Sunday, August 7, 2016

Okay, Frank Bruni, you... my attention this morning with your column in the Times, "Hillary’s Summer of Love." You also got my "Irish" up!

Did I read this wrong, or did Mr. Bruni suggest that if Mrs. Clinton won big this year she should unilaterally surrender to the Republicans? You tell me (all emphasis mine):

For many months now, she has been sending signals that a second Clinton administration would differ from President Obama’s in the earnestness and aggressiveness of its bid for bipartisan cooperation. Her pick of Senator Tim Kaine as a running mate fit into that framework. He’s liked and respected by Republican colleagues, a dynamic that Clinton surrogates immediately stressed.

What hasn’t happened, though, is the construction of a substantive, policy-based bridge across the aisle. She moved leftward during the primaries to deal with Bernie Sanders’s challenge, and many of her positions are anathema even to those Republicans who prefer her to Trump.

Does she change that over the next months or, if elected, upon taking office? Does she have to? There are some fascinating forks in the road ahead — some big decisions — all created by the singular mess of Trump’s candidacy and the possibility, suggested in the latest polls, including one that showed her ahead in Georgia, that he’ll lose the election by a devastating margin.

Many Democrats smell a rout, hope that a slew of Republicans go down with Trump, and fantasize about a subsequent Democratic dominance in Washington that will allow the party to enact laws without much if any Republican input and assistance. After all the Republican obstructionism that they’ve put up with, they ache for such liberation.

But such a rout would presumably require Clinton to campaign stridently against endangered House and Senate Republicans between now and Nov. 8, an approach at odds with her current entreaties to the Whitmans of the world.

It would also be a huge, risky bet on sustained Republican disarray and a durable Democratic advantage, without which Republican revenge would be swift and merciless. Obama defied Republicans during the first two years of his presidency, only to be tormented by them for the remainder of it.

I'm sorry, but I have to interrupt here: Obama defied Republicans during the first two years of his presidency??? (I'll give you a second to rub your eyes and read that sentence again.)  
Did I live in some alternative universe back then? Or did Republicans defy President Obama at every turn? Wasn't that their whole strategy? Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct and then win back the White House and Congress after a failed one-term Obama presidency? Is my memory faulty, or did Republicans defy Obama -- not the other way around -- by not casting a single House vote for the stimulus that saved the economy and, by extension, the entire country? (Talk about putting party before country!) Oh, and that health care reform legislation that the nation was clamoring for in 2008? Didn't they obstruct it in every way possible? Aren't they still?

That’s why I’m hoping that Clinton takes a different, big-tent tack, and combines passion projects with attention to areas of common Democratic and Republican interest: tax reform, immigration reform, maybe even education reform.

Yes, a big Democratic victory in November would give Democrats both the right and the imperative to implement their most deeply cherished ideas. But it would reflect the unpopularity of Trump as much as any sweeping, compelling mandate for a particular program.

And we’ve seen, in recent years, what sharply drawn lines and perpetual warfare between the parties bequeath: legislative paralysis, debased discourse and the precise public disgust with politics and politicians that has given rise to Trump. Here we are, stuck and miserable.

Clinton’s summer of love isn’t merely a stunning narrative twist. It’s an opportunity, in the nick of time. Despite our supposedly intractable partisanship, a swelling group of highly visible leaders is putting country before indiscriminate allegiance to their party. That’s an invitation for Clinton to do a bit of the same. Of all politicians, she could be the one with the best chance to move us a few crucial inches beyond this wretched sclerosis. Who would have ever predicted that?

Before I go any further, ask yourself this question: If an establishment Republican like, say, Marco Rubio or John Kasich or Jeb Bush, had won the GOP nomination and then crushed some outlandish Democrat like Alan Grayson in the general, do you think for a minute that he'd take the oath of office and then start talking "bipartisanship"? No f-----g way! Oh, sure, I can just imagine a President Rubio saying in January, 2017, "You know, the Affordable Care Act, after seven years, is actually working pretty well. More Americans are insured than ever before at a cost lower than expected. Instead of repealing it, let's work with the Democratic minority to improve it around the margins."

Are you laughing too hard right now to continue reading this?

Last week, Tom Friedman had a similar column in the Times, "How Clinton Could Knock Trump Out," which I dismissed at the time as a piece by a guy who should have retired a long time ago:

And that leads to my second reason for pushing Clinton to inject some capitalism into her economic plan: The coalition she could lead. If there is one thing that is not going to revive growth right now, it is an anti-trade, regulatory heavy, socialist-lite agenda the Democratic Party has drifted to under the sway of Bernie Sanders. Socialism is the greatest system ever invented for making people equally poor. Capitalism makes people unequally rich, but I would much rather grow our pie bigger and faster and better adjust the slices than redivide a shrinking one.

There are a lot of center-right, business Republicans today feeling orphaned by Trump. They can’t vote for him — but a lot of them still claim they can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, either. Clinton should be reaching out to them with a real pro-growth, start-up, deregulation, entrepreneurship agenda and give them a positive reason to vote for her.

It makes sense politically: Take Trump on at his self-proclaimed strength. And it makes sense economically: If Clinton wins, she will need to get stuff done, not just give stuff away.

I get that she had to lean toward Sanders and his voters to win the nomination; their concerns with fairness and inequality are honorable. But those concerns can be addressed only with economic growth; the rising anti-immigration sentiments in the country can be defused only with economic growth; the general anxiety feeding Trumpism can be eased only with economic growth.

Sanders had no plan whatsoever for growth. Trump doesn’t, either, but he can fake it. It’s time that Hillary pivoted. The country today doesn’t need the first female president. It needs the first president in a long time who can govern with a center-left, center-right coalition, and actually end the gridlock on fiscal policy in a smart way.

Again, whose fault is that, Obama's? I'm sorry, but I just don't see it that way.

If Trump continues to melt down into a puddle of bile, more and more Republicans will be up for grabs. With the right pro-growth economic policies, Clinton would have an opening to not only enlist them to help her win, but to build a governing coalition for the morning after.

After reading that piece I just smiled, shook my head and said something to myself like, "That Tom Friedman! I remember when he was a good columnist."  I quickly forgot about it, though, and went on to the rest of the paper. I didn't think anyone else had actually read it.

But then on Friday Paul Krugman wrote in his column, "No Right Turn":

But at least some commentators are calling on her to do something very different — to make a right turn, moving the Democratic agenda toward the preferences of those fleeing the sinking Republican ship. The idea, I guess, is to offer to create an American version of a European-style grand coalition of the center-left and the center-right.

I don’t think there’s much prospect that Mrs. Clinton will actually do that. But if by any chance she and those around her are tempted to take this recommendation seriously: Don’t.

First of all, let’s be clear about what she’s running on. It’s an unabashedly progressive program, but hardly extreme. We’re talking about higher taxes on high incomes, but nowhere near as high as those taxes were for a generation after World War II; expanded social programs, but nothing close to those of European welfare states; stronger financial regulation and more action on climate change, but aren’t the cases for both overwhelming?

The Trumpification of the G.O.P. didn’t come out of nowhere. On the contrary, it was the natural outcome of a cynical strategy: long ago, conservatives decided to harness racial resentment to sell right-wing economic policies to working-class whites, especially in the South.

This strategy brought many electoral victories, but always at the risk that the racial resentment would run out of control, leaving the economic conservatives — whose ideas never had much popular support — stranded. And that is what has just happened.

So now the strategy that rightists had used to sell policies that were neither popular nor successful has blown up in their faces. And the Democratic response should be to adopt some of those policies? Say what?

Also, I can’t help but notice a curious pattern in the recommendations of some self-proclaimed centrists. When Republicans were in the ascendant, centrists urged Democrats to adapt by moving right. Now that Republicans are in trouble, with some feeling that they have no choice except to vote Democratic, these same centrists are urging Democrats to … adapt by moving right. Funny how that works.

If some conservatives find this too much and bolt the party, good for them, and they should be welcomed into the coalition of the sane. But they can’t expect policy concessions in return. When Dr. Frankenstein finally realizes that he has created a monster, he doesn’t get a reward. Mrs. Clinton and her party should stay the course.

I thought he did a good job of putting Mr. Friedman in his place. But after reading Mr. Bruni this morning I'm wondering: Is this really a thing? After Republicans acted shamefully -- and unpatriotically, I might add -- over the last eight years (and don't even get me started on Bill Clinton's two terms), Democrats are supposed to say, "Hey, no hard feelings! Let's work together to pass Republican bipartisan legislation. Never mind that your party has gone completely off the rails (anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-trade, etc.), we'll take the High Road and 'reach out across the aisle.' After all, you'd do the same for us, wouldn't you? Well, wouldn't you?"

No, they wouldn't. They haven't. And it's time this country was led by the Party of Reason, not the Party of Crazy.


Ed Crotty said...

Bruni is smart - he knows there is ALWAYS a great payday for these "both sides" "imaginary center" guys. I would love for Bruni to explain how the two sides can meet "halfway" and compromise on "white resentment"?

Krugman again shows why he deserves his Nobel Prize every year. He is an American Treasure.

James said...

This is a great post. The other way I've heard the double standard described is when democrats are praised for being open to ideas from all sides where as republicans are admired for their "principles".
I can't say I'm surprised that the clinton campaign is being "urged" (with the campaign's consent or urging of it's own perhaps? Not that Bruni isn't a high caliber political thinker having formerly been the gray lady's food critic...) but it has happened quicker than I thought.
Back to "principles" for a second tho. Is there really any doubt that deregulation was the cause of the financial crisis? How is that concept still at the forefront of people's minds regarding a healthy economy? Naomi Klein has said that Milton Friedman can't really be considered the father of the far right's economic ideals (or that austrian guy, Keynes rival, either) because those ideals already represented the practices and interests of big business. All a guy like Friedman does is give an academic sophistication to the unbridled greed of these actors and in turn he is rewarded with grants, govt posts and honors. Point being the idea that a person is somehow unknowlegable (or worse) because they don't march to the beat of free market orthodoxy seems like a conclusion made with a vested interest in the status quo rather than sound economic thinking.
Going back to the double standard between the parties, I like the defense stated by the phrase "you have the right to your own opinion but not your own facts". To me this phrase implies that you can believe in creationism but since there is no scientific basis for it it can't be taught in science class. In the same way when the repeal of glass steagall so closely coincides with the near obliteration of the global economy (were it not for govt intervention i might add which reminds me of my favorite biden phrase "there's socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor") how can deregulation be put forward as a credible economic solution? I admit I haven't read any ayn rand but it seems she is in the fiction section for a reason.