Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson

The sub-title of Winner-Take-All Politics nicely sums up the content of this fascinating, very readable book about what happened to national politics in the U.S. over the past thirty years: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--And turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

The authors, both political scientists, describe in detail how Republican politics moved much farther to the right with a zeal for tax cuts targeted specifically for the extremely rich. Voters, on the other hand, have not changed that much politically. The authors cite surveys which find much more moderation in the country than in the halls of Congress, though Conservatives have gained more adherents to their philosophy.

They quote Bruce Bartlett, one of the main proponents of Jack Kemp's supply-side economics proposals and an adviser to Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush.

Bartlett says GOP fiscal philosophy has become "so distorted into something that is, frankly, nuts--the ideas that there is no economic problem that cannot be cured with more and bigger tax cuts, that all tax cuts are equally beneficial, and that all tax cuts raise revenue."

The authors report that the top 0.1% grabbed over 20 percent of all after-tax income gains between 1979 and 2005. The bottom 60% got 13.5 percent.

Greed certainly plays a central role in this drama. The Republican Party figured out how to raise massive amounts of money from corporations and Wall Street. These interests demanded their due and they got it in the form of favorable policy that lowered tax rates, especially benefiting those in the top tier of the 1% income earners.

The Democratic Party also caught on and started raising huge funds as well, and since those on Wall Street were constituents of some powerful Democrats, they provided the necessary additional votes to allow deregulation of the financial industry, creating Enron, Worldcom and ultimately a near collapse of the banking system.

Trying to right the ship has been nearly impossible because of the GOP strategy of blocking nearly every initiative brought by the minority party. That's been accomplished by changing the filibuster rules. When the GOP consistently votes in lockstep, it is able to thwart just about anything the President champions, making him and the minority party look weak and ineffectual.

Where this leaves middle class voters is up a creek without a paddle or a boat, for that matter. Unions have been so defeated and organizations representing voters and good government have been so underfunded, relatively speaking, there are few voices to thwart the rapacious appetites of wealthy, well-represented interests groups.

Sadly, government is not functional in Washington today unless you have unimaginable wealth and a cadre of lobbyists to represent you.

As we celebrate the nation's independence, one can only wonder what in the world Jefferson and Adams would think of this.

Posted on July 6, 2014 .