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Friday, August 04, 2006

Paul Krugman: Centrism Is for Suckers

Paul Krugman has a warning for centrists "like Joe Lieberman and many members of the punditocracy":

Centrism Is for Suckers, Partisanship, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: If you want to understand the state of America today, a good place to start is with the contrast between the political strategies of conservative business advocacy groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and those of more or less liberal advocacy groups like the Sierra Club.

The chamber recently got into trouble because of ads it ran praising Republican[s] ... who, it said, voted for the Medicare prescription drug program. It turned out that one of the congressmen ... actually voted against the program, while two others weren’t even in Congress when the vote took place.

Oops. But the bigger question is, aren’t business groups supposed to favor fiscal responsibility and reducing the size of government? So why is the chamber praising a program that substantially increases the size of government and has no visible means of financial support?

The answer is obvious: the ... chamber, like many conservative organizations these days, believes that its interests are best served by helping Republicans win elections. ...

If you want an even starker example, consider ... that the National Federation of Independent Business, the small-business lobby, is supporting the bizarre, hybrid ... legislation... rais[ing] the minimum wage while sharply cutting taxes on very large estates.

From a small-business owner’s point of view, this ... makes no sense. Many ... small businesses believe, rightly or wrongly, that they would be hurt by a rise in the minimum wage. Meanwhile, ... if current law had applied in 2000, only 135 small business estates would have paid any tax... But ..., like the chamber, the federation believes that its interests are best served by acting as a loyal servant of the Republican electoral effort...

Now compare this with the behavior of ... the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group... [B]oth ... have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club ... defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, “We choose people, not parties.” ...

But while this principle might once have made sense, it’s just naïve today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party’s leadership and the ruthlessness ...[of] its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee’s personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant...; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the “R” after his name.

Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain ... as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.

The point is that those who cling to the belief that politics can be conducted in terms of people rather than parties — a group that also includes would-be centrist Democrats like Joe Lieberman and many members of the punditocracy — are kidding themselves.

The fact is that in 1994, the year when radical Republicans took control both of Congress and of their own party, things fell apart, and the center did not hold. Now we’re living in an age of one-letter politics, in which a politician’s partisan affiliation is almost always far more important than his or her personal beliefs. And those who refuse to recognize this reality end up being useful idiots for those, like President Bush, who have been consistently ruthless in their partisanship.

Previous (7/31) column: Paul Krugman: Shock and Awe
Next (8/7) column: Paul Krugman: Intimations of Recession

    Posted by on Friday, August 4, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (19)


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