When I die, if it turns out I’m wrong about an afterlife, my version of hell will be to be stuck in an endless Paul Krugman lecture. The sanctimonious hard-left economist is also a regular opinion writer for the New York Times. In my noble effort to read writers I can’t stand, just to see if they can change my mind, I read Krugman this morning. Nope, didn’t change my mind.
His point today was that it wasn’t progressives who were holding up the president’s agenda, but moderates. And it wasn’t because they understood their own constituencies better than an Ivy League economics professor. No, it was in part because they’re selling out to lobbyists and special interests, but mostly because they’re dumb.
Well, Krugman didn’t use the word, but he did accuse moderates of not keeping up with the “intellectual” development of the party since Bill Clinton. In other words, they’re dumb.
Let me offer a competing view, but before that I’ll stipulate that I’m fine with the whole $3.5 trillion package that progressives want. Since Democrats are almost certain to lose their majorities next year, they might as well swing for the fences now, secure in the knowledge that voters will first punish them for being tax and spend liberals and then zealously resist any attempt to role back any of those new benefits. As a nation, we’re rhetorical capitalists and practical socialists.
But there are two realities that Krugman doesn’t confront. First, he wants to portray progressives as being pure in their pursuit of what’s right and popular while moderates might know what the pure and right thing is, yet refuse to act due to their corruption and ignorance.
In truth, both progressives and moderates respond to their constituencies — the people who vote for them, the people who give them money, the industries in their districts and states. Progressives vote for progressive policies because that’s what their constituencies demand. Moderates vote for moderate policies for the same reason. That’s how they win elections. That’s what got them to Washington in the first place and they hope it’s what will keep them there. Neither side has cornered the market on political courage.
Second, Krugman doesn’t leave open the possibility that moderates have an ideology. They’re not just scared progressives, fearful of doing what they really want to do. They are politicians who view the world differently than Krugman. They really are concerned that too much spending will fuel inflation. They really don’t want a Western European style cradle-to-grave social benefit system. They really do believe that somewhat smaller government (at least compared to what the progressives want) is better for the economy and for the country as a whole in the long-run.
And, of course Krugman refuses to acknowledge the bedrock reality here: progressives are only in a position to be furious about not getting their full package because moderates make it all possible. Joe Manchin wins in a state that went for Donald Trump by 36 points. The Democrats have a majority because of him. And what else do you really need to know?
As a left-center Democrat myself, I actually tend to agree with Krugman more than with Manchin on substance. But given the alternative — which is not the world as Krugman imagines it — I’m grateful for the very existence of Joe Manchin. He is making this whole debate possible.
Welcome to the 223rd day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!