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Ferguson: Both parties disintegrating, people will pay as economy weakens

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us from Massachusetts is Tom Ferguson. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and he’s a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Thanks for joining us, Tom.


JAY: So what do you make of the politics of all this as we head into the elections? You’ve got this weird, unholy alliance of sorts between the Tea Party types, who came into being supposedly in opposition to Bush, allying with Karl Rove and a whole gang of people that were in the Bush camp. What do you think of this?

FERGUSON: Politics makes strange bedfellows, right? Here’s the—I think the big story in this election is going to be very clear, which is that both political parties are disintegrating, in the sense that the relations between their base and leadership is just deteriorated and become crazy. And it’s going to be clear, even though the Republicans are likely to win a very large victory, probably’ll take control of the House, might take control of the Senate, the big story, I think, is the internal divisions in both parties are plainly very deep. And, you know, on the Democratic side, it’s, I think, pretty obvious that a lot of people are going to stay home. You might recall back in April or so I did that study of the Massachusetts election, and it was perfectly obvious at that point that Scott Brown defeated the Democratic candidate for Edward Kennedy’s seat in part because the Democratic turnout in traditionally high Democratic cities completely collapsed. And the other [inaudible] very clear was that the Republican vote went up—if your unemployment was high or your housing values have dropped a lot, you were more likely to vote more for the Republicans. Well, guess what? That’s been generally true of the whole United States. It was obvious at the time. And I and my co-author Jie Chen said exactly that, that there would be just a sweep in November for the Republicans. And that’s your story. You’ve got a vote against the Democratic economic policies and the disintegration of the Democratic Party, but equally obvious, the disintegration of the Republicans. And you can’t—there’s no way you get all of these people to sort of pull together for very long, even a day or two past the election.

JAY: So, essentially, another paralyzed Congress, and now—and a paralyzed executive, ’cause it can’t pass anything through Congress. And as they yell and scream at each other and internally fight, what happens to the rest of us?

FERGUSON: The rest of us become collateral damage, basically. You know, it is or it ought to be obvious that just going back to the invisible hand and, you know, more deregulation, tax breaks for business, and things like that is simply crazy. You know, to repeat the policy errors of the Reagan and Bush administrations (all the Bush administrations) again is nuts. I mean, this is, I think, though, not an election in which a lot of people sort of sat down and said, do we really know a lot about what folks are being offered. It’s just a vote. It’s a massive repudiation of the first two years of the president’s administration. You know, the guy just failed in his economic policy. He didn’t deliver to anybody except bankers.

JAY: I mean, one of the divisions in the Republican Party which in theory should emerge, although it’s not in the campaign, is that the libertarian part of the Tea Party movement—and look at Rand Paul in particular—were, previous to this, at least this campaign, extremely antiwar. Ron Paul’s against—Rand’s father is against the Iraq War, the Afghan War—Ron Paul. And at the time when Ron Paul was running, Rand supported this, against talk of empire, for cutting—massive cuts to the military budget. I mean, do they just shut up about all this? Or once elected, do these divisions break out in the Republican Party?

FERGUSON: If you pay attention closely, I think you’ll find there is a substantial current within the Republican Party (and it is the libertarian current, though they’re not all equally vocal about it) that wants cuts in military spending, and if you look very closely, you can find William Kristol and other Republicans on the right writing articles about how this is a danger [inaudible] traditional Republican line. I have a hard time believing that the Republican Party would ever repudiate sort of massive defense spending, but it’s clear that, you know, there is that current, even, in the party. It’s also clear that it worries the party strategists at the top, who are used to just taking that for granted. And, you know, the libertarians, for that matter, also do offer—a fair number have even been critical of, say, the standard drug policy, where you’re throwing everybody into prison for tiny amounts of marijuana. You know, that’s another large sort of current that is actually running across the sort of more libertarian streaks in both parties. There’s a lot of stuff like that floating around out there. The range of opinions in the sort of party base and middle parts in both the Democrat and Republican Party I think is probably about as wide as I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime.

JAY: It looks like the Tea Party’s going to help the Republican Party re-brand itself, but once in power, the Republicans can marginalize the Tea Party people pretty soon. There won’t be enough of them.

FERGUSON: Let me just comment on that. In the last couple of days, I’ve had calls from friends of mine, some of whom are actually Tea Party people, and, you know, they say, gee, I just get calls from groups that I thought were associated with Dick Armey, and they’re talking nicely of the US Chamber of Commerce; I’m completely amazed. I think you’re exactly right that what has happened is that the official Republican machine has been pretty successful at pumping cash into various organizations that offer to teach Tea Party people how to make tea, as it were, and in the process they give them talking points. I mean, I saw one newspaper report of how some Tea Party people had surfaced with talking points against campaign finance reform. You explain to me how any sensible Tea Party person could think that just allowing big business to buy elections could really be a constructive thing. But it’s obvious that, yeah, I think you’re right, the Tea Party’s pretty much being hijacked.

JAY: It was only two years ago Rand Paul was talking about Karl Rove and the Bush administration as his mortal enemy, and now Karl Rove’s various supposed nonprofit funding groups have funneled more than $1 million into the Rand Paul campaign.

FERGUSON: Yeah, though, you know, there were still some fireworks between Rove and the Tea Party, even earlier this year. The guy who’s championed the absolute alliance is Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi. And I can’t resist noting that about a year ago I closed an interview with you saying that Chuck Schumer would probably make a run for Democratic leader in the Senate if Harry Reid lost, and, of course, today’s newspapers carry exactly that story. I’ll tell you right now, people like Barbour—and Barbour’s one of the best-connected people in the Republican Party to big business—this guy is going to be running for the presidency, and it’s very interesting to see him writing articles in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, saying, no, the party needs to accept the judgment of primaries; even if Republican establishment candidates lose, they should not be trying to run as third parties, as, say, you know, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska is, having lost the Republican primary there. We should just accept whatever the Tea Party folks and everybody else bring out in those primaries. It’s a real interesting line. But if you think Haley Barbour is a Tea Party person, well, all I can say is you can’t have paid very much attention to the last 20 years of American politics.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Tom.

FERGUSON: Thanks. Bye.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Thomas Ferguson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a Senior Fellow of the Roosevelt Institute. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and taught formerly at MIT and the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Golden Rule (University of Chicago Press, 1995) and Right Turn (Hill & Wang, 1986). Most of his research focuses on how economics and politics affect institutions and vice versa. His articles have appeared in many scholarly journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Economic History. He is a long time Contributing Editor to The Nation and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of the Historical Society and the International Journal of Political Economy.