Jacob S. Hacker is Stanley Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University, is the author, with Paul Pierson, of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010).
Just about everyone understands the importance of Iraq to the Democrats' success in the 2006 midterm elections. Far fewer, we suspect, understand that the Democrats owe a good chunk of their 2006 success to an issue that has historically been one of their strongest: the economy.
Remember those bumper stickers during the early-1990s ﬁght over the Clinton health plan? “National Health Care? The Compassion of the IRS! The Efﬁciency of the Post Ofﬁce! All at Pentagon Prices!” In American policy debates, it's a ﬁxed article of faith that the federal government is woefully bumbling and expensive in comparison with the well-oiled efﬁciency of the private sector. Former Congressman Dick Armey even elevated this skepticism into a pithy maxim: “The market is rational; government is dumb.”
Across the political spectrum, alarm bells are ringing about Medicare, America's giant health program for the aged and disabled. To conservatives, Medicare is a huge, Kremlin-esque bureaucracy destined to soak up more and more of the American economy. To critics on the left, it's an inadequate program that nonetheless siphons off increasingly limited funds that could be used to broaden coverage for children and working families.