Sunday, January 27, 2008

Krugman on Politics, Policy and Partisanship

Paul Krugman bestows a long needed whack up-side the head to all Democrats concerning the presidential campaign. He talks about the uncanny resemblance of Golden Boy Barry's campaign to the Big Dog's first run, right down to the message of "Hope" and promises of bipartisanship. Then he throws some cold water:

Whatever hopes people might have had that Mr. Clinton would usher in a new era of national unity were quickly dashed. Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.

This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president.

For those who are reaching for their smelling salts because Democratic candidates are saying slightly critical things about each other, it’s worth revisiting those years,simply to get a sense of what dirty politics really looks like.

Message to the Democrats, particularly the netroots screamers out to denounce the eeeeviiiilllll power-mad Clintons - the enemy is Movement Conservatism. Clinton failed because he wasn't prepared to deal with the utter, unhinged savagery of the right-wing attacks. Nothing was out of bounds, nothing to personal, too heinous, not even accusations of murder and drug-running.

Krugman then very specifically addresses the pitfalls of another point of congruence between the Big Dog and The Golden One, their comparably weak and vague health care policy plan. His objection to Obama's plan is based in the historical failure of Clinton's - too little, too late, too careful. It was a privately crafted wonk piece and not a sharp presentation, complete with drawn up battle lines, and specifics to be defended. Krugman provides a few lessons to all Democrats, but most specifically to the Clinton Haters:

So what are the lessons for today’s Democrats?

First, those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).

The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.

Second, the policy proposals candidates run on matter.

I have colleagues who tell me that Mr. Obama’s rejection of health insurance mandates — which are an essential element of any workable plan for universal coverage — doesn’t really matter, because by the time health care reform gets through Congress it will be very different from the president’s initial proposal anyway. But this misses the lesson of the Clinton failure: if the next president doesn’t arrive with a plan that is broadly workable in outline, by the time the thing gets fixed the window of opportunity may well have passed.

This cuts to the heart of Obama's two very serious weaknesses without letting Hillary off the hook. First is Obama's inherent claim that somehow the conservative battle is specific to the Clintons and that people will melt before his incredible awesomeness. No. They hate you, too, and you will end up as slimed and reviled as the Clintons. Probably more so. Don't believe me? Two words: Al Gore. Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler has documented those atrocities. And, Barry, they aren't going to wait for you to reach the White House. It will start the day you clinch the nomination.

The second weakness is your flaccid wonkery. Yeah, yeah, you charm and you promise, but you don't have the goods where it counts, hon. Hillary and Edwards both have you beat on detail and there ain't nobody in the race who knows more about the executive office than HRC. Experience does matter because the nation doesn't have time for a learning curve. It needs something ready to go yesterday, and it needs an advocate who has no illusions about nicing these people into agreement.

Krugman concludes with another solid slap to all participants, but most directly to Hillary. I think he's pretty much given up on Golden Boy Barry. John Edwards gets some Krugman approval:

My sense is that the fight for the Democratic nomination has gotten terribly off track. The blame is widely shared. Yes, Bill Clinton has been somewhat boorish (though I can’t make sense of the claims that he’s somehow breaking unwritten rules, which seem to have been newly created for the occasion). But many Obama supporters also seem far too ready to demonize their opponents.

What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward. Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing.

Quit the freaking hissy fits over who said what asinine thing to whom and start wonking up the place, dammit! Of course, Barry can't because he never has been able to, so it's up to Hillary to get her act together (and get Bill to back off a few steps for the good of the nation) and make this a campaign about issues, details, policy and plans.

The problem here, of course, is that Hillary is doing this. She bores the poor reporters to death with her incessant yammering on about the things only the unimportant plebes care about, like how to pay heating bills and what can be done to save your house. If the media will not report the issues, if they reward candidates who play the "Kill Hill!" demonization game (I'm looking at you, Obama), if they ignore the candidates when they discuss policy and planning (case study - Mr. Edwards), how can the progressive agenda be advanced?



Anonymous said...

I agree, Anglachel. The problem, though, is that Hillary is already discussing issues at every campaign stop she makes. But none of that ever seems to get reported. The only things that get reported are cut and paste sentences out of speeches that can somehow be used to do a hit job on her or Bill, as we've seen way too many times. I don't know how you combat that or what you change. This is really maddening, since so many Americans don't even seem to realize how worthless and biased our press has become.

Anonymous said...

Can you please make a list of talking points for us who know Barry supporters who always say that the Clintons play dirty as if Barry's hands are clean? The media tends to ignore the times Barry & Co. play dirty but the stuff the Clintons do are on television 24/7. No politician is innocent. These people are such idiots.