Blow, Cohen and Krugman

In “Bernie Sanders and the Black Vote” Mr. Blow says the presidential candidate has an uphill climb against the far greater name recognition of Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Cohen proclaims that “America Is Great” and that Europe is done with greatness. Been there, tried that. But America can’t live without it.  Prof. Krugman considers “Labour’s Dead Center” and says in contrast to the new leader of the British party, its moderates bought into conservative economic nonsense about the need for austerity.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Columbia, SC:

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders spoke Saturday to a half-empty gymnasium at Benedict College in South Carolina. The school is historically black, but the crowd appeared to be largely white.

This underscores the severe challenge facing the Sanders campaign: African-American voters have yet to fully connect to the man and the message.

An August Gallup Poll found that Hillary Clinton’s favorability among African-Americans was 80 percent, while Sanders’s was 23 percent. Two-thirds of blacks were unfamiliar with Sanders. This could pose a problem after the contests in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has surged to tie or best Clinton, give way to contests in Southern states with much more sizable black populations.

South Carolina will be the first test. According to The New York Times, 55 percent of South Carolina Democratic primary voters were black in 2008. Yet current polls show Clinton with a massive lead over Sanders in the state. And those polls show Vice President Joe Biden leading Sanders, even though Biden has yet to announce whether he’ll run. That’s why it’s important not only for Sanders to spend more time in the state, but also to pick a venue like Benedict College.

But appearing at the college, a favorite speaking spot for Democratic primary candidates trying to boost their black vote in the state, is by no means a sure path to victory. Bill Bradley spoke there in 2000 when running against Al Gore. Gore crushed Bradley with 92 percent of the caucus vote. Carol Moseley Braun announced her candidacy there in 2003but had to withdraw before the primary in the state. Al Sharpton and Wesley Clark spoke at the school in 2004, and both lost the state. In 2008, Clinton visited the school the day before the primary. She only won one county in the state.

Sanders is hoping for better.

There is an earnest, if snappy, aura to Sanders that is laudable and refreshing. One doesn’t sense the stench of ambition or the revolting unctuousness of incessant calculation. There is an idealistic crusader in the man, possibly to the point of being quixotic, but at least it doesn’t come off as corrupted by money or power or the God complex that so often attends those in pursuit of the seat behind the Resolute Desk.

Sanders’s message of revolutionary change to save a flailing middle class and challenge the sprawling influence of what he calls “the billionaire class” has struck a nerve with a fervid following.

I spoke with Senator Sanders by phone about his campaign’s need to reach more African-American voters, and I asked if he was worried about this need to broaden his appeal. While he resisted the word “worried,” he did acknowledge that: “Clearly, if we are going to do well nationally, it’s absolutely imperative that we aggressively reach out and bring the African-American community and the Latino community into our campaign, and that is exactly what we’re working on right now.”

Sanders seemed to understand the challenge ahead of him. He has to win the African-Americans who supported Obama and do so against Clinton’s enormous name identification and the deep connections the Clinton machine has built in the state. And then there’s Biden.

But Sanders’s ability to win Obama’s supporters may have been made difficult by his associations. On Saturday, Sanders campaigned with Dr. Cornel West, who recently issued an endorsement of Sanders.

West’s critique of the president has been so blistering and unyielding — he has called Obama “counterfeit,” the “black face of the American empire,” a verb-ed neologism of the n-word — that it has bordered on petulance and self-parody.

Sanders must bank on his strongest suit: policies. In June, his campaign issued a press release, “Sanders’ Agenda for America Helps Minorities,” that touted his civil rights record as well as included economic remedies like raising the minimum wage and providing tuition-free college.

Part of his problem is that he hasn’t been able to properly promote his message of helping minorities. I asked him if he believes that the coverage he has gotten has been fair and equitable. Rather than complaining about the quantity of coverage, he complained about the quality, what he called “the soap opera aspect of politics.”

He explained: “So if I go up on a stage and I slip on a banana peel, do you think that will make the front page of the paper? Will it be on CNN? Probably will. Meanwhile, I have talked in 20 different speeches that 51 percent of young African-American kids are unemployed and underemployed. Do you know how much coverage that’s gotten? How much?” He answered his own question: “Every single speech that I give I talk about that. I don’t know that it’s made the newspapers yet.”

Well actually, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have published articles that included essentially that statistic from Sanders. In addition, NPR, ABC News, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, The Week,National Review, RealClearPolitics, Salon, Vox and Alternet have published similar articles as well. But, I guess I get his point: He needs more — more quality and quantity to reach this essential audience.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Given all the talk, courtesy of Donald Trump, of making America great again, I’ve been thinking about European greatness. One state, Great Britain, does of course have its greatness built in, but still the idea sits strangely.

Europe is done with greatness. It thinks greatness leads to trouble. It’s been great — and suffered. The Great War (1914-18) killed about 8.5 million combatants and as many as 13 million civilians — not so great, really. Before that, a million people or so died in Ireland’s Great Famine.

Great European empires unraveled, often in bloodshed. Several hundred thousand were killed before France left Algeria. Not so great, either. No wonder Great Britain is thinking of breaking itself up.

From Sweden to Sicily, greatness is looked at askance. It feels like a code word for bellicosity, self-delusion and shoot-from-the-hip hubris. It has a whiff of danger: far better to curtail ambition and embrace ordinariness. Better to be the face in the crowd than the face on the cover of Time magazine.

Still, here’s a possible slogan for the 2017 French presidential election: “Make France Great Again!” (I can hear the seismic rumble of dissent on the Rive Gauche already.)

How? By believing in God, to begin with. Belief in God leads to belief in God-given missions, which must be good by definition. Anticlericalism was the start of the unraveling of French greatness.

Or perhaps by sending a neo-Napoleonic army out across the Continent (even as far as Moscow but without that painful retreat); by instilling an entrepreneurial spirit; by banning moroseness through decree; by restoring the scandal-tainted presidency to the monarchical splendor envisaged by De Gaulle; by scrapping the 35-hour work week; by getting tough on something (possibly immigration); by manufacturing multicolored campaign hats that say, “La France, Terre Éternelle de Grandeur” — “France, Eternal land of Greatness.”

That should do it! Would be great.

Or how about, “Let’s Make Italy Great Again!” It’s hard to know where to begin, really. Italian interest in greatness is about as deep as its interest in swapping its cuisine for neighboring Albania’s. Greatness: Been there, done that, a couple of millennia ago.

A first step might be reviving gladiatorial combat at Rome’s Colosseum, or making the trains run on time (again), or abandoning the consolations of style and beauty for the thrill of shock and awe, or, of course, manufacturing chic “La Grandezza Italiana” (“Italian Greatness”) campaign caps.

“Make Italy Great” is going to be a tough sell.

Then, of course, there’s Luxembourg.

No, greatness is America’s thing now, the recurrent frisson of a still-frisky power not deflated even by two wars without victory. Ronald Reagan, who also had striking hair, declared more than three decades ago, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Trump is more peremptory, as befits a man of bullying inclination. “Make America Great Again.”

He’s doing great with it. He’s identified a genuine need. There’s work to do on American greatness.

I’m not sure, but I think it was while sitting on the Seventh Avenue express of the New York City subway looking at a map that helpfully showed stops for the Lexington Avenue line, when water started dripping on my head from the subway car ceiling and an inaudible announcement was made, that I realized I was back in the greatest nation on earth.

Or was it as I gazed at a man channeling his bristling defiance into the occupation of three subway seats rather than one, or as I listened to voices much louder and more assertive than they needed to be, or as I struggled to identify a station with no visible sign naming it, or as the temperature in the subway elevator hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, that the thought hit me that America was indeed the greatest nation on earth?

I cannot say when America being the greatest nation on earth really sunk in. It might have been as I walked along a garbage-strewn street in Queens beneath a bridge so corroded it seemed not of the last century but of the one before that. Or as I peeled small stickers off fruit and vegetables (I’d forgotten in Europe about those pesky little charmers) while listening to Trump confuse Iran’s Quds force with the Kurds. Every foreign war — and plenty loom if there’s a Trump presidency — is an American geography lesson.

America may be great, in fact I would argue it is, but it sure doesn’t look great right now. Europe looks better but is shrunken within.

Europe’s divisions, endlessly pored over, amount in the end to what Sigmund Freud called “the narcissism of minor differences.” The Continent is united in the rejection of greatness, while the United States cannot picture itself without it.

The most dangerous point in the arc of a nation’s power is when the apogee of its greatness is passed but it is not yet resigned to decline. That’s where Trump’s America is. Which is really, really great.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time leftist dissident, has won a stunning victory in the contest for leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. Political pundits say that this means doom for Labour’s electoral prospects; they could be right, although I’m not the only person wondering why commentators who completely failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon have so much confidence in their analyses of what it means.

But I won’t try to get into that game. What I want to do instead is talk about one crucial piece of background to the Corbyn surge — the implosion of Labour’s moderates. On economic policy, in particular, the striking thing about the leadership contest was that every candidate other than Mr. Corbyn essentially supported the Conservative government’s austerity policies.

Worse, they all implicitly accepted the bogus justification for those policies, in effect pleading guilty to policy crimes that Labour did not, in fact, commit. If you want a U.S. analogy, it’s as if all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 had gone around declaring, “We were weak on national security, and 9/11 was our fault.” Would we have been surprised if Democratic primary voters had turned to a candidate who rejected that canard, whatever other views he or she held?

In the British case, the false accusations against Labour involve fiscal policy, specifically claims that the Labour governments that ruled Britain from 1997 to 2010 spent far beyond their means, creating a deficit and debt crisis that caused the broader economic crisis. The fiscal crisis, in turn, supposedly left no alternative to severe cuts in spending, especially spending that helps the poor.

These claims have, one must admit, been picked up and echoed by almost all British news media. It’s not just that the media have failed to subject Conservative claims to hard scrutiny, they have reported them as facts. It has been an amazing thing to watch — because every piece of this conventional narrative is completely false.

Was the last Labour government fiscally irresponsible? Britain had a modest budget deficit on the eve of the economic crisis of 2008, but as a share of G.D.P. it wasn’t very high – about the same, as it turns out, as the U.S. budget deficit at the same time. British government debt was lower, as a share of G.D.P., than it had been when Labour took office a decade earlier, and was lower than in any other major advanced economy except Canada.

It’s now sometimes claimed that the true fiscal position was much worse than the deficit numbers indicated, because the British economy was inflated by an unsustainable bubble that boosted revenues. But nobody claimed that at the time. On the contrary, independent assessments, for example by the International Monetary Fund, suggested that it might be a good idea to trim the deficit a bit, but saw no sign of a government living wildly beyond its means.

It’s true that British deficits soared after 2008, but that was a result of the crisis, not a cause. Debt is also up, but it’s still well below levels that have prevailed for much of Britain’s modern history. And there has never been any hint that investors, as opposed to politicians, were worried about Britain’s solvency: interest rates on British debt have stayed very low. This means both that the supposed fiscal crisis never created any actual economic problem, and that there was never any need for a sharp turn to austerity.

In short, the whole narrative about Labour’s culpability for the economic crisis and the urgency of austerity is nonsense. But it is nonsense that was consistently reported by British media as fact. And all of Mr. Corbyn’s rivals for Labour leadership bought fully into that conventional nonsense, in effect accepting the Conservative case that their party did a terrible job of managing the economy, which simply isn’t true. So as I said, Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising given the determination of moderate Labour politicians to accept false claims about past malfeasance.

This still leaves the question of why Labour’s moderates have been so hapless. Consider the contrast with the United States, where deficit scolds dominated Beltway discourse in 2010-2011 but never managed to dictate the terms of political debate, and where mainstream Democrats no longer sound like Republicans-lite. Part of the answer is that the U.S. news media haven’t been as committed to fiscal fantasies, although that just pushes the question back a step.

Beyond that, however, Labour’s political establishment seems to lack all conviction, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And this means that the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.

Sound familiar?  There are Democrats today just like that…

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