LOPEZ: “Obama’s coziness with the big financial houses did not stop the typical left-wing groups from pitching in to help the Democratic effort; the SEIU led the way with $75 million in total campaign spending.” What does that say about the Left?
COST: It suggests either Machiavellian craftiness or stunning naiveté. I’m not sure which!
About Barack Obama you write that “unfortunately, the independent thinking of his writing was illusory.” Is this entirely fair? Couldn’t he truly believe that client interests coincide with the public good?
COST: I think he does think that. I think he has a machine-style view of politics, where victory depends on mobilizing the core Democratic voters, and as for the Republicans — well, they’re out in the suburbs, so who cares!
LOPEZ: How did the country dodge a bullet on cap-and-trade? Do you notice how hot it is outside? Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Or are you still without lights and can’t tell me?
COST: Ha ha ha! Kidding aside, cap-and-trade is a great example of how the environmentalist Left operates. I’m of the opinion that global warming is real and that, to some extent, it is man-made (though I think its danger has been systematically exaggerated for political effect). Even so, I totally reject the notion that cap-and-trade is a good idea when the economy is suffering its worst contraction in 80 years.
A balanced view of the public good would take these competing interests into account: Yes, the climate is a concern, but it has to be prioritized in relation to a whole host of other problems, such as the utter collapse of manufacturing employment, which was once the backbone of the middle class. The environmentalist Left is not capable of sustaining this kind of balance. Sure, its rhetoric is public-spirited, always arguing for “clean air,” “clean water,” and the like, but the reality is that it has a very narrow view of what is in the public interest. It wants to sacrifice everything else at the altar of what they define as “environmentalism.” In the case of cap-and-trade, they want to kneecap the industrial sector, recession be damned. That makes it a narrow interest group.
And the level of power it exercises in the Democratic party is startling. The economy was just coming out of recession when the House Democrats passed the single largest regulatory infrastructure since the National Industrial Recovery Act. Amazing.
LOPEZ: You describe the first stimulus bill as having hit “all the erogenous zones of the Democratic party” and as “the single largest payoff in history to the party’s vast clientele.”
COST: It really is startling how huge the payoff was to the Democratic party. The fact that the Democrats got only three Republicans in the Senate to support the bill [Snowe, Collins, and Specter] — and only after serious arm-twisting — was an early signal of how lousy the legislation was. President Obama’s job approval was in the 60 percent range, and you do not defy a popular president lightly, and yet the House GOP did exactly that. Not a single Republican in the House voted for it because the bill was so wasteful.
#pagE#LOPEZ: “‘Crony capitalism’ is a great way to describe the relationship between big business and today’s Democratic party.” Don’t you have the parties confused? As you yourself write, “Traditionally, we think . . . business aligns with the Republicans and labor with the Democrats.”
COST: Unfortunately, big business still has its tentacles in the modern GOP. See, for instance, Matt Continetti’s great takedown of the Tom Delay years, The K Street Gang.
Even so, since the 1980s, big businesses have been playing both sides of the aisle, and in the last 15 years or so, they have been very successful in getting the Democrats to respond to their needs.
LOPEZ: Why does America “need” the Democratic party? How can you go all Sarah Palin and criticize “crony capitalism” and still say we need the Democratic party in our political lives?
COST: The history of American politics has mostly been a debate between two competing visions — one that emphasizes economic advancement and one that emphasizes equality. Put another way, we have been having the same Hamilton-versus-Jefferson debate for 200 years. The reason for the perpetuation of this conflict is that economic growth often comes at the expense of economic, social, and, ultimately, political quality. Hamilton’s Bank of the United States was good for the whole country, but it also showered its blessings unequally, heaping them upon certain privileged groups. And so it has gone over the generations.
So, the two parties serve as a good check on each other. But when the Democrats actually promote inequality, there is no credible voice out there arguing in behalf of the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian vision of a society of equals.
LOPEZ: If you insist on this point: How can it be saved?
COST: I don’t know.
LOPEZ: Will the Democrats always be wedded to liberal feminists and abortion? Could a Sargent Shriver successfully fix things today? Create competition for the pro-life vote?
COST: I’d say no — not without some kind of external shock that realigns the two parties. As things stand, the feminists are too powerful in the Democratic party to be challenged.
LOPEZ: If you were going to write a book exclusively about the Republican party, what would it likely be — or are you already booked, so to speak?
COST: I think there has been an interesting tension within the GOP since its founding, out of a hodgepodge of discontented ideological and sectional groups in the 1850s. On the one hand are reformist elements who want to change the country for the better, and on the other are factions who are happy with the status quo and want to keep things as they are. What is interesting to me is that the reformers used to be on the left wing of the party — for instance, Teddy Roosevelt and the progressives — but now they are most certainly on the right.