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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Boren on Bipartisanship

Monday, I went to a talk on campus by former Senator David Boren (D-OK) who was promoting his new book (all proceeds go to scholarships). This blurb is from the book website:
Bipartisan cooperation on behalf of national interests needs to replace destructive partisanship, and we should not rule out electing a president independent of both existing parties.
At a different local event covered by the newspaper, Boren discussed his vision of bipartisanship (as he did at the campus interview too):
"It is time for those in office to stop underestimating the American people," he said.

Boren, now president of the University of Oklahoma, said the country has gone wildly off course in the past 20 or 25 years as Washington politics have become more polarized and partisan.

He called for whoever is elected as the next president to build a truly bipartisan Cabinet -- and not just pick a token from the other party as interior secretary.

And he said we need to return to the days of smoke-filled rooms where the country's leaders -- outside the eyes of the public and the media -- can work together on the biggest issues of the day.

"It needs to happen," he said. "Government worked when it happened."
While the anti-democratic aspects of the smoke-filled rooms bother me, I'm also very troubled by Boren's call for bipartisanship.

Boren pointed out that since 1980, the federal debt had climbed from $1 billion to $10 billion and that the wealthiest 10% of Americans now hold 54% of America's wealth. The post-war average through 1982 was 34%. You can see a charter for yourself here (p. 6 in the pdf).

The last time the wealthiest 10% controlled this much wealth was 1929.

Boren didn't connect the dots, but the Republican (Reagan) Revolution largely explains both these facts. Reagan and Bush administrations cut taxes on the wealthy and dramatically increased borrowing to pay for defense spending and tax cuts. During the Clinton years, the top 10% did se their share of the national wealth increase from about 40% to around 45%, but Republicans controlled Congress for all but two of those years.

So, why should a number of Republican class warriors be brought into an Obama administration? Boren wants to strike deals with the extremists who have transformed America's political economy. Boren made an explicit and unfavorable comparison between the US and Brazil, where the wealthy (he claimed) have to hide in their homes behind the protection of armed guards.

Elsewhere, Matt Yglesias makes a case for partisan government.

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