My central disagreement with Bartlett is that I don’t think it’s very sensible to interpret political history as a series of psychodramas. One could present the same facts in a very different matter, e.g., noble congressional Republicans only passed the Medicare prescription drug benefit because they feared demagogic attacks from the left, which threatened a massive political defeat that would impair their ability to pursue pro-growth policies. This is a specious and self-serving narrative. But is it any less specious and self-serving than congressional Democrats who blame demagogic attacks from the right for their own failures on the fiscal policy front? For those who believe that we need to sharply increase taxes on middle income households, this view is a commonplace. Democrats would take precisely this step, the narrative goes, if only they didn’t have to fear ferocious attacks from the Republican spin machine.
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