Thursday, January 1, 2009

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 5, "The Republican Machine"

New Republican power brokers (Norquist, DeLay, Rove) are a key to the direction of American politics.Two key facts: (1) their politics is extreme; (2) their power is not necessarily a function of official positions.

The new power brokers have created the high degree of centralization and coordination in conservative politics. From their role as middlemen between activists, politicians, and lobbyists,they impose discipline on all of them to foster a unified (and extreme) agenda. They control the access of interest groups and lobbyists to politicans and legislation, and they also control the access of politicians to campaign money and leadership posts. They determine how much apparent independence supposedly moderate Republicans can show in order to strengthen their electoral prospects.

The coordination makes possible several kinds of "backlash insurance" to protect vulnerable incumbents from the consequences of supporting an unpopular far-right policies.
1) Agenda control - control what comes up for debate in Congress, keep popular and more centrist or liberal issues from getting a hearing, use unified public relations campaign to frame how the issues are presented in the media.
2) procedural manipulation - protect Republicans from unpopular votes on bills by using legislative rules. In the House, Republicans use a closed debate rule to quash moderate of liberal amendments to bills. This can't be done in the Senate,but conference committees are abused in a way that makes the original Senate bill irrelevant, so that Senators can safely vote for popular amendments that will be stricken from the final law.
3) Policy distortion - design legislation so that relatively trivial but popular aspects are most evident (e.g., front-loading middle-class tax cuts) while more significant and very unpopular right-wing measures are obscured (e.g., phase-ins and sunsets for tax cuts that mostly affect the very rich to hide their true extent).
4) Throw lots of money behind incumbents who are still at risk despite other measures.

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