Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reading: Krugman on the importance of not playing nice

Great piece by Paul Krugman in Slate today. He begins with the premise that, while it's important to get Bush and his cronies out from behind the driver's wheel, once that happens the car will still be headed for the cliff. And--to prod my metaphor (not Krugman's) a little bit further--the car is still full of movement conservatives who would happy to see the car go over the cliff, and whose advice on navigation should therefore be resisted, not deferred to. (emphasis added):

Here's a thought for progressives: Bush isn't the problem. And the next president should not try to be the anti-Bush.

No, I haven't lost my mind. I'm not saying that we should look kindly on the Worst President Ever; we'll all breathe a sigh of relief when he leaves office 405 days, 2 hours, and 46 minutes from now. (Yes, a friend gave me one of those Bush countdown clocks.) Nor am I suggesting that we should forgive and forget; I very much hope that the next president will open the records and let the full story of the Bush era's outrages be told.

But Bush will soon be gone. What progressives should be focused on now is taking on the political movement that brought Bush to power. In short, what we need right now isn't Bush bashing—what we need is partisanship.[…]

[M]any pundits have attributed last year's Republican defeat to Iraq, with the implication that once the war has receded as an issue, the right will reassert its natural political advantage—in spite of polls that show a large Democratic advantage on just about every domestic issue.[…]

The question, however, is whether Democrats will take advantage of America's new liberalism. To do that, they have to be ready to forcefully make the case that progressive goals are right and conservatives are wrong. They also need to be ready to fight some very nasty political battles.

And that's where the continuing focus of many people on Bush, rather than the movement he represents, has become a problem.[…]

[A]ny attempt to change America's direction, to implement a real progressive agenda, will necessarily be highly polarizing. Proposals for universal health care, in particular, are sure to face a firestorm of partisan opposition. And fundamental change can't be accomplished by a politician who shuns partisanship.

Krugman also includes this remark, which won't please all self-described liberals, but since my guys come out on top I'm willing to play nice about it:

[A] word about terms—specifically, liberal vs. progressive. Everyone seems to have their own definitions; mine involves the distinction between values and action. If you think every American should be guaranteed health insurance, you're a liberal; if you're trying to make universal health care happen, you're a progressive.

And here's the thing: Progressives have an opportunity, because American public opinion has become a lot more liberal.

I doubt if many liberals will agree to Krugman's claim that liberalism is simply the potential for progressive action. Of course it's true that, for a variety of reasons, progressives are more than ready--always have been--to act on certain things that liberals aren't. Campaign finance reform is a good example: Most progressives accept that the American government can't be completely fixed as long as our elections are financed by corporations. Most liberals see the solution to that as making changes to the existing finance laws to mitigate the most obvious bad effects of the status quo without addressing the fundamental question of who owns our elections, and hence our elected officials. The point isn't that the two groups have the same values on this issue, and one is willing to act while the other hangs back; liberals and progressives generally proceed from different values on the matter. Preserving the campaign finance status quo is action from the liberal point of view.

(There's a funny little back-story about Krugman appearing in Slate, by the way; you can read about it here.)

Krugman's piece is going onto the Readings list in the sidebar.


t.a. said...

what we really have going on here is Krugman's on-going, and accelerating, attack on Obama. why he's so against Obama, no one seems to know. if he was a winger, we'd assume he was a racist. he's not, though, so i have to assume he just really thinks Obama would be a disaster.

Krugman simply cannot conceive that it is possible to find middle ground on a lot of issues. but most Americans, and most politicians, are not locked into the extremes. most of us don't have such severe black-and-white notions of the world that we cannot think even a little bit outside of our boxes. but there are millions of Americans who not only believe such middle ground exists, they are longing for leaders who will work with them to find the solutions that are as win-win as possible.

Obama's no fool; when it's an issue of absolute right or wrong, like the death penalty or a woman's right to choose, he makes the right (progressive/liberal) choice. but when it comes to all the grey areas in human & political life, he knows while there may be a number of people who will fight bitterly for their version of The Truth, there will be far more people who want to simply get a decent fix they can support.

it's too bad Krugman's vision is so small and dark. i guess his anger at Bush has left scars that we see manifest as this unreasonable fear of an Obama presidency.

Nothstine said...

Hey, t.a.--

The Krugman-Obama dust-up really does have a strange vibe to it. Not exactly sure how it escalated to this point, although if pressed I supposed I could make a guess.

As an aside, I'm having a tough time seeing how Krugman's recent Obama articles would be "racist," even if they'd come from a right-winger [actually, if it is racist, wouldn't it be racist regardless of whether a progressive or conservative says it?]. But back to the point:

Taking Krugman's article by itself--which I do--I pretty much agree with the shrill one [remember when only conservatives speculated about what might be wrong with Krugman's psyche?]: I'll gladly vote for Obama if he gets the nomination, but every time he talks about forging bipartisan consensus, he drops a little bit in my estimation.

To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, you can't find common ground with a person whose paycheck depends on him not seeing any common ground. In, say, 10 or 20 years, when the movement conservatives have finally lost their grip on the GOP and much of the mainstream media [through retirement, death, or incarceration], then I'll listen seriously to a Democratic candidate who builds in finding common ground as a campaign theme.

There are certainly places out there right now where the possibility exists for bipartisan action, and those should be seized upon, of course. But in 2007, that's like finding five bucks in the washing machine--it's great when it happens, but it's a bad idea to build your budget around the idea that it's going to happen regularly.

Cleaning up the mess that the movement-dominated GOP has left us after 7 years will involve fighting the GOP minority hammer and tong every step of the way.