Friday, June 16, 2006

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Just how much do Democrats and Republicans differ?

In a previous post on partisanship, I asserted the following:

This is where I break ranks with both [Tom] DeLay and [Marc] Schmitt -- I don't think Democrats and Republicans disagree on the first principles of governing. I'm not even sure they disagree on second principles. There are policy differences, to be sure -- but Carl Schmitt (not relation to Marc) does not travel well to these shores.
Evidentiary standards in the blogosphere are pretty low, but still, I should probably back up this assertion a bit.

Now I can, thanks to Greg Mankiw, who posts the following:

John McCain gave a speech to the Economic Club of New York yesterday....

The whole speech is worth reading. Here are my two favorite passages:

A tsunami of entitlement spending is threatening our economy, while providing no real security to retirees. We have made promises that we cannot keep. Under moderately optimistic scenarios Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will in the decades to come grow as large as the entire government is today. Someday the government will be forced to make drastic cuts in these programs, or crippling increases in taxes on workers – or both. The longer we wait to make the hard choices necessary to repair these programs, the harder the problem becomes. My children and their children will not receive the benefits we will enjoy. That is an inescapable fact, and any politician who tells you otherwise, Democrat or Republican, is lying....

A global rising tide of protectionism and a retreat from market-based economic policy is threatening the entrepreneurs of developed and developing countries alike. Free trade is the key to global economic growth, and a key to U.S. economic success. We need stand up for free trade with no ifs, ands or buts about it. We let trade and globalization be politicized at our own peril.

By my reckoning, any candidate who is not willing to put some version of these two paragraphs into his or her speeches doesn't pass the test of intellectual seriousness. McCain passes with flying colors.
As fate would have it, two months ago Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago about similar issues.

If one takes Clinton and McCain to be the standard-bearers fopr their respective parties in two years -- a stretch, but not a wholly unreasonable one -- it would be useful to compare and contrast the content of the two speeches.

CLINTON ON GLOBALIZATION: "[T]oday we have no choice about whether or not to embrace globalization. It is happening. We can't pretend it's going away. We can't wish it away. It is occurring. But as in earlier times, we do have a choice about how we deal with globalization and the competitive threat that it poses. We can choose to unleash the power of innovation and enterprise in ways that promote our economic growth and our values so that all Americans share in the prosperity."

MCCAIN ON GLOBALIZATION: "[D]espite all the defeatist rhetoric, America is the world’s biggest exporter, importer, producer, saver, investor, manufacturer and innovator. Americans do not shy from the challenge of competition: they welcome it. Because of that, we attract foreign investment from all over the world. Our government should welcome competition as the people do, and not resort to mindless protectionism.

While we embrace free trade, it is important to recognize that trade can lead to painful dislocations for some individuals. We must remain committed to education, retraining, and help for displaced workers all the while reminding ourselves that our ability to change is a great strength of our nation. We cannot let fear and the appeals of protectionists lead us backward."

CLINTON ON FISCAL POLICY: "Now, I think a return to fiscal discipline, living within our means, is essential for our long-term health. It is also critical to whether or not we control our own destiny as a nation.

Over the long-term and maybe the median term, red ink fiscal policies will undermine America's competitiveness. We have to ask ourselves whether our taxing and spending policies are in line with our economic goals. Do we have the right priorities and values in the federal budget?....

You know, we can do this. But we've got to forge a new bipartisan consensus. In the 1990s we did have tremendous economic growth underpinned by economic policies geared toward deficit reduction. That's why I support a return to pay-as-you-go budget rules in the Congress.

Every institution needs rules. And when the pay-as-you-go rules expired, all bets were off in the Congress. One of the ways we were able to obtain a balanced budget and a surplus in the Congress in the 1990s was you could not cut taxes or raise spending unless you could pay for it. A very old fashioned idea, but one which I hope we can begin to return to."

MCCAIN ON FISCAL POLICY: "While booming entitlement spending threatens us in the long run, our short term fiscal situation is terrible as well. In the past six years, government spending has gone from irresponsible to utterly indefensible. The numbers should shock us, and government’s indifference to them should shame us. According to the latest figures, spending in the 2005 fiscal year was $683 billion higher than it was in 2000. If we had simply held spending growth in check we would not have a budget deficit today.

Some of this money has necessarily been spent on the war on terror that was unexpected and has been obviously and hugely expensive. While at the same time we know we must focus most of our defense spending on tomorrow’s threats, not yesterday’s. But when Ronald Reagan increased defense spending to win the Cold War, he slowed non-defense spending growth at the same time. This time, we have fallen again for that most alluring delusion, we have tried to have our cake and eat it too. Non-defense spending, often on the most unnecessary projects, is out of control.

Legislators pass pork-filled bills without the fear of public retribution or presidential veto. Federal spending, and the special interest earmarks that destroy the budget process and waste taxpayer dollars by the billions continues at a breakneck pace. Sadly, we haven’t reformed the bankrupt “tax and spend” policies decried by Ronald Reagan. We have, it is now evident, merely replaced them with a new and even more insidious scheme of “borrow and spend.”

We are fooling no one, my friends. Inevitably, the bill will come due. In the mean time, we rack up big debts. With those debts come higher and higher interest payments each year. Instead of spending the tax payers’ dollars on real priorities, more and more of them will be devoted simply to keeping the bill collectors at bay. Bills that perpetuate wasteful spending should be vetoed – not some of them, all of them."

CLINTON ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: "We need a national energy strategy that is more than one line in the State of the Union. Energy costs hurt everyone's bottom line. And over the past 30 years, the ups and downs of the global oil market have cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion -- enough to pay off almost all of our national debt. The U.S. chemical industry says national gas price hikes over the last two years alone have cost it $10 billion and $50 billion in sales lost to cheaper foreign competition. Meanwhile, the average family is spending 75 percent more on transportation costs than it did five years ago.

We need a drive for smart energy that starts right now. The way to reduce our oil addiction is through technology, and we need a much more aggressive strategy. We have a National Institutes of Health. Why don't we have a National Institute of Energy? I think we need a major energy research program similar to what President Eisenhower did after Sputnik went up because we are suffering through what might be called -- and some have -- silent Sputnik. And the energy issue is one of those.

If we had a major energy research program, it would create a portfolio of cutting edge energy research technologies that would reduce our oil dependence, increase our efficiency and reduce green house gas emissions."

MCCAIN ON ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: "Recent events have also made it clear that rising energy costs and our dangerous dependence on an unreliable supply from unstable parts of the world is potentially crippling to our economy. When Wall Street wants to limit risk, it diversifies. The obvious approach to resolve our energy problems is to increase and diversify our sources of power and look for ways to reduce our demand. We have promising technologies in development, but also proven alternatives at hand – the most obvious of which is nuclear.

Genuine improvement in our energy security, must respect markets and avoid the temptations of nearsighted politics. While it is tempting to assail windfall profits and executive compensation, it is not a substitute for a viable and long-term energy strategy. We will never be fully independent of global energy markets. But we must work for the day that energy supply volatility no longer imperils our economy and our security."

Is it just me, or is there a lot of similarity here?

To be sure, these quotes do not mean that Clinton and McCain are carbon copies of each other. If you read the speeches back-to-back, you see Clinton keeps mentioning fiscal discipline, but the bulk of her policy proposals are about substantive increases in "infrastructure" spending. McCain seems more emphatic about deficit reduction, but as Mankiw correctly points out, he's a bit vague on the details. Clinton wants to subsidize manufacturing; McCain doesn't. Read the two speeches yourself and see if you can spot other differences (and, for the record, I strongly prefer McCain's speech on the points of divergence).

The differences, however, are one of small degrees, not orders of magnitude. They are not differences of first principle.

posted by Dan on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM


Blogging a little late tonight?

The similarities between Clinton and McCain are interesting. I wonder if what they are saying is what they both believe, or what they both believe the Economic Club of New York/Chicago want to hear? One thing i would like to say is that Clinton's demeanor on globilization doesn't seem nearly as supportive as McCains. Specificly with Clinton saying "we have no choice about whether or not to embrace globalization," while McCain thinks "government should welcome competition as the people do."

P.S. please excuse the [i'm sure] multiple spelling mistakes.

posted by: AK87 on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I wonder if what they are saying is what they both believe, or what they both believe the Economic Club of New York/Chicago want to hear?


McCain's voting record causes me to classify him as a moderatly conservative populist. I have a difficult time believing that a populist is going to be the one to rein in entitlement spending.

I suppose it could happen, but it's not something I would expect to happen.

posted by: rosignol on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

Oh man, you are winding us up right? You kid, I know. Hillary is the standard-bearer for something that is an amalgam of her own and the DC Democratic institutional class' "third way," triangulation nonsense. The reason the rank and file of the party and most Americans distrust her so much is that they all have an innate sense that well over half the stuff that she claims to believe is being said purely because it is what her audience wants to hear, in the name of expediency. For this she is loathed by the party activists she will need to win the nomination and be the standard-bearer for her party.

McCain is a thoughtful conservative who believes in the cardinal virtues of the democratic process; honor, dialoge and compromise. He is an empiricist who goes where the data tells him to. For these reasons he is loathed by the party activist he will need to win the nomination and be the standard-bearer for his party.

A better test would be to get together a random sample of elected officals in both parties and ask them to react to the prospect of:
1) Increasing SS witholding/raising or eliminating the income ceiling on wage taxes
2) Means testing for SS payments
3) Whether they would vote to approve a hemispheric/South American FTA that looks anything like NAFTA.

I suspect you would see some ia lot of reactions clustered around two rather widely divegent sets of responses

posted by: connor on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

Perhaps the problem with these comparisons is that the paragraphs are mostly the 'describe the problem' paragraphs and not the 'describe the solution' portions.

I would argue that both Clinton and McCain and their respective constitutencies would have very different solutions or at least, different degrees of the same solution.

Finally, I'd argue that we do have a 'National Institutes of Energy': it's called the Department of Energy. Additionally, we have the National Science Foundation.

posted by: Klug on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

> A tsunami of entitlement spending is
> threatening our economy, while providing
> no real security to retirees. We have made
> promises that we cannot keep.

Krugman and Drum among many many other commentators have demonstrated how it is quite possible, /with rational economic and taxation policies/, to keep our economy growing and also meet our social security (small "s") promises. Any speech which uses the "headed for bankruptcy" Rovian frames without acknowledging the work that the Radicals have done to (1) destroy the economy of government (2) hide the truth (gotten any solid numbers out of the Social Security Admin lately? Exactly why was the last report 2 months late?) is in my mind fundamentally unserious and unsuited for high office. Or low office for that matter.

Let me put it another way: when HealthSouth fired 50,000 nurses, paraprofessionals with decent and necessary jobs and decent middle-class salaries, and paid their CEO a _$600 million_ bonus, what exactly did they, and you, and all the gibertarian free traders think was going to happen to the social future of those nurses? That new middle-class jobs would suddenly appear for them out of midair? That they would not turn to the political system for redress and long-term social security?


posted by: Cranky Observer on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

Surveying two likley presidential candidates is decidedly non-representative. As national candidates thay have an incentive to appeal to the median voter. Even given this convergence, there is still subtantive differences to be read into the politicians speeches. Clinton's comments are a critique of recent GOP spenthrift policies and of tax cuts. Dems have never accepted dynamic models of taxation, believing that every percentage cut generates a proportional loss of revenue. McCain and most GOP folks believe that rate and revenue have no firm connection. The Laffer curve logic resonates with them so they believe that a cut in rate can generate a rise in revenue. Clearly Clinton is not on board with this. Also, the tone of the McCain is a specific need to put Social Security, medicare and other entitilment programs on a subtantially different basis than thye now exist. Clinton's is no to transform the programs but to practice restraint to fund them, believing in the existence of a "trust fund". Again, these are radically different ideas.

Once you get beyond two likley presidential candidates tacking to the center, the differences are even wider. Oneneed only look at the surreal debate over the war, debates about intelligent design versus evolution, gay marriage and other things to see that these folks ar einhabitingtwo very distinct worlds. Once sees domestic problems emenating from intolerance, bigotry and racism in the Americna people, another sees the problems as libertinism, lack of responsibility and liscentiousness as the root causes of domestic ills. We do not even agree al lthat much as to what the problems really are. Are universities flawed because they are not representative enough and too expensive or d they fail becuase they lack standards of excellence and create cultures of dependence and victimhood.

Lets not even get started on immigration. One candidate in a special election this month suggested that illegal immigrants should be allowed to vote. people on the other side want to round them all up and deport them.

While it is clear that the range of opinion in the US is more constrained than in manyy other democracies in that we do not have a viable communist/socialist movement nor a racialist/fascist movement, do not let that distract from the very different worldviews that animate current US politics.

This doe snot mean there are no decent compromises also. It seems clear that, to take an issue, that there should be common ground over abortion. If those on the pro-choice side focused their efforts on preventing teen pregnancy, while those on the pro-life side focused their efforts on providing a web of support for those who choose to go to term, and both sides preached responsibility, then each side could see results that it wants without the two worldviews ever changing.

Bottom line, the muddle in the middle is not all it is cracked up to be, there are real and important differences, but that should nto stop politcs from operating s long as sides do not demonize each other.

posted by: DHO on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

Cranky: Could you please provide a link for your claim of the 600 million dollar bonus?

posted by: Klug on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I think Hillary is the anit christ. I keep it real and so should you!


posted by: Ayman Bin Al-Sheib on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

"Let me put it another way: when HealthSouth fired 50,000 nurses, paraprofessionals with decent and necessary jobs and decent middle-class salaries, and paid their CEO a _$600 million_ bonus, what exactly did they, and you, and all the gibertarian free traders think was going to happen to the social future of those nurses? That new middle-class jobs would suddenly appear for them out of midair? That they would not turn to the political system for redress and long-term social security?"

I know nothing about this event, but it is a terrible example. There is a tremendous shortage of nurses in this (and many) countries. They don't need new middle-class jobs to appear out of thin air-there are plenty already there. Any nurse that wants to work in this country can.


posted by: Steve on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

Free markets? What is he talking about?

I have no intellectual training in economics, and yet, from reading the newspapers I can see that—quite apart from not regulating being a conscious choice--all markets are regulated to some degree.

So what does he want deregulated? American sugar? How about the land give aways in the West and probably McCain’s state? Shall we stop that? Or at least start charging the cowboy whiners?

As far as I'm concerned, unless McCain advocates the painful measure at home, he is dishonest.

posted by: redwood on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

An earlier commenter got it exactly right in pointing out that these quotes represent the easier part: framing the problem that needs fixing, without getting into how the candidate intends to fix it. After all, if a likely candidate for President cannot identify a host of major problems needing fixing, then there is not much to be said in support of that individual's candidacy.

Of the points you highlight -- globalization/trade, fiscal policy/the deficit, and energy independence -- it is hardly surprising to see Hillary and McCain in agreement on the fact that there is a problem needing attention.

Nor would I be surprised if the policy proposals by both Hillary and McCain on globalization/trade were largely congruous. Hillary would be under greater political pressure than McCain to bend in the direction of protectionism. Quite apart from whatever one may think of her in terms of having core principles she will not compromise, she is far too good a politician ever to get trapped in Kerry-like episodes of gross flip-flopping. She obviously knows the political price she would pay if she were ever caught blatantly pandering to one group or another in that manner. Thus, I suspect that when she addresses these issues, and particularly when she offers solutions, she is speaking very carefully and will not lightly abandon what she has so recently said. I think she means what she says when she opposes isolationist and protectionist proposals that have gained some currency among leftier elements of the Dem party.

On fiscal policy/the deficit, Hillary is much less specific. She has consistently been against Bush's tax cuts; and Hillary is far from an enthusiast when it comes to cutting Gov't spending on social programs. And if she were elected, I suspect we would be in for a heavy dose of "revenue enhancement" policies, pushed with the usual "soak the greedy rich" rhetoric. She has never proposed, as far as I am aware, any real policy to restrain the growth of entitlement spending, and I doubt she ever will. On that score, she is as standard a Democrat as one can find.

McCain may not have liked all of the tax cuts, but he is sufficiently practical to realize that those tax cuts had a direct relationship to (1) the economic recovery that in turn has sent tax receipts soaring and (b) an ever-increasing portion of federal tax receipts being borne by the richest taxpayers. He may not propose new tax cuts, but I don't see him proposing new "renvenue enhancement" measures either. And I think he is serious about addressing entitlement reform. Whether he would have any more success that Bush has had is, of course, problematic. But there will never be any progress on that issue unless our national leadership continues to stress it and propose realistic solutions. McCain is quite serious on that issue, and Hillary is not.

On energy independence, McCain is refreshingly realistic when he speaks of nuclear energy as the real option here. Hillary is unlikely ever to do so, in part because the enviromental lobby in the Dem party would go ballistic if she did. For the same reason, she will never support ANWR drilling.

Instead, whenever Hillary talks about a national energy policy, one can reliably expect to hear all the fashionable nostrums about ethanol, renewal energy, etc. -- and nothing about a realistic policy that will address the fact that demand for energy has been increasing inexorably for decades. That trend is not going to be reversed, and unless it ever were, it would quite likely occur in connection with (or if it occurred because of political command, result in) the collapse of economic growth.

Conservation is wonderful as far as it goes -- and the jump in energy prices is probably the best thing that ever happened in terms of fostering conservation. But as the cornerstone of an energy policy, it basically goes nowhere. Whenever conservation is offered as a policy solution, it bears remembering that, at most, conservation will slow the rate of growth of energy consumption, not reduce it in abolute terms. Peter Huber's recent book, The Bottomless Well, is devoted in large part to proving that fact and then elaborating on its consequences. As he shows, conservation measures have always led to an increase in energy consumption, and over time, the demand for energy has been steadily increasing especially for the higher and purer forms of energy (e.g., electricity), the production of which takes ever larger quantities of less flexible sources of energy (burning fossil fuels, consuming uranium, damming rivers). There are no more rivers to be dammed, and the point of an "energy policy" is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels generally, including specifically imported oil. In short, any realistic policy of energy independence clearly requires a robust pursuit of nuclear power.

McCain is certainly open to those realities. I doubt that Hillary ever will be.

Thus, just focusing on the three issues framed by your post, it seems clear to me that McCain is by far the better choice. I wouldn't put much stock in the fact that Hillary and McCain agree that there are problems requiring solutions in those three areas.

posted by: RHD on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I don't know if strong disagreement over whether someone is qualified for the Presidency because of who his father was or who she married rises to the level of a "difference of first principles," but I think we can say with confidence that there is that disagreement as well between Sens. Clinton and McCain. As it is also a disagreement between President Bush and McCain we can't say it's represents a difference between the parties.

posted by: Zathras on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

There is a tremendous shortage of nurses in this (and many) countries.

There is NO shortage of nurses in the US. What there is a shortage of is nurses willing to put up with low pay, low status positions. Instead of increasing pay, US hospitals find it easier to go to Africa or INdia and get nurses from there

posted by: erg on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I am told that there are two sources of the nursing shortage: a lack of nurse educators/spots in programs and that there is pretty high turnover in nursing as many nurses leave to become mothers.

posted by: Klug on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

Is this not simply median voter theorem at work? The parties do have substantial disagreements on a many issues, but the people most likely to win the presidency (e.g., McCain and Hillary) spend their time running to the center and jumping on issues of common agreement for easy points, while occasionally throwing bones to the wings.

If you were to really look at party differences, you would probably say:

- GOP is solidly behind Bush & war, while there is a crisis over the war in the Dem party

- there is substantial disagreement over the role of the state in private affairs, especially abortion, sexuality and drug use

- there is an old Civil Rights wing of the Dems that fights for affirmative action & other racial issues, the GOP is solidly in the opposite direction

- both sides pay lip service to fiscal restraint, but violate it in different ways; you could say that median voters of both parties like the idea of fiscal restraint, but they are willing to tax and spend for different pet projects

I think you picked the last point in your post. Mainstream politicians of either party grasp at the same vague principles of energy dependence and conservation. When it comes to governance, each of these politicians will cater to different constituencies and compromise their positions in various ways.

posted by: Fabio_Rojas on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I am told that there are two sources of the nursing shortage: a lack of nurse educators/spots in programs and that there is pretty high turnover in nursing as many nurses leave to become mothers.

I know an ex-nurse.

What Erg says about crappy hours and lousy pay are pretty accurate. The one I know decided to switch to being a Doctor's secretary- the pay is better, the hours are sane*, and the Doc is delighted to have a secretary who has a good handle on the medical stuff.

*also, she doesn't have to deal with med-school grads doing their residency any more, which was a surprisingly large factor (to me, at least).

posted by: rosignol on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I think a more interesting experiment would be to examine Clinton and McCain's economic rhetoric when they speak to non-economic audiences. Of course both of them are courting business and will hew closely to a rational economic approach with nuances.

However, put Clinton in front of a union audience and McCain in front of prairie populists and see a) how much of their speech they devote to economics and b) how much it diverges from the Economic Club rhetoric.

posted by: PD on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

"McCain is a thoughtful conservative who believes in the cardinal virtues of the democratic process; honor, dialoge and compromise. He is an empiricist who goes where the data tells him to. For these reasons he is loathed by the party activist he will need to win the nomination and be the standard-bearer for his party."

McCain has made it quite clear that he'll go along with anything, and do anything, in hope
thathe'll get the presidency. Bush tamed him quite nicely.

posted by: Barry on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

J McCain and H Clinton are both (relatively speaking) political opportunists. I think the proof for McCain can be found here (especially when one compares that with his more recent record, here).

Damn free trade. Damn PNTR and MFN status for tyrannies. Damn the triumph of economics over politics. Damn the DLC and the Republicans and at least a few people, like Sherrod Brown, Kendrick Meeks and Deborah(sp?) Wasserman Schultz and the many Democratic activists who think NAFTA and CAFTA are POC(pieces of cr*p) and those that think the WTO is neo-liberal death.

posted by: Josh "Maury" Narins on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

I forgot to include the links, sorry.

First was this and the second was this.

A third link I should have added would have included the mathematical reality that in no one's living memory has US politics been so polarized.

posted by: Josh "Maury" Narins on 06.16.06 at 12:58 AM [permalink]

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