Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99
News Opinion

Pragmatism, ideology and inequality in America

The Washington Post called Chris Christie's huge gubernatorial victory a "clear signal in favor of pragmatic, as opposed to ideological, governance." But the mainstream media used a different adjective to describe Bill de Blasio, Election Day's other landslide victor. The New York Times, for example, wrote of "the rise of the left-leaning Mr. de Blasio."

Again and again, Christie is being described as the pragmatist; De Blasio, as the lefty. But in light of America's surging inequality, the labels should be reversed.

The real pragmatist is Mr. de Blasio, who proposes to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to fund preschool and after-school programs for the children of the poor and hard-pressed middle class.

The cost of child care is taking a huge bite out of the paychecks of many working parents, some of whom have been forced to leave their kids alone at home or rely on overburdened neighbors and relatives. A small surcharge on the incomes of the super-rich to pay for well-supervised child care is a practical and long-overdue response.

The real ideologue is Mr. Christie, who vetoed an increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey. The current minimum of $7.25 is far lower than it was three decades ago in terms of purchasing power, and the typical minimum-wage worker is no longer a teenager but a major breadwinner for his or her family.

The so-called "pragmatic" Mr. Christie also frowns on gay marriage and abortion rights, which puts him in the company of many tea partiers. But because Mr. Christie himself isn't a tea partier, and had the temerity to be seen in the friendly company of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy's devastation, he appears pragmatic in comparison to them.

The civil war that's engulfed the Republican Party -- pitting the tea party against the establishment GOP -- is a headache for Republicans focused on the 2016 presidential contest. For that establishment, the size ofMr. Christie's win is a huge relief.

The Democratic Party, by contrast, has been the very model of civility. Establishment Democrats have dominated ever since Bill Clinton "triangulated" and moved the Party rightward.

Meanwhile, progressive Democrats and organized labor -- those who the late Paul Wellstone described as the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- have been remarkably tractable. Although they forced Obama to pull the nomination of Larry Summers, they've been all but ignored on the big stuff having to do with widening inequality.When progressives wanted Wall Street banks to reduce the mortgages of underwater homeowners as a condition for getting bailed out, the White House and most congressional Democrats turned a deaf ear.

Progressives also got nowhere trying to end the Bush tax cuts (even if that meant going over the "fiscal cliff"); seeking a "public option" for health insurance, an Employee Free Choice Act that would make it easier to form unions, and a resurrected Glass-Steagall Act as part of financial regulation; and objecting to the President's proposed "chain-weighted CPI" for Social Security and cuts in Medicare.

Yet progressives in the Democratic Party took their lumps without declaring civil war.

If the president and congressional Democrats had done more to reverse the scourge of widening inequality, Mr. de Blasio would seem more mainstream, and his proposal to raise taxes on the rich to finance better schools would be understood as another practical response to the overriding challenge of our time.

Had the tea party not declared war on the establishment GOP, Mr. Christie would be seen as a right-winger, and his opposition to raising the minimum wage as well as to abortion and gay marriage would be understood as ideological.

The biggest irony of the last three decades is that the football field of American politics has tilted to the right just as most Americans have been losing ground. The ideologues continue to move rightward. The true pragmatists are trying to level the playing field.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "Beyond Outrage," now available in paperback. His new film, "Inequality for All," was released in September. He blogs at http://www.robertreich.org.

 

 

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Will Americans love a skinny Chris Christie?
    Will Americans love a skinny Chris Christie?
  • Blunt talk the GOP needs to hear
    Blunt talk the GOP needs to hear

    Jules Witcover says Chris Christie is a force to be reckoned with as Republicans look ahead to 2016

  • The road to 10,000 families
    The road to 10,000 families

    The fact that the Census Bureau estimates a slight decline in Baltimore's population in the year that ended July 1, 2014, isn't the death knell of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's ambitious goal to attract 10,000 families to the city in a decade. The yearly estimates are just that —...

  • Baltimore's crane drain
    Baltimore's crane drain

    Hats off to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other top city officials for not blowing their tops when word came down last week that language included in the Senate's version of the state budget package would give a $2 million tax break to Ports America Chesapeake — all of it coming...

  • The people's representatives should be elected
    The people's representatives should be elected

    Members of Congress don't always complete their terms due to factors like death, a new job and scandal. When a House seat becomes vacant, the Constitution requires an election to fill it, and every House member has been elected. The 17th amendment established direct election of Senators as...

  • The conservative case for same-sex marriage
    The conservative case for same-sex marriage

    Before the current Supreme Court session ends this summer, the justices will make a landmark decision on same-sex marriage. But conservatives shouldn't wait to lose in court. They should accept same-sex marriage now.

Comments
Loading