(photo: Gage Skidmore)

Everyone says that Republicans and Democrats are ideologically polarized. President Obama said so in his State of the Union address:

We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common-sense ideas.

Ryan Lizza makes the same claim in his New Yorker article, The Obama Memos.

… when Obama took office there was no ideological overlap between the two parties. In the House, the most conservative Democrat, Bobby Bright, of Alabama, was farther to the left than the most liberal Republican, Joseph Cao, of Louisiana. The same was true in the Senate, where the most conservative Democrat, Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, was farther to the left than the most liberal Republican, Olympia Snowe, of Maine. According to Poole and Rosenthal’s data, both the House and the Senate are more polarized today than at any time since the eighteen-nineties.

Lizza cites the work of political scientists Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal for the proposition that the divides are ideological. Their work leads them to the conclusion that most votes turn on a liberal/conservative divide based on tolerance for government regulation of the economy, and the rest turn on a cluster of cultural values.

One problem with this work is the use of votes on actual bills to define ideologies. In the three years of the President’s term, it isn’t easy to find a single bill that would qualify as liberal which has advanced to a vote. That problem is illustrated by the health care bill. There were plenty of liberal ideas for revamping the health care system in a way that would benefit average citizens. These range from some form of single-payer to highly regulated insurance companies as in Germany and Switzerland, to outright nationalization of the system as in England. In the middle, the public option was a moderate position, which some of us stupidly thought was the position of President Obama. Then there was the conservative position, RomneyCare, and further right, the position of Paul Ryan and Ron Paul, moderate and severe versions of you’re on your own. Among Democrats, there was no one espousing the liberal position, and only a few who actively supported the moderate position, which did not include the President.

One arguably liberal bill, cramdown in Chapter 13, passed the House and got a vote in the Senate, presumably after it became clear it wouldn’t win. There were 45 ayes, all Democrats, and 51 nays, including all Republicans and 11 Democrats.* Cramdown was, and remains, an excellent solution to the housing crisis on its own merits. I classify it as liberal because it corrects an unfairness in the system that lets rich people cram down mortgages on their vacation homes in Chapter 11, but denies working people the right to do the same thing for their homes in Chapter 13. It would have made a significant difference in the housing disaster, because it gave homeowners power in dealing with thug banksters and their fraudulent servicing operations.

The explanations offered by those opposing the bill were stupid. They argued that it would increase mortgage interest rates going forward without bothering to explain how that would happen or why. The real reason was that it would force banks and investors to face their losses on real estate mortgage-backed securities almost immediately. Investors would have immediately seen the extent of their losses and could sue the liars and cheats who sold them worthless securities. Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and bank ass-kissers at the Treasury were actively opposed, according to Pro Publica. The Treasury created the absurd HAMP program to pretend to help homeowners, and it failed miserably, both because banks refused to participate, and Treasury refused to penalize banks for their failures.

Republicans have something like an ideology. They say that wealth trickles down, and they do all in their power to give more money to Oligarchs and their corporations, through tax cuts, reduced regulation and social control of the rabble. Democrats are on board with giving tax cuts to Oligarchs and their corporations, reducing regulations or simply refusing to enforce them, and they are fully on board with social control of the rabble, especially when the rabble has the temerity to ask for accountability.

It’s time to quit talking about ideology. It’s time to recognize that the only divide is between the bullies and the weaklings who refuse to stand up to them. Here is a precise example from the State of the Union Address:

Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything -– even routine business –- passed through the Senate. (Applause.) Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. (Applause.) For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days. (Applause.)

The bullies reject majority rule because they are in the minority. The weaklings refuse to fight back. The President joins with the weaklings: “Neither party has been blameless in these tactics.”

That summarizes the Democratic ideology. Stay in power. Don’t aggrieve anyone with money. Don’t annoy the bullies. Screw liberals.
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* Baucus (MT), Bennett (CO), Byrd (WV), Carper (DE), Dorgan (SD), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Specter (PA), and Tester (MT). Kennedy (D-MA), Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sessions (R-AL) did not vote