Sunday, January 20, 2008

Getting the Details Right

Returning to the themes of an earlier post, "It's the Facts, Stupid," there are two articles in the New York Times for Monday that demonstrate why Hillary Clinton is running so solidly with the Democratic base, and why Golden Boy Barry is starting to lose steam.

The first is an article about HRC's plans for restoring the economy, "For Clinton, Government as Economic Prod," which succinctly lays out both her economic philosophy and her practical responses to the looming recession. Some key excerpts:

Reflecting what her aides said were very different conditions today, Mrs. Clinton put her emphasis on issues like inequality and the role of institutions like government, rather than market forces, in addressing them.

She said that economic excesses — including executive-pay packages she characterized as often “offensive” and “wrong” and a tax code that had become “so far out of whack” in favoring the wealthy — were holding down middle-class living standards. ...

“If you go back and look at our history, we were most successful when we had that balance between an effective, vigorous government and a dynamic, appropriately regulated market,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And we have systematically diminished the role and the responsibility of our government, and we have watched our market become imbalanced.” ...

Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign initiated the interview, can speak in both fine detail and sweeping historical terms about the economy — almost as would a policy adviser, which she essentially was for a long time. When talking about the middle class, she divides the decades since World War II into two periods, using the same cutoff point that many economists do. ...

If she were to win the Democratic nomination and the general election, she would most likely take office at a similar economic moment as her husband, with the economy struggling to emerge from a downturn. In 1993 — with Mrs. Clinton playing a role that Bob Woodward later described as “de facto chief of staff” — Mr. Clinton pushed through an economic plan without a single Republican vote.

Many analysts say that plan played a role in the Democrats’ loss of Congress the next year, but it is also widely credited with helping lay the groundwork for the 1990s boom. Mrs. Clinton suggested that she would be willing to take a similar approach in 2009.

“You try to find common ground, insofar as possible. But if you really believe, you have to manage the economy,” she said. “You have to stake a lot of your presidency on it. Because at the beginning is when you’re strongest.”

A powerful command of the historical and economic facts, a plan with clear goals and specific objectives, but open enough to change with changing circumstances, and an unswerving committment to ordinary citizens' basic financial needs. Most of all, in the last few paragraphs, an unequivocal statement about where compromise belongs - nowhere. No mushy bipartisanship to placate the Broderites and the Kewl Kidz. Big Dog passed his economic plan without a single Republican vote and the country was better for it.

Now go to Krugman's latest column, "Debunking the Regan Myth," where he takes on Obama's arrogant and tone deaf blather to the Reno Republicans:

Historical narratives matter. That’s why conservatives are still writing books denouncing F.D.R. and the New Deal; they understand that the way Americans perceive bygone eras, even eras from the seemingly distant past, affects politics today.

And it’s also why the furor over Barack Obama’s praise for Ronald Reagan is not, as some think, overblown. The fact is that how we talk about the Reagan era still matters immensely for American politics.

Bill Clinton knew that in 1991, when he began his presidential campaign. “The Reagan-Bush years,” he declared, “have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.”

Contrast that with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed? ...

I understand why conservatives want to rewrite history and pretend that these good things happened while a Republican was in office — or claim, implausibly, that the 1981 Reagan tax cut somehow deserves credit for positive economic developments that didn’t happen until 14 or more years had passed. (Does Richard Nixon get credit for “Morning in America”?)

But why would a self-proclaimed progressive say anything that lends credibility to this rewriting of history — particularly right now, when Reaganomics has just failed all over again? ...

This is, in short, a time when progressives ought to be driving home the idea that the right’s ideas don’t work, and never have.

It’s not just a matter of what happens in the next election. Mr. Clinton won his elections, but — as Mr. Obama correctly pointed out — he didn’t change America’s trajectory the way Reagan did. Why?

Well, I’d say that the great failure of the Clinton administration — more important even than its failure to achieve health care reform, though the two failures were closely related — was the fact that it didn’t change the narrative, a fact demonstrated by the way Republicans are still claiming to be the next Ronald Reagan.

Now progressives have been granted a second chance to argue that Reaganism is fundamentally wrong: once again, the vast majority of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track. But they won’t be able to make that argument if their political leaders, whatever they meant to convey, seem to be saying that Reagan had it right.

Not a lot of sympathy for Bill Clinton in those last few paragraphs, but even less for The Golden One. The message here is that details matter, getting the story right matters, figuring out how to frame the problem which then gives you control of the possible outcomes matters. It is amazing that someone so adept at oratory doesn't understand that a shitty message delivered in dulcet tones is still a shitty message.

Obama appears frozen in the 80s, unable to escape the siren song of Reagan, the gifted speaker entranced by the clever words of a long dead huckster. He's proposing to reengage the Republicans on the same issues Bill Clinton did, but not be so divisive and confrontational. He isn't rejecting the conservative framing of the problem - that the out-of-control Democrats are causing a conservative backlash, so we all just gotta calm down, meet in the middle and be reasonable about this.

Bullshit. Message to Barry - We already fought those battles and WE WON. Big Dog showed how to get economic plans passed without a single opposition vote. He kicked Newt Gingrich's butt over trying to shut down the government. He held the party together through the last stages of a massive, two-generation long realignment, when the Dixiecrats finally got the hell out and joined the Republicans. And he laid the foundations for a resurgence of a Democratic party with fewer internal divisions.

Compare HRC's sharp and historically nuanced understanding of America's economic past since the New Deal with Obama's uncritical estimation of Reagan's failed policies. It is as though he has never contemplated the ingenuity of FDR or the brilliance of the Democratic post-war governance. He accepts without question the narrative of the movement conservatives and agrees to play within their fairy tale of what the world is like. Even giving him the small bone that he was trying to curry favor with a pack of conservative newspaper editors (which calls into question just what he was doing in that office in the first place...), he still does nothing to defend the Democratic vision of what we should do going forward, capitulating to the lie that Republicans, not Democrats, were the party of ideas.

Getting the details right matters because it creates the boundaries and possibilites for future action.


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