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Juncture interview: Theda Skocpol

22 May 2012

The distinguished political thinker Theda Skocpol gives her views on the state of US politics in 2012, ahead of 'one of the most important elections in American history'.

Theda Skocpol ... on why the left hasn’t made more out of the economic crisis:

  • It was very difficult to assemble a popular organised coalition that could suddenly present an alternative to the solutions that were being suggested by the financiers who created the crisis in the first place. Essentially, the failure of left forces in many countries to build broad coalitions with democratic roots over time really meant that they weren’t in a position to do that much.
  • The crisis in the US struck just as we were moving from a Republican to an Obama presidency and Democratic majorities in Congress. The Democrats had to get involved in trying to prevent financial meltdown from turning into a 1930s-style crash. So in some ways Obama was holding hands with the old regime to try to prevent things becoming a mass depression. That made it difficult for him to lead a more left-centred response which involved criticising the very institutions which he was trying to shore up.

...on progressive ideas:

  • There obviously needs to be a big push on job creation and new industries and we may be able to make some progress on environmental issues by investing in new energy sources. This would respond to American’s concerns that in the 21st century the US is falling behind the international competition – they worry that a once leading nation is headed for ‘has been’ status. But the core of this left renaissance has to be around bread and butter issues like living standards, with an understanding that new relationships between the genders and workplace and family are also important.
  • We are going to have to have an honest conversation about taxes in general and re-establish the idea, in my view, that broad-based taxes which everybody pays and everybody benefits from are the best way to build a centre-left democracy. We did it with social security in this country – we should be using that payroll tax model for a broader set of needs now. You are hearing this from me, but many on the left would not agree. They don’t like to talk about making anyone but billionaires pay. I’m all for making billionaires pay, but I just do not think they have enough to do the job.

...on Obama’s record:

  • You can certainly argue that Obama was caught in the trap of trying to save the financial system and did not explain to Americans sufficiently well the need for a bold recovery policy, and he didn’t focus perhaps enough on job creation. But he did get through, with the aid of the Democrats in Congress, a stimulus programme that saved the US economy and probably the world economy from a plunge into a great depression. He saved the American automobile industry, which has really turned out to be quite a triumph and very important to the social and economic fabric of the mid-western states.

...on the Tea Party’s hold over the Republicans:

  • The Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, all explicitly endorsed both grassroots and elite Tea Party priorities. Getting rid of healthcare reform, or at least eviscerating it if they can’t get the lot off the books; cracking down on immigration: illegal immigrants who are here as well as those who might enter; cutting taxes further on the very wealthy, and privatising social security and Medicare – these have all been signed up to. They are breathtakingly radical stands. If Romney is elected he will probably be there with a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House and in the first three months he will sign bills that destroy healthcare reform, push privatisation of social security and Medicare, and cut taxes.

...on the 2012 presidential election:

  • This is a turning-point election – this is one of the most important elections in American history coming up, not because Obama is some world-striding superman but because he has slightly turned the direction of the nation and the Democratic party, and if his turn is overturned at a critical juncture there may not come another opportunity for a while, and by then the identities and the interests may not be exactly the same. I think the 2012 election is going to be one of the most riveting, most hard-fought no-holds-barred elections in US political history – and that says something.

Juncture met Theda Skocpol at the Kennedy School in Boston. Download the full Juncture interview.

 
 

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