However much conviction one brings to the task, it is hard to write with much authority about the issues in the November election in the
The Times’ editorial page itself has been on low-beam ever since it made an oddly unenthusiastic endorsement of Sen. Hillary Clinton in January. The op-ed page, on the other hand, has crackled with the kind of high-voltage intensity that characterized the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal in the 1970s and 1980s.
Last week columnist Paul Krugman rapped Sen. Hillary Clinton for endorsing the “bad idea” of a gas tax holiday. But, he continued, Sen. Barack Obama was doing “much more harm to the Democratic cause,” by giving Republicans “credit for good ideas they never had.” (Obama had told Fox News interviewer Chris Wallace “Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.” Like what? He mentioned cap-and-trade regulation of pollution emissions, charter schools and merit pay for teachers, before the conversation moved on.)
The same day columnist David Brooks surfaced
The day before, columnist Thomas Friedman had cheered Obama for his opposition to the gas tax holiday, while chiding Clinton and Sen. John McCain for their support. (Mainly he excoriated President Bush for doing nothing to head off the looming expiration of investment tax credits for wind and solar energy production.) And so it has gone since the autumn, with columnist Maureen Dowd enjoying a remarkable second wind as an interpreter of presidential and would-be presidential motives.
What was startling about the exchange of views last week was Krugman’s characterization of the history of the last thirty years. It could be said that he was only representing the
The most recent chapter in this argument goes back to January, when Obama told an interviewer, “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of
Among the incipient ideas gradually fashioned into platform planks by the Republican Party in those years were deregulation; disinflation; corporate restructuring; tax simplification; trade liberalization; enthusiasm for entrepreneurship; and more assertive global anticommunism. Taken altogether, they can be described as a revival of the traditional American enthusiasm for markets and money.
It is true that many of the measures taken in those years overshot or fell short. “Supply-side” income tax cuts failed to produce the desired results; but the 1986 tax simplification act was an (underappreciated) legislative landmark. The Iran-Contra affair tested (and probably exceeded) the limits of Presidential authority; but the response to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the
It is true, too, that that Democrats were in at the beginning of many of these initiatives: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on deregulation, Sen. Bill Bradley on tax-cutting, Sen. Tim Wirth on environmental regulation. Paul Volcker, the hero of the battle against inflation, was a Democrat; and there were few stronger anticommunists in his day than Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Jimmy Carter himself rode into the White House on a promise to rein in expansive government with a tactic he called “zero-base budgeting.”
And Bill Clinton’s presidency was for the most part run on middle-of-the-road reconciliation principles, with Lloyd Bentsen and Robert Rubin at the Treasury Department and Alan Greenspan (a Reagan appointee) at the Federal Reserve Board.
Does Krugman think it was a mass hallucination that for more than a quarter of a century the Republican Party was identified, even by many Democrats, as “the party of ideas”?
Of course nobody calls it that any more. Clearly the Republican mandate has run out. The problems facing the
This, then, is what the Democratic primaries are about: a choice between Hillary Clinton, mired in the partisan rancor of the ’90s, or Obama, who is seeking to move beyond the recent past by making common cause with independents and Republicans who are worried about the future of their country.
Granted that the
But there is no point in continuing to try to deny the Republicans credit for their “Reagan revolution.” The best reason to expect that Democratic Party elders will award the nomination to Obama is that they recognize that the