Krugman: Progressives to Arms

Krugman has an excellent point about bi-partisanship and polarization. Inevitably policies that generate real change as against marginal issues about which most can agree will involve polarisation although with the majority on the side of progressive change. US politics though is stuck in a two party logjam in which each party tries to stick to the middle that in effect means catering to those who have the funds to buy support for their interests and leaving the vast majority to be fed by patriotic rhetoric and only minimal attention to their needs.

SLATE politics

Progressives, To Arms!
Forget about Bush--and the middle ground.

By Paul Krugman

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

OK, before I get there, 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

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

Not everyone understands that. In fact, the reaction of the news media
to the first clear electoral manifestation of America's new
liberalism—the Democratic sweep in last year's congressional
elections—was almost comical in its denial.

Thus, in 1994, Time celebrated the Republican victory in the midterm
elections by putting a herd of charging elephants on its cover. But
its response to the Democratic victory of 2006—a victory in which
House Democrats achieved a larger majority, both in seats and in the
popular vote, than the Republicans ever did in their 12-year
a pair of overlapping red and blue circles, with the headline "The
center is the place to be."

Oh, and the guests on Meet the Press the Sunday after the Democratic
sweep were, you guessed it, Joe Lieberman and John McCain.

More seriously, many 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.

In a way, it's understandable that many political analysts are finding
it hard to grasp how much things have changed. After all, not long ago
it was conventional wisdom among the chattering classes that America
had entered an era of long-term Republican—and
I have a whole shelf of books with titles like One Party Country and
Building Red America, all of them explaining why movement
conservatism—the interlocking set of institutions, ranging from the
Heritage Foundation to Fox News, that make up the modern American
right—is invincible.

And it's true that even now, polls suggest that Americans are about
twice as likely to identify themselves as conservatives as they are to
identify themselves as liberals.

But if you look at peoples' views on actual issues, as opposed to
labels, the electorate's growing liberalism is unmistakable. Don't
take my word for it; look at the massive report Pew released earlier
this year on trends in "political attitudes and core values." Pew
found "increased public support for the social safety net, signs of
growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished
appetite for assertive national security policies." Meanwhile,
nothing's the matter with Kansas: People are ever less inclined to
support conservative views on moral values—and have become
dramatically more liberal on racial issues.

And it's not just opinion polls: Last year, the newly liberal mindset
of the electorate was reflected in actual votes, too. Yes, some of the
Democrats newly elected last year were relatively conservative. But
others, including James Webb of Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana,
have staked out strikingly progressive positions on economic issues.

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 year ago, Michael Tomasky wrote a perceptive piece titled "Obama the
anti-Bush," in which he described Barack Obama's appeal: After the
bitter partisanship of the Bush years, Tomasky argued, voters are
attracted to "someone who speaks of his frustration with our polarized
politics and his fervent desire to transcend the red-blue divide."
People in the news media, in particular, long for an end to the
polarization and partisanship of the Bush years—a fact that probably
explains the highly favorable coverage Obama has received.

But any 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.

I like to remind people who long for bipartisanship that FDR's drive
to create Social Security was as divisive as Bush's attempt to
dismantle it. And we got Social Security because FDR wasn't afraid of
division. In his great Madison Square Garden speech, he declared of
the forces of "organized money": "Never before in all our history have
these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.
They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred."

So, here's my worry: Democrats, with the encouragement of people in
the news media who seek bipartisanship for its own sake, may fall into
the trap of trying to be anti-Bushes—of trying to transcend
partisanship, seeking some middle ground between the parties.

That middle ground doesn't exist—and if Democrats try to find it,
they'll squander a huge opportunity. Right now, the stars are aligned
for a major change in America's direction. If the Democrats play nice,
that opportunity may soon be gone.

Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times.


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