Correlation or Causation?

This article by Tom Edsall and John Harris in The Washington Post has a lot of people, and a lot of bloggers, buzzing. Essentially, the article suggests that the Bush Administration is pursuing a deliberate strategy of advancing issues that cause political problems for Democrats.

To be sure, Eduwonk thinks the Administration loses no sleep over the intra-Democratic problems their proposals on guns, tort reform, education, labor, and other issues cause. But, it seems more likely that this is gravy for them. Republicans have been pushing these issues since before Bush came to office. What’s the evidence they’re deliberately changing positions just to create political problems for Democrats?

Though not in the Edsall-Harris article, education is an instructive example here. Republicans have not only supported, but actively worked to enact school vouchers since the early 1990s. Various factions of the Republican party support vouchers from a libertarian, efficiency, welfare state, or faith-based perspective. At the same time, vouchers also happen to be an effective political wedge issue, forcing Democratic officeholders into hard choices between important parts of the Democratic coalition (African-Americans and teachers’ unions). But wreaking havoc on the Democratic coalition doesn’t seem to be the primary impetus for Republican voucher efforts. For this variety of reasons, Republicans genuinely believe it’s the best policy. The collateral political damage it causes for Democrats is just, again, a bonus for them and one more political tool for activists pushing the issue.

Worth noting that because Democrats are organized more around coalitional politics than ideas right now, various wedge-political strategies become that much easier and obvious for the Republicans. Consider education again, wouldn’t the voucher gambit be less effective if Democrats were offering a cogent critique of, and solutions to, the problems facing public education? But, even a casual glance at the Democratic coalition makes clear why that’s a hard critique to offer, why serious solutions are even tougher, and why all this makes it pretty easy for the Republicans. And, that’s not just a problem on education…

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