Krugman – again

This column makes me think of the craziness of the South – which while building a slave based economy also built a terrorist society in which people got bumped off for having the wrong political views, a society that was crazy in its refusal to compromise – all the North was seeking at the time was a freeze on the expansion of slavery outside the states where it had become entrenched) and it’s constant aggression until it managed to provoke a fight it couldn’t possibly win and which, after losing the civil war institutionalised extreme racism for almost another century by way of terror – the terror of the lynch mob.

Going to Extreme

I admit it: I had fun watching right-wingers go wild as health reform finally became law. But a few days later, it doesn’t seem quite as entertaining — and not just because of the wave of vandalism and threats aimed at Democratic lawmakers. For if you care about America’s future, you can’t be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great political parties.

To be sure, it was enjoyable watching Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican of California, warn that by passing health reform, Democrats “will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people.” Gosh, that sounds uncomfortable. And it’s been a hoot watching Mitt Romney squirm as he tries to distance himself from a plan that, as he knows full well, is nearly identical to the reform he himself pushed through as governor of Massachusetts. His best shot was declaring that enacting reform was an “unconscionable abuse of power,” a “historic usurpation of the legislative process” — presumably because the legislative process isn’t supposed to include things like “votes” in which the majority prevails.

A side observation: one Republican talking point has been that Democrats had no right to pass a bill facing overwhelming public disapproval. As it happens, the Constitution says nothing about opinion polls trumping the right and duty of elected officials to make decisions based on what they perceive as the merits. But in any case, the message from the polls is much more ambiguous than opponents of reform claim: While many Americans disapprove of Obamacare, a significant number do so because they feel that it doesn’t go far enough. And a Gallup poll taken after health reform’s enactment showed the public, by a modest but significant margin, seeming pleased that it passed.

But back to the main theme. What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

No, to find anything like what we’re seeing now you have to go back to the last time a Democrat was president. Like President Obama, Bill Clinton faced a G.O.P. that denied his legitimacy — Dick Armey, the second-ranking House Republican (and now a Tea Party leader) referred to him as “your president.” Threats were common: President Clinton, declared Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, “better watch out if he comes down here. He’d better have a bodyguard.” (Helms later expressed regrets over the remark — but only after a media firestorm.) And once they controlled Congress, Republicans tried to govern as if they held the White House, too, eventually shutting down the federal government in an attempt to bully Mr. Clinton into submission.

Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it’s clear that any Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that is completely dominated by right-wing extremists.

For today’s G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan — not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It’s a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans’ economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as monstrous. It’s a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side — Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions — are mainstream. And, as a result, it’s a party that fundamentally doesn’t accept anyone else’s right to govern.

In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it’s a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don’t.

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bruce rogan
bruce rogan
14 years ago

I know it verges on heresy in the USA but it could be that what America needs, badly, is a third (non Tea) party that is based on a set of principles distinct from the needs of vested interests. Both of the main parties are beholden to powerful, largely corrupt influences. There was abject terror (fomented by the staus quo) at the emergence of a third party here (New Zealand), but in the event the sky did not fall in and politicians were eventually forced to start heeding the aspirations of the voters. I know enough Americans to believe that a green party could get up some support. Its members would have to go about in bullet proof vests, of course, but only for fifty or sixty years.

14 years ago

“All this goes beyond politics as usual” Well maybe!

What was beyond politics as usual was Obamas attempt at bipartisanship. Partisan politics has been a feature of US politics for yonks – although the intensity of partisanship certainly does vary. However, what has surprised me recently is some evidence suggesting that it is the ‘parties’ who are polarized, not the ‘populous’ who are essentially centrist. (Prof David Brady from Stanford – recent Grattan Institute lectures) If this be the case, one has to ask the question, how truly representatives of their constituents are political parties? ( Having spent a few years working in the US I do have some difficulty with this view but my perceptions are derived from personal experience plus the usual anecdotal data – not quite the survey/sampling techniques employed by Prof Brady!)

Putting the frenzied, rather feral, emotional GOP behaviour aside and simply looking at political strategy then Obama has made the right call (of course this is now hindsight). The Rahm Emanual advice to let health slide was never a viable option – it was as Krugman has previously pointed out “it’s the road to a caretaker presidency”.

What seems to have now occurred is Obamas initial bipartisan posture (probably genuine and instinctive) now morphing into a tool to be judiciously applied – a much superior political strategy. The strategy of “bridge-building” is only successful in politics if it follows aggression. As Machiavelli once observed, it is better for a prince to be feared than loved.

What Obama needs now is an undistracted focus on the economy and jobs – his success in this area will be the key – perhaps the only way – to salvaging a reasonable outcome for the Dems come the mid-term elections in November.

Richard Tsukamasa Green

I’m not sure that the attempt and abandonment of bipartisanship is that much different from Bill Clinton’s eventual abandonment of Dick Morris’s triangulation. They seem only really different in aesthetics. The logic and the reasons for failure were the same.

The difference seems to lie in the timing. Clinton’s abandonment won him a second term but was too late to save his legislative agenda. Obama clicked a little quicker. The question is why, on prior experience, he thought it could work at all.

14 years ago

You read that piece of one-eyed partisan hackery, and all you can think of is the “craziness of the South?” Not, “what a badly written piece of pro-Obama propaganda?”
A couple of points.
First, opposing radical reform is not extremism. Radical reform itself is extremism, and while in Krugman’s mind, the Tea Parties are full of “extremists”, he’s wrong at face value. Plus, these guys are protesting against big government, not slavery. Slight difference.
Second, calling a major political defeat “armageddon” is simply expressive rhetoric. Nothing but slime there from Krugman.
Third, Obama has not been bipartisan. He never responded to Paul Ryan’s plan and never returned his phone calls, for example, and held closed door negotiations. They had a super-majority and it was their right to not be bipartisan, so fair enough, and they rammed it through even with defections on their own side, but not their right to change the facts. He continues with bi-partisan “rhetoric” as you call it, but this isn’t matched by bipartisan policy.
Finally, vigorous opposition is not “extremism”, it’s politics. It’s really sick when one political side demonises the other for doing what they’re actually supposed to in a vibrant democracy.

14 years ago

I guess the joke is that Republicans settle domestic politics through violence? Is that the point, because otherwise I don’t get it.
Because it seems to me that when the left protest (here in Australia we had a massive turnout for ‘sorry marches’ (I went in the Sydney one); in the eighties there were peace marches; and earlier than that of course was the so-called protest era againt the Vietnam war) it’s really honorable and moral and fightin’ the system. When the right does it, it’s “reload!”

14 years ago

but anyone who did that in Oz would be a political pariah

You’re kidding, right? Reagan was shot.

Are you actually peddling the “idea” that leftwingers haven’t threatened a GOP president or congressional members?

Lastly have you even bothered to read or try to understand Paul Ryan’s arguments, or is he just another a racist too? If you haven’t perhaps you ought to.

Great points Munroe.

14 years ago

“He’d better have a bodyguard”
That was a stupid thing for a politician to say (15 years ago – got anything more recent?), but it was nothing more than macho grandstanding. And the guy that said that did become a political pariah for it. That’s why you’ve heard of it.
But I can see that it’s an article of faith for you that the American South is full of crazies. It’s wrong of me to question your dearly held assumptions, just as it’s wrong to explain to little old churchgoing ladies that God doesn’t exist. So I’ll stop from here out.

14 years ago

Please be aware that the only reason I’m writing this stuff is because our society is driven by wowsers and consequently I have to stay indoors.
I like a sherry after supper and therefore have to stay home instead of getting out and socialising.
I firmly believe that if the South, the secesshers, Rebels, whatever, had won the American civil war – that the bloody northern wowsers would have been defeated too.
And before anyone begins bleating about the slave situation – I reckon President Obama would agree with me that such had diddly squat to do with the base reasons for the US Civil War.
So when did massive conflict ever stopped exploitation of minorities?
Has Australia had a war between the states – ostensibly in support of our poor Indigenes?
Oh yes Eureka – so well planned to do little more than put a one armed conservative time server into the Victorian Legislature.
Has anyone recently heard about Bully Hayes – ( – and his sordid part in Australian history?
Bully was a bit of a ‘Blackbirder’ back when the Qld economy needed a bit of a boost.

Now if anyone bothers to read the link above they’d realise what sort of b—–d Bully really was.
Meanwhile if they bothered to look at present Queensland they’d find that nothing much has changed.

Wonderful place queensland, now..
We don’t send the likes of Bully out pressing the Blackbirds into slavery.
Nope. We’re civilised now.
The poor fools pay their own way here as youthful backpackers hoping to eke out their savings with some easy, healthy, local work.

But instead of that a modern crop of Bullies are waiting to exploit them as is evidenced here –
In closing I must say that I hate those who exploit the innocents.
But I suppose by saying that I’m putting myself across the bows of the powerful in Queensland.
For that reason I’d like to hear from some allies – but having lived here for almost six decades don’t expect any response.