Saturday, December 19, 2009

Needless to Say...

...I disagree with Krugman. It does happen, and it's happening here.

That said, some of the arguments here annoy me — in particular the line I’ve been hearing from some quarters that progressives who say we should hold our noses and pass the flawed Senate bill are just like the “liberal hawks” who supported the Iraq war.

No, they aren’t. And I don’t say that just because, as it happens, I stuck my neck way out in opposing Iraq, and was more or less the only columnist with a spot in a major newspaper to say outright that the Bush administration was misleading us into war.

Look, I don’t know for sure what motivated the liberal hawks; you’ll have to ask them. Some, I hope, were genuinely naive: despite all the signs that we were being sold a bill of goods, they just couldn’t believe that an American president would start a war on false pretenses. Others, I suspect, were being careerists, aligning themselves with where the power seemed to lie; sad to say, their career calculations were justified, since to this day you’re generally not considered “serious” on national security unless you were wrong about the war.

What’s going on with health care is very different. Those who grudgingly say “pass the thing” — a camp I have reluctantly joined — aren’t naive: by and large they’re wonks who have looked at the legislation quite carefully, understand both its virtues and its flaws, and have decided that it’s a lot better than nothing. And there isn’t much careerism involved: if you’re a progressive pundit or wonk, the risks of alienating the people to your left are at least a match for the risks of alienating people to your right.

I'm honestly surprised that Prof. Krugman mischaracterized things so badly. No, it is NOT as great a risk to alienate the left as alienate the right. To even pretend to believe that is either disingenuous or naive, neither of which I'd usually call Paul Krugman, so I'll just assume he's having a bad day or is annoyed or whatnot.

Alienating the right carries serious, serious consequences for a politician or staffer. That's what is meant when people say "Washington is wired for Republicanism": the major institutions and players in Washington are still by-and-large right-leaning instead of left-leaning. At best, they follow that kinda-sorta-liberal attitude of "bigger safety net for the poor, but no challenge to the practices of the wealthy" that motivates the Obama administration's attitude towards the financial sector. Usually, you don't even get that much.

And what about lobbying? Both politicians and their staffers, once outside of Washington, find their most profitable employment in convincing their successors that What's Good For [insert client here] Is Good For America. That is not generally a left-wing enterprise, and progressives don't see the same kind of paydays for doing it.

Meanwhile, taking potshots at their core supporters is something the Dems—ESPECIALLY Rahm Emanuel in his capacity as Obama's chief of staff—have developed into a hobby. Look at the reaction to Dean: instead of being respectful of the difference of opinion, they have been absolutely savaging him. And look at the treatment of House and Senate progressives: they've been turned into zombie-like reciters of talking points, because they can barely think for having been whipped so bloodily. In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons why all this is happening.

And, yes, this is also true for the non-politicos in Washington. Since so many of the institutions are conservative-leaning, and since belonging to the right groups and going to the rights events and having access to the right people are so important...

(...emphasis on the "right" there...)

...they aren't necessarily going to be that different. Sure, you want to take some potshots at the right, but if you go too far, you'll be labelled as "unreasonable" or "unserious" and will be ignored and/or shunned by the community. Torturing the "dirty fucking hippies" in the "nutroots" just isn't going to carry the same consequences, and Krugman should damned well know that. That's one of the biggest reasons this is happening.

The biggest problem, though, is that Krugman is misrepresenting this as a left vs. right issue to begin with. It isn't about left/right. It's about in/out. With Iraq, as with health care, you don't want to be identified with the "unserious outsiders". There's no money in that: there's no columnist gigs in the New York Times or Washington Post, no editor positions for the American Prospect or the New Atlantic, no cozy sinecures at corporate-funded think tanks. Careerism is absolutely connected to all of this.

I'd also like to return to this assertion above:

Those who grudgingly say “pass the thing” — a camp I have reluctantly joined — aren’t naive: by and large they’re wonks who have looked at the legislation quite carefully, understand both its virtues and its flaws, and have decided that it’s a lot better than nothing.
Does he honestly think that people didn't argue this during the Iraq war? THIS WAS THE EXACT SAME CLAIM MADE ABOUT IRAQ. Absolutely. 100%. They said "the Bush administration's plan is questionable and they aren't terribly competent, but getting rid of Saddam's possible weapons of mass destruction and creating a democracy in the region is worth it".

Throughout 2003-2004, this was the defense used by the supporters of the flagging conflict. Whenever a "DFH" pointed out that they were right, this defense was the one that they resorted to. "You go to war with the president you have, not the president you might want."

Prof. Krugman, I know you may not be as familiar with the "liberal hawks" as some (bizarrely...) but rest assured, there is no difference.

Except, perhaps, that since Democrats are wearing this, instead of Republicans, the spectacle of progressives' putative allies dropping trou and soiling the people who hold them up is just too much. I wish the Dems who are savaging Dean while fêting Nelson, Lieberman et al understood that. They are in for a nasty but well-earned shock.

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