BERKELEY – The odds are now about 36% that the United States will be in a recession next year. The reason is entirely political: partisan polarization has reached levels never before seen, threatening to send the US economy tumbling over the “fiscal cliff” – the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect at the beginning of 2013 unless Democrats and Republicans agree otherwise.
More than a century ago, during the first Gilded Age, American politics was sharply polarized as well. In 1896, future President Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican attack dog. He denounced Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan as a mere puppet of the sinister governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld.