The conventional wisdom of Certified Smart People, and their media sycophants, is that the trouble with Washington is that Republicans have become extreme. I always like to say, “As if!,” and say the trouble is that they are not extreme enough (though extremity of opinion is not the same thing as political prudence or cleverness over how to win political fights—this is what seems in especially short supply at the moment, but that’s a subject for another time). As I like to remind people, the Republican Party began as an extremist party in the 1850s—the more so after the Supreme Court declared the central purpose of the GOP to be unconstitutional.
I can see very little of today’s Republican Party that you can’t find in Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, or in his infamous nomination acceptance speech of 1964. On the other side, lots of Democrats, including both Clintons and Barack Obama, opposed gay marriage until very recently. Leading Democrats—including Al Gore, Richard Gephardt, and Jesse Jackson—were opposed to abortion-on-demand well into the 1980s. Try to find a prominent pro-life Democrat today. It wasn’t that long ago that Bill Clinton had repositioned Democrats as a fiscally responsible, market-friendly party. Now the Dowager Countess of Chappaqua is running against his legacy, while Bern-It-Down Sanders is channeling the id of the Democrats who are disappointed that Obama isn’t left enough. And it’s Republicans who are extreme? Legal weed must be spreading faster than I thought.
Well now we have some empirical evidence, and as we know, you can always trust empirical social science evidence (see below). There’s a new academic paper on income inequality (the nit-Piketty obsession with the academic industrial complex) that concludes it is the Democratic Party that is becoming more extreme. The American Interest offers this summary:
The study’s overall argument is that income inequality has increased political polarization at the state level since the 1990s. But the authors find that that this happens more by moving state Democratic parties to the left than by moving state Republican parties to the right. As the Democratic Party lost power at the state level over the past 15 years, it also effectively shed its moderate wing. Centrist Democrats have increasingly lost seats to Republicans, “resulting in a more liberal Democratic party” overall. The authors find that the ideological median of Republican legislators has shifted much less.