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I didn't, you know, actually see Meet The Press on Sunday, but after reading the disparate takes of Josh Marshall and Marshall Whittman on the Paul Krugman versus Joe Klein debate, I must admit to being a bit puzzled. They seem to have disagreed about two things. One was Social Security. Fair enough -- that I understand. The other was Hillary Clinton who is now, apparently, the Joe Klein-esque figure among Democratic elected official about whom he (and Whittman) will now say good things and retrograde liberals like Krugman (and me?) will say bad things.

Near as I can tell, though, Senator Clinton's views don't actually differ from the Democratic orthodoxy on much of anything. Certainly she doesn't favor privatizing Social Security and whatever else it is Klein thinks Democrats need to get behind (school vouchers, if I remember his book correctly) the party needs to get behind in order to not be a "reactionary left." Now one point where I can see a Clinton-related substantive intra-party disagreement is on trade policy. But Krugman (and I, and John Kerry, and Josh Marshall) are all on the Klein/Whitman/Clinton side of that debate, so that can't be the subject of the controversy. So what's it all about?

As I say, puzzling. And I think a lot of intra-liberal disputes nowadays have this kind of quality. Obviously, various people who are to the left of the American center, or inclined to support the Democratic Party disagree about any number of these things. The battle lines, however, never seem to me to be quite drawn in the right place. You have this proliferation of seemingly arbitrary distinctions.

March 7, 2005 | Permalink


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i,too, have no idea what the "reactionary left" is supposed to be in klein's formulation. Is someone suggesting that we nationalize the commanding heights of the economy? Is there a movement to put marginal tax rates above, say, $100K up at 90%? Is unionization becoming mandatory?

Those would be reactionary left positions. Suggesting that running on Bill Clinton nostalgia against the radical right isn't reactionary, it is foolish.

As for Klein on social security, clearly the man knows not what he is talking about....

Posted by: howard | Mar 7, 2005 9:48:54 AM

JMM got it right. Whitman must have seen a completely different program than I.

Bascially, I got the impression while watching that PK was operating two or three planes above JK philosophically and neither even realized it.

Part of the problem is that Krugman has lousy media chops. He stinks in the loosely structured rhetorical battles and often tries to answer emotion with dispassionate logic... which rarely, if ever, works in the eyes of an audience.

Krugman would be well served to spend some serious time with a savvy PR coach who could drill quick witted media quips into his head.

Posted by: def | Mar 7, 2005 10:02:20 AM

Whitmman read this as being about policy. Its not. Krugman is to the right of most of the party on economic issues (ask Max!). But he doesn't see there to be a future in Clintonian triangulation. See digby's post about this from Saturday. There are no longer any moderate Republicans to work with and so seeking compromise won't work. Basically Klein believes that the clinton way woudl work again which he along with Whitman keep forgetting brought upon us the huge rightward movement of teh current Republican party. Krugman's point wasn't so much about Hilary (though I bet he doesn't like this whole legacy thing we seem to have hit on) but that replayign the 90s won't work.

Posted by: Rob | Mar 7, 2005 10:06:35 AM

I haven't read Klein's book. However, school vouchers strike me as being the same as Social Security privitization. They are aimed, first of all, at deligitimating the idea that there are certain duties we have as a society -- educating the next generation, supporting the last generation -- above and beyond our personal responsibility to our children and our parents. And they have the same effect of turning a public responsibility from all to all into something akin to welfare -- something that is done grudgingly and on the cheap.

If privitization ever prevails, people with some money will see that the less they pay into the public system, the better for them. The minimum payment will be at the level of welfare to support indigent senior citizens. Similarly, if vouchers are implemented, people with some money will see that all payments to the public schools take away from money they can put towards their child's private education -- so the less they pay into the system, the better for them. Education funding for less advantaged children will then be hostage to the (sometimes engineered) budgetary crisis du jour.

Posted by: larry birnbaum | Mar 7, 2005 10:10:47 AM

Isn't the Klein formulation more about providing the right heuristics, so that voter's perceptions of the Democrats are more progressive rather than dogmatic?

Posted by: theCoach | Mar 7, 2005 10:11:14 AM

I have a consistent unease with Hillary as a candidate.

It is not rationally derived from her position on issues, it is not because she is a woman (I'd be *thrilled* to have a woman president), I think it is because I fear she is likely to be difficult to elect.

I fear that the red state mainstream is too vulnerable to attacks launched that exploit her and her husband's political history.

Ironically, it was John Kerry's 'electability' that appealed to me prior to Iowa. And, when all when said and done, he turned out not to be a particularly appealing candidate.

That fact that we as a party may be reasonably well aligned on major issues matters not at all if we can not get our candidates elected.

Like I said, it's not rational, and I'll commit to keep an open mind.

Posted by: Carty | Mar 7, 2005 10:12:42 AM

I think that Oliver Willis understood the exchange the best. The issue isn't an ideological one as much as Krugman believes that Democrats need to, you know, act like partisan Democrats in order to head off Republican damage and get themselves back into power. Joe Klein (whom I have always loathed), is still stuck in an accomodationist mode believing that the best kind of Democrat is the one who's friendly with GW Bush. Clinton's "triangulation" was a means to an end. Klein comes across as a guy who likes triangulation for the sake of it, and, in a bit of strange political alchemy, he views any other strategy as being "hard left."

Part of this, of course, is Joe Klein's anti-populist streak showing through. I think he believes that "moral" governance involves having the elected leaders compromise with each other and views it as deeply dangerous for one politician to acknowledge public resentment/anger over politicies of another politician's policies.

Posted by: Constantine | Mar 7, 2005 10:23:26 AM

I think (and maybe Krugman thinks) the next election should be more about Real Issues than all the made-up ones it would be about if HRC was the nominee - does it really take a village, when did you stop hating America, are you now or have you ever been a big commie lesbian, etc. Some less culture-war-tastic nominee could be the answer, but then the 2004 election showed the right's ability to make up issues.

Posted by: Footer | Mar 7, 2005 10:27:33 AM

As usual, some devestating observations from Digby:And we can do it. We shouldn’t throw out all common sense and run Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney in ’08. But we got very close this last time with a Massachusetts liberal up against a vicious smear machine and a wartime GOP incumbent. All this talk about white males and moral values and repositioning ourselves on abortion is outmoded political thinking in my view. This has come down to a classic philosophical fight between the two parties across the entire spectrum of issues. I don't think that the condition exists anymore for splitting the difference. And I think we'll win if we consistently talk about what we believe in instead of outlining a list of positions. In this era I think that's what people are looking for.

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Mar 7, 2005 10:30:19 AM

Klein's assertion that private accounts are more in synch with the information age was preposterous. My own sense is that Klein may be professionally resentful of the media prominence Krugman has now achieved.

Posted by: Bob H | Mar 7, 2005 10:47:56 AM

Yeah, that Digby post is key.

Klein fails to recognize that bipartisanship was slewn long ago by Newt Gingrich. This has nothing to do w/ policy and everything to do with politics. Klein is the ultimate self-hating Democrat.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 7, 2005 10:50:02 AM

I think Footer is on to the disconnect.

As far as I can tell Krugman and Klein were talking about two different things. Krugman, simply put, didn't want another election about Bill's penis, and instead wants an election about the right wing and its effects on the country. Klein, pretends that Krugman is some lefty radical, and says that we shouldn't be running to the left.

Of course, Klein is a prick, and knew what Paul meant but couldn't possible acknowledge Krugman's real point, so he had to make up some lefty crap.

Posted by: Doug | Mar 7, 2005 10:52:00 AM

Matt is a hard leftist?

And Democrats are supposed to support Hitlery, in order to get moderate support?

And Klein is still a player? And Marshall Whittman, a Republican, wants control of the Democratic Party?

Lord save us. I'm glad I retired.

Welcome to the hard-left camp, though, Matt. I suggest that you grow dreadlocks and wear only hemp garments so that your new homies feel more comfortable when you're around.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 7, 2005 11:06:44 AM

There's no such thing as 'reactionary left' outside of the former communist countries. 'Reactionary' means ultra-conservative. Clearly, 'reactionary left in the US' is an oxymoron; in the US radical left would be 'revolutionary left'.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 7, 2005 11:13:12 AM

krugman definitely needs a speech coach. He was hemming and hawing while Klein targetted him with soundbites.

TV is really stupefying. No one should ever watch.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 7, 2005 11:16:39 AM

Basically Klein believes that the clinton way woudl work again which he along with Whitman keep forgetting brought upon us the huge rightward movement of teh current Republican party.

I doubt that's how it happened. The rightward movement happened pre-1994, when Clinton was not triangulating. In fact, there's a fair argument that the 1994 GOP landslide wouldn't have happened at all if Clinton had emphasized welfare reform in 1993, rather than the leftier issues of health care* and gays in the military.

I've always found the idea that Democratic moderation caused Republican extremism to be pretty self-serving. It's usually put forward by left-liberals who just want the party to move left on the merits. Is this the Pundit's Fallacy in action, or am I misunderstanding that term?

That said, I'm still with Josh Marshall on this, but for the reasons that Marshall puts forward. Namely, triangulation only works if you're in the White House. When you're out of power, you need to use different tactics.

* I don't think health care reform was such a political disaster for Clinton because it was such a far-left plan (it wasn't) or even because it failed in Congress. Actually, the really damaging thing was the symbolism of Clinton appointing his allegedly radical feminist wife to run everything.

Posted by: JP | Mar 7, 2005 11:17:50 AM

Krugman, simply put, didn't want another election about Bill's penis...

No, what he doesn't want is triangulation a la Bill Clinton, i.e.: compromising further, surrendering more ground to the wingnuts.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 7, 2005 11:18:29 AM

Hmm. Maybe you're all to close to it but this seems to me, outside the country, as being fairly clear. I think Rob is basically correct. Think of a small town holding elections for mayor while an invasion of zombies is going on, one party being largely zombie, with a few non-zombies thrown in for show on the local news. Krugman is saying, "Putting in a lower mill rate proposal to appeal to the Chamber of Commerce is all very well, but first I think we should deal with these zombies" And I think he's right.

Posted by: Finny | Mar 7, 2005 11:25:13 AM

I think there's a few separate issues going on with this whole Krugman-Klein thing.

First of all, Klein's whole shtick is being a left-bashing "liberal". It's how he makes moeny, has a prominent column and appears often on TV. It's his bread and butter. I'm not saying he's insincere (I don't know his inner thoughts) but at the same time, he has this predilliction towards picking fights with people who are further to the left of him in order to prove his "centrist" credentials. Thus we have a fight with Krugman over... um... not much, Hillary Clinton-wise.

Secondly, Hillary Clinton. There's a number of issues with the idea of a Hillary Presidency (besides she's unqualified, being only a one-term senator). But the main thing that Krugman is talking about is *strategy* not *policy*. The Clintonian strategy for winning elections and issues (quick gasp for breath) only. worked. for. Clinton. It worked really really well for him, but while he was doing that, we lost the state houses, congress, the senate and the rhetorical ground on issue after issue. That's a problem. And, perhaps this is guilt by association, but those of us advocating for progressive change within the party (including Krugman) don't want this anymore. Like the "fire the consultants" movement, or the Howard Dean for DNC chair &c. People know the old strategy doesn't work anymore. That strategy is Clinton's. Whether Hillary would use it or not is a separate issue.

Posted by: Isaac Butler | Mar 7, 2005 11:29:13 AM

abb1 - you're right, he was addressing triangulation and compromise. I was trying to use Bill's penis as a metaphor for attempting to work with the wingnuts (as if they were adults) and instead getting wacked with 'value issues', or Bill's penis, or whatever issue of the election cycle that will further their grip on power. Also, I just like saying penis.

Posted by: Doug | Mar 7, 2005 11:30:18 AM

And might I add, in all seriousness, you folks are damn smart. I'd prefer to see any of these commenters on Meet the Press before Klein. (Group hug)

Posted by: Doug | Mar 7, 2005 11:38:40 AM

Klein is a tool, and always has been. He wants vouchers, wnats SS reform, loves free trade, because he thinks the left is a threat to his status. On tactics, it's the same thing -- only a political position based on mau-mauing those to the left will satisfy Klein's sense of his important role in the center of political discourse.

More worrying in the long term is the likelihood that nobody but nobody who disagrees with the Klein-Whitman-Krugman-Yglesias junta on trade issues will ever get to speak on television. Don't even tell me about Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan, because you know that's not what I'm talking about.

Posted by: david | Mar 7, 2005 11:45:20 AM

The Clintonian strategy for winning elections and issues (quick gasp for breath) only. worked. for. Clinton.

Didn't work for Clinton very well either. He's never won a clear majority in any elections; his VIP almost lost presidential elections in 2000. And he pretty much lost on all issues, except for 1993 tax hike. Not a very impressive record.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 7, 2005 12:13:53 PM

I'm Canadian, so I'll try to give an outsider’s perspective. I caught most of the morning show yesterday and was overcome with a sinking feeling -- of dread almost. Much like the pre-Iraq PR blitz, NCLB, the 02' midterms, the Medicare pre-implementation debate, and, even, the recent election, a gradual sea change is occurring in political framing with respect to Social Security.

The argument goes, as it's went before, "the Democrats are standing in the way of change; the Dems aren't offering any reasonable proposals; "the Dems are on the wrong side of history"... blah...blah. Iteration creates a non-reality based bubble where the Republicans are immune to shame and the Dems are held to a far higher standard (Krugman's take). It's sad, really.

And now, the Dems have begun to concede -- Ben Nelson -- and act as though an area of consensus could exist with private accounts -- which from a majority of democratic/liberal blog commentary and technical literature I've come across couldn't be further from the truth. When Joe Klein said that “the answer to a radical right challenge isn't a reactionary left response” he was in effect saying that Democrats should be conceding more ground to the right.

The requisite spin appears to vindicate Klein’s interpretation, which, ultimately, is something the Republicans will latch onto. Very soon and wholly unjustifiably, the Democrats are going to be on their heels explaining why they’re unwilling to let “the American people handle their own money the way they see fit”. It’s nauseating.

Posted by: Ron Mashate | Mar 7, 2005 12:15:44 PM

I tend to see this in a slightly different light. One of the big problems I have with people on the left (and I am one) is that everything seems to be personal: Our groups are based on personal identities as black/gay/female/union, what have you. We assume that Republicans support everything they do out of personal financial motives, ie: no blood for oil, etc (clearly, this is sometimes the case, but we're hampered by our seeming inability to look at the other aspects in play). Ad Hoc attacks are considered perfectly legitimate. And, the current intra-Democrat debate seems to me to be, more than anythign else, about individuals, largely inside the Beltway, who hate each other, largely over issues of their own personal power and personal slights. Or people outside the Beltway who hate everyone inside it. That's why there's the current debate going on on Kos about whether or not Ed Kilgore is a good person. Who cares? This is just like middle school all over again, and it's no way to run a successful national political operation that speaks to anyone who's not already with us (which, I'm sorry, we DO need to do).

Posted by: flip | Mar 7, 2005 12:23:25 PM

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