August 26, 2009

EMK (1932-2009): Two takes on the passing of the late Lion of the Senate. From Marc Cooper:
During various Democratic primary campaigns over the years, in California, Nevada, New Hampshire and many, many times in Iowa have been to rallies that featured Ted Kennedy. And unless you've been to one of these shindigs, it's hard to imagine just how stunningly popular Kennedy remained among the Democratic base. I don't care where the venue was, or who the candidate was he was backing, Teddy was the Main Event. Not an overstatement to say, right up through the Obama campaign, the "Liberal Lion" was a true political rock star. The first few times I saw the electric response he evoked among the party faithful, I was sort of taken back. But the magic was real. Kennedy, in his elder years and chubbier than ever, would amble up to the stage and unfailingly, unleash a red meat tirade, an old-fashioned barn burner than would set the crowd ablaze as he leaned on the podium, sweated like no tomorrow and turned beet red as he continued to thunder. Anyone who underestimates the mystique of the Kennedy name fails to understand the soul of your average Democrat.
And from Matt Welch:
Having spent most of my adult life around liberals, not conservatives, and on the West Coast, not the East, I always had a difficult time recognizing the Ted Kennedy of Republican Convention speechcraft. (And, in fact, it's difficult to reconcile the way Republicans talked about Kennedy at their gatherings with the way they talked about him on the Senate floor, or when joining with him to pass bipartisan legislation.) Not that he wasn't a bloated caricature, and one with blood on his hands, but rather that he just didn't mean all that much to my liberal friends. (My liberal friends' dads, though are another story.) He was arguably more an icon of the opposing team than the political tendency he represented, more interesting to nostalgia-addicted Baby Boomers than to the majority of people who now participate in politics.
Well, Matt, one thing you couldn't accuse Ted Kennedy of being was a libertarian (or a Libertarian, for that matter), so it's perhaps no surprise that your "liberal" West Coast friends couldn't stand the guy. He believed that the world could be made a better place, and that no human suffering should be tolerated. He is already missed.

August 24, 2009

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, on how the change we can believe in won't ever happen:
There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple: politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. “We know now that it is bad economics.” And last year we learned that lesson all over again.

Or did we? The astonishing thing about the current political scene is the extent to which nothing has changed.

The debate over the public option has, as I said, been depressing in its inanity. Opponents of the option — not just Republicans, but Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Ben Nelson — have offered no coherent arguments against it. Mr. Nelson has warned ominously that if the option were available, Americans would choose it over private insurance — which he treats as a self-evidently bad thing, rather than as what should happen if the government plan was, in fact, better than what private insurers offer.

But it’s much the same on other fronts. Efforts to strengthen bank regulation appear to be losing steam, as opponents of reform declare that more regulation would lead to less financial innovation — this just months after the wonders of innovation brought our financial system to the edge of collapse, a collapse that was averted only with huge infusions of taxpayer funds.

So why won’t these zombie ideas die?

Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it.” In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.

But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.

How will this all work out? I don’t know. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn.
Krugman may be overly pessimistic, particularly about health care. There are two events likely to happen in the fall that will almost certainly change the dynamic of the whole debate: one, which is talked about frequently, is the explosion of cases of swine flu, and the possibility that a deadly strain will develop that will necessitate governmental intervention; the other, which is discussed, if at all, sotto voce, is the likely death of Senator Edward Kennedy in the next few weeks from brain cancer, which will create a win-one-for-the-Gipper situation within the Party that will make it almost suicidal for even the most mossbacked of Blue Cross/Blue Dog Senate Democrat to join a Republican filibuster on the issue.

It's also useful to point out that Krugman was a vitriolic critic of then-candidate Obama when he sought the nomination against Hillary Clinton. One of the reasons that "Reaganism" isn't "dead", of course, is that it represents an historical, archetypal belief embedded in the American political system: the notion that government can be a potential menace, and that "big government" is to be feared. It is a notion that rests comfortably with an equally engrained view in American political culture, that the people, acting together, can accomplish anything. It's why people can go to health care rallies and demand that goverment not touch their Medicare, or why the public option does spectacularly well in polling, while "government intervention" in health care doesn't, even though both describe identical policies.