophy. I want to repeal the Clean Air Act. No one came to me and said, `Please repeal the Clean Air Act.' We say to the lobbyists, `Help us.' We know what we want to do and we find people to help us."
Each year, with retirements etc., the Republicans become more conservative via the increased power of the base vs. new candidates. In the Senate, Democrats won the last three elections with 2.5 million more votes, yet hold only 44 seats because Republicans dominate the less populous states.
"Off Center" also points out that polls citing support for Bush's tax cuts are meaningless because they were not put into context - eg. what will be given up? Paired with Social Security, tax cuts lose 74 - 21, Medicare 65 - 25, and deficit reduction leads by over 2:1. Unrealistic projections of federal surpluses and the costs of the tax changes (helped by staggered phase in dates -> underestimated 40%) were used to obscure their effects on competing priorities. Republicans also deliberately ignored its increasing the pressure for changing the Alternative Minimum Tax - seeing this as another opportunity to reduce taxes later. Another ploy was to confuse "average family" tax cut with "average tax cut" in the public's mind. Finally, the tax cuts scheduled expiration in 2010 is anticipated to great a large incentive for donations from the rich in that year.
Tom DeLay, a key figure in controlling House Republicans and lobbyist donations and a self-described ideologue, also utilizes agenda control to achieve his objectives. For example, in the Clinton impeachment debate he refused to allow consideration of the more popular and moderate censure alternative. Similarly, on Social Security reform, Bush refused the Reagan option of creating a bipartisan review - it had to be his way. Very conservative energy, EPA, OSHA, and bankruptcy bills were passed in a similar "no-alternatives" manner. Finally, the Medicare drug bill was passed courtesy of misrepresented costs, while providing great benefit to the drug and insurance industries and increasing costs for many recipients.
Another factor helping Republicans is that in 2000 more than 40% of those in the economic bottom 1/3 did not vote, vs. only 13% in the top third.
Money spent lobbying has nearly doubled since '97 to almost $2 billion/year; indirect lobbying (eg. telemarketing, issue ads) raises the total to nearly $6 billion. Republicans instruct lobbying groups to provide backing for the leadership's positions at the outset, well before key features have been finalized. The message is that "if you support us, we will see to it that you are taken care of - if you hold out or seek to negotiate separate deals with individual members you can kiss your cause good-bye." In addition, DeLay et al "whip" interest groups to put pressure on legislators, even on issues far removed from the clients' own concerns. Finally, lobbyists understand that contributions to Republican leadership PACs are necessary to get a seat at the table, and that contributions to individual members should be made only with leadership approval.
Republican House leaders have also strengthened their position by removing ('94) the autonomy of committee chairmen - formerly their chief rivals for power. Traditionally chairs came via seniority, and provided power over staff and agendas. Now their terms are limited to 6 years, and the positions are filled by the leaders. Republican leadership also controls participation in conference committees - frequently bills emerging have little resemblance to what was passed in the Senate.
Finally, "Off Center" explains how "backlash insurance" (for those in moderate Republican districts) operates. Issues that would subject moderates to pressure (eg. minimum wage) are simply kept off the agenda. Secondly, through conference committee control, a moderate can vote for a mild version of a bill in the House or Senate, and then be faced with a much more conservative conference committee product that is either "up or down" - no amendments.
An excellent primer on how Republicans, especially in the House, frustrate the voice of the people.