If your memory reaches all the way back to the key year of 2008, you'll dig Ezra Klein's interview with Paul Krugman
. He discusses the "symbolism" of the (proposed) Warren challenge to Hillary Clinton.
But I don’t think Hillary Clinton is going to try and make it 1999 again. I remember in 2008 —as a Times columnist, I can't do endorsements, so you have no idea which party I favor in general elections — but I was skeptical of Obama at a time when a lot of people on the Left were very, very high on him. I heard a number of people saying, oh, god, if Hillary is elected, she's going to bring in the old Rubin crowd, people like Larry Summers, to run the economy. And then Obama got elected and did exactly that. I think, if anything, he was more conventional on economics than she was.Side note:
Did you see Slate's recent piece on Thomas Piketty
? The author, feeling constrained to mention a "left of center" thinker who opposes Piketty's analysis, blurts out the name Larry Summers
. Yeah. Summers. As if he
represents the left
Let's get back to the Klein/Krugman interview. On the question of whether any president can succeed in an era of such sharp political divisions, Krugman responds:
I’d say basically no, but it depends on your definition of success. You can have the economy expanding, no foreign crises, and you can preside over a time of prosperity, which is kind of what happened with Bill Clinton. But if anything actually has to be done, no. Everybody in Washington has learned this very damaging lesson, which is that if somebody else holds the White House, but you have blocking power, sabotage works.
I think we are in for a very ugly time until one party or the other establishes a strong enough hold that the other party finally has an Eisenhower moment of essentially accepting the changes and going back to some kind of politics around a relatively narrow range of issues.
Would even that
work? Krugman refers here to Ike's acceptance of Keynesianism, which had proved its value. But even in the 1950s, there was a backlash which began on the fringe but eventually took over all of conservatism. If political evolution
cannot manage a lasting conquest over the forces of counter-revolution, what other options do we have left?
One of my pet peeves actually is that people talk about policy as if, as long as you've avoided a hot crisis, things are okay even when they’re obviously not. The pet peeve that affects me personally is the cancellation of the Hudson Rail Tunnel in New York City, and it’s kind of perfect. Essentially, because of political partisanship, we still have the world's greatest city totally dependent on a tunnel completed in 1910 for all public transit linkage to the west. That doesn't show up in an abrupt collapse, but those sorts of things show up in a steady degradation of our prospects.
I've had similar thoughts. Compared to the most modernistic parts of China, our big cities look ancient and decrepit. The externals matter. Looks matter. If you're wearing a threadbare suit, your claim to be the richest man in the world won't be believed. How much longer will the world accept our claim to superpower-hood if we don't look
like a superpower?