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Strange Bedfellows Make 2012 Elections Unpredictable: Op-Ed

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Strange Bedfellows Make 2012 Elections Unpredictable: Op-Ed

Occasionally, I “go off the rails” and want to freestyle some thought processes other than economics. Hence, the “Trans” (going beyond) in Transecon. This is one of those times.

The world economy is damned fragile at the moment. France and Greece shook things up a bit with their recent elections. Germany’s unpredictable response to their results, have again raised the specter of a crisis in the euro zone. Which many leading economists say could have a far worse effect on the U.S. economy than the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Disappointing job numbers in the U.S. for April have also set off fears that the economic recovery may be weakening.

So given that the economy has been touted as the only election issue that matters, why have the United States’ political parties spent two weeks focused on same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama personally endorsed on Wednesday after others in his administration(Joe Biden) opened the door?

This focus on social issues when so much else is out of kilter must be perplexing to outsiders. Hell, they’re perplexing as hell to me!

The often-contradictory interaction between social policies and economic policies has been an essential element driving U.S. politics since President Obama’s election. It’s entirely possible that the party that juggles the two agendas most adroitly will be the one that wins the White House in November.

Historical Perspective

In an attempt to understand what is going on, I went back to the 1960s and my boyhood. Since then, two major political shifts have restructured U.S. society, politics and economics.

The vast expansion of individual rights and liberties. Ethnic minorities, women, LGBT, all fought their way into the public arena. Liberals largely led this incredible social transformation.
In the 1980s the Reagan Revolution ushered in new economic policy, which brought cuts in taxes and in regulation and a weakening of unions and the social welfare safety net. Conservatives championed this call to arms and largely won over the public with its opinions and direction of economic policy.
These two very different victories are the cause and effect to the big political stand-off of today. They are the reason that the left and the right both feel cheated and aggrieved, and both want to win back a country they feel was stolen from them. I have personally stated my opinion that Reaganomics is the most destructive and dangerous threat to capitalism ever devised. It has left a trail of failed ruinous destruction in our march to the brink of the Great Depression 2.0 that we face today.

But the two shifts above are also why, even as the chasm between left and right has widened to extreme lengths, the fault lines within the two parties have deepened, too. For many in the U.S., supporting a party means supporting the economic interests and the social preferences that are inherently at loggerheads.

The Republican Party won support for its economic policies from the lower middle class by backing that group’s conservative social preferences. These people were so strongly opposed to the liberal social agenda imposed by “coastal elites” (primarily New York and California) that they were willing to back the party that fought it, even if that meant voting against their economic self-interest.

Conversely, for the sake of the social values they hold dear, many members of the affluent coastal elite were willing to back a party whose policies went against their vested economic interests: the Democrats. That trade-off was particularly evident in 2008, when some of the leading donation-machines on Wall Street, a community that has historically been staunchly Republican, defected to Barack Obama.

Why the 2012 Elections Have Been So Erratic

These awkward pairings of social and economic issues are again dominating political races. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and Republican runner-up, portrayed himself as the candidate of the working man but also champions an extremely conservative social agenda.

The Democrats have had a more difficult time of it. The financial crisis and its aftermath have weakened the fragile alliance between the 1 percent and the liberals. It is one thing to support a highly educated leader whose own biography symbolizes the socially liberal convictions of your class at a time when the economy is booming and George W. Bush’s tax cuts are still in place. It is harder to justify when he is pledging to target beloved tax loopholes with the economic underpinnings of a largely uninteresting Buffett Rule.

This is where the same-sex marriage debate came in. A cause strongly advocated by young voters and committed progressives, two important groups in the Obama base, it also turns out to be an issue with tremendous traction within the highly educated, individual-rights-based 1 percent.

The good news for Obama, and the political logic behind his statement of personal conviction this week, is that “gay money” and “Wall Street money” can be interchangeable. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York demonstrated that in his support for same-sex marriage last year. Even billionaires with strongly conservative economic views, like the hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, are willing to back Democrats on what they see as an issue of fundamental civil rights.

It remains to be seen which fragile coalition holds up in November.

Source: hg.scimth.net

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