Why the Liberal Political Engine is Working in 2008

“You have a great name. He must kill your name before he kills you.”

Juba, from the movie Gladiator

I’ve almost finished reading Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal.  I’ll post a formal book review here soon, but right now, I wanted to highlight one of the insights that I gained from the book.

As a preface, Paul Krugman is a brilliant economist.  I’ve linked to his work here on this blog before.  He also, I’m afraid, is suffering from the aggressive form of anti-Bush psychosis – he hates the man & his policies so much that it’s pushed him into aggressively politicized commentary.  But it’s a common ailment these days, and likely to subside in the years to come.

However, in The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman does the best job that I have ever seen laying out the principles and case for an aggressively liberal economic agenda in the United States.  Obama hints at these elements at times, but rarely pieces them together as effectively as Krugman does in this book.

I’ll save my evaluation of his analysis for a later post, but I wanted to highlight the reason that I think Obama & Krugman are onto something powerful politically here in 2008.  Sure, the timing is good:  Iraq, Katrina, and now the housing/financial crisis are a great backdrop for change.  But 2008 doesn’t feel like 1992 does it?  Let’s remember that the only people with a lower popularity than our Republican President is our Democratic Congress.

Here is my theory:

The liberals have learned, and learned well from the mistakes in 2000-2004.  They can’t defeat the conservative economic agenda of the past thirty years without killing the names of the heroes of those years.  Clinton made this compromise, but while it preserved him even in the face of the 1994 Republic Congressional wins, it didn’t make the party stronger.  As recently as 2004, people were talking about a permanent Republican majority.  (Yes, it wasn’t that long ago).

No, to win, they have to convince the American people that the entire last 25 years were a mistake.  The economic boom and resurgence of productivity post-1982 didn’t happen, or was fake in some way.  Reagan was not a great President.  Milton Friedman was not a brilliant economist.  Robert Rubin was not a great Treasury Secretary.  Alan Greenspan was not a great Federal Reserve Chairman.

Yes, to do this, they will have to throw Clinton & Rubin under the bus.  But that just might be the only way to really sell a liberal economic agenda.

Obama actually doesn’t stick to this line clearly – he has made “mistakes” in his campaign by praising Reagan and Clinton at times.  He’s inclusive, right?  But reading Krugman’s book gave me a clearer insight into the strategy, and it’s not a bad one.  Convince everyone that the last 25-30 years of economic progress/thinking was a mistake.  Rewind to the New Deal and the decades after it as a lost ideal.  Map the past thirty years to the 1890-1928 era.

Of course, intellectually, it’s not a terribly compelling position.  You aren’t going to be able to re-create the economic conditions of post-WWII America ever again, globally.  And of course, we now know that huge pieces of the government response to the market crash of 1929 were counter-productive, extending the Great Depression.  The US Government share of the economy is now close to 19% compared to less than 5% in the 1929.  Analogies to the 1960s really don’t help either, since the 1960s led to the 1970s.  Ugh.

Still, I think the strategy has legs.  If they can kill the economic heroes of the past 30 years (Friedman, Reagan, Rubin, Greenspan), we might really see a successful liberal economic agenda in the United States.  The combination of the Bush Presidency with the current economic morass produces an ideal backdrop for reconsidering economic policy.

Watch the news.  I’m seeing elements of this meme everywhere now.  It seems to be taking hold, even if people don’t see the pattern.  Example: Culprits of the Collapse, soon to air on CNN.

“You have a great name. He must kill your name before he kills you.”

Juba, from the movie Gladiator

2 thoughts on “Why the Liberal Political Engine is Working in 2008

  1. Pingback: Maas Publications: Stargazer

  2. Awesome quote. Any blog you start with Gladiator will be read by me.

    I just saw “W.” Mediocre at best. It started out ok with some funny quips, scenes, and moments, but it got boring quick. Towards the end, I realized it had no semblance of a plot. I liked when they showed Bush at Yale. It reminded me of an old man I know.

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