Brooks and Krugman

Bobo has seen fit to extrude something called “The Banality of Change” in which he says Hillary Clinton is the bigger change agent this year, because she can get things done in government.  That’s effing rich — as though the Republicans in Congress won’t treat her with the same contempt that they’ve treated Obama.  You thought the racism was fun?  Just WAIT for the sexism…  “Soxared, 04-07-13” from Crete, Illinois will have something to say in reply.  Prof. Krugman has a question:  “Who Broke Politics?”  He says Republican leaders have spent decades trashing democratic norms in pursuit of economic benefits for their donor class.  Here’s Bobo:

A few weeks ago I met a guy in Idaho who was absolutely certain that Donald Trump would win this election. He was wearing tattered, soiled overalls, missing a bunch of teeth and was unnaturally skinny. He was probably about 50, but his haggard face looked 70. He was getting by aimlessly as a handyman.

I pointed to the polls and tried to persuade him that Hillary Clinton might win, but it was like telling him a sea gull could play billiards. Everybody he knows is voting Trump so his entire lived experience points to a Trump landslide. He was a funny, kind guy, but you got the impression his opportunities had been narrowed by forces outside his control.

One of the mandates for the next president is to help improve the life stories of people like that.

Trump speaks to this man’s situation and makes him feel heard. But when you think practically about which candidate could improve his life, it’s clear that Clinton is the bigger change agent.

Let’s start with what “change” actually means. In our system, change means legislation. It starts with the ability to gather a team of policy experts who can craft complex bills. These days, bills often run to thousands of pages, and every bad rookie decision can lead things astray.

Then it requires political deftness. Deft politicians are not always lovely, as Lyndon Johnson demonstrated, but they are subtle, cunning and experienced. They have the ability to work noncontentiously with people they don’t like, to read other people’s minds, to lure opponents over with friendship, cajolery and a respectful nudge.

Craftsmanship in government is not like craftsmanship in business. You can’t win people with money and you can’t order people around. Governance requires enormous patience, a capacity to tolerate boredom and the skill of quiet herding. Frustrations abound. When it is done well, as a friend of mine in government puts it, each individual day sucks but the overall experience is tremendously rewarding.

Change in government is a team sport. Public opinion is mobilized through institutions — through interest groups, activist organizations, think tanks and political parties. As the historian Sean Wilentz once put it, “political parties have been the only reliable electoral vehicles for advancing the ideas and interests of ordinary voters.” To create political change, you have to work within groups and organize groups of groups.

Now, if you wanted to design a personality type perfectly ill suited to be a change agent in government, you would come up with Donald Trump: solipsistic, impatient, combative, unsubtle and ignorant.

If you wanted to design a personality type better suited to getting things done, you might come up with James Baker, Robert Gates or Ted Kennedy, but you might also come up with Hillary Clinton.

None of us should be under any illusions. Wherever Clinton walks, the whiff of scandal is always by her side. The Clintons seem to have decided that they are righteous and good, and therefore anything that enriches, empowers or makes them feel good must always be righteous and good. They surround themselves with some amazing people but also some human hand grenades who inevitably blow up in their faces.

But Clinton does possess the steady, pedantic skills that are necessary for governmental change: the ability to work doggedly hard, to master details and to rally the powerful. If the Clinton campaign emails have taught us anything, it is that she and her team, while not hugely creative, are prudent, calculating and able to create a web of interlocking networks that they can mobilize for a cause.

Clinton was at her best in the Senate. She worked very well with Republicans (and not just the amenable ones like John McCain and Lindsey Graham). She was an operations person, not a publicity person. Whereas Barack Obama sometimes seemed to see his fellow politicians as objects to be studied, Clinton got on with them as an equal. Her accomplishments — post-9/11 funding for New York, saving Army bases in upstate New York — were concrete.

Passing legislation next year is going to be hard, but if Clinton can be dull and pragmatic, and operate at a level below the cable TV ideology wars, it’s possible to imagine her gathering majorities behind laws that would help people like that guy in Idaho: an infrastructure push, criminal justice reform, a college tuition program, an apprenticeship and skills program, an expanded earned-income tax credit and a bill to secure the border and shift from low-skill to high-skill immigration.

Many of us disagree strongly with many Clinton policies. But any sensible person can distinguish between an effective operating officer and a whirling disaster who is only about himself.

The thing about reality TV is that it isn’t actually real. In the real world, the process of driving change is usually boring, remorseless and detail oriented, but the effect on people out there, like the guy in Idaho, can be profound and beautiful.

He still can’t quite bring himself to be honest enough to endorse Hillary.  Here’s what “soxared 04-07-13” had to say:

“Golly, Mr. Brooks, is this endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president that we have breathlessly awaited? Or is it just a rhetorical exercise? One hopes, as our final weekend for Armageddon dawns, it’s the former.

Where to begin, though? Let’s start with your glancing blow at Barack Obama. You say, in so many words, that a “rookie decision” can be fatal. You go on to compare him, unfairly with LBJ, the consummate political animal from poor, dust-blown Texas to the Oval Office, largely through Lee Harvey Oswald’s cross-hairs.

A companion piece today by Paul Krugman details how Republicans long ago abandoned any pretense to governing. Barack Obama’s inexperience was not the cause of Congressional gridlock. In your very words, “change in government is a team sport.” When, Mr. Brooks, did the Congressional delegation reach out to President Obama?

The Right attacked this good and decent man with a treasonous, seditionist employment of “public opinion [to] mobilize…institutions — through interest groups, activist organizations, think tanks” to obstruct the black president. Game, set and match, no? “You lie!”; “one-term president”; no hearings on Judge Merrick Garland? Mitch McConnell should have been investigated by the Senate’s committee for un-American activities. Right?

Hillary Clinton, with a majority Democratic Senate, can begin to lay bricks on the long and winding road. Donald Trump wants to dig it all up.

Are you with her on Tuesday? Finally? Do we have your word?”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

As far as anyone can tell, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House — and the leader of what’s left of the Republican establishment — isn’t racist or authoritarian. He is, however, doing all he can to make a racist authoritarian the most powerful man in the world. Why? Because then he could privatize Medicare and slash taxes on the wealthy.

And that, in brief, tells you what has happened to the Republican Party, and to America.

This has been an election in which almost every week sees some longstanding norm in U.S. political life get broken. We now have a major-party candidate who refuses to release his tax returns, despite huge questions about his business dealings. He constantly repeats claims that are totally false, like his assertion that crime is at record highs (it’s actually just a bit off historic lows). He stands condemned by his own words as a sexual predator. And there’s much, much more.

Any one of these things would in the past have been considered disqualifying in a presidential candidate. But leading Republicans just shrug. And they celebrated when James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., broke with policy to lay a heavy thumb on the election scales; if Hillary Clinton wins nonetheless, they have made it clear that they will try to block any Supreme Court nomination, and there’s already talk of impeachment hearings. About what? They’ll find something.

So how did all our political norms get destroyed? Hint: It started long before Donald Trump.

On one side, Republicans decided long ago that anything went in the effort to delegitimize and destroy Democrats. Those of us old enough to remember the 1990s also remember the endless series of accusations hurled against the Clintons.

Nothing was too implausible to get on talk radio and get favorable mention in Congress and in conservative media: Hillary killed Vince Foster! Bill was a drug smuggler!

Nothing was too trivial to trigger congressional hearings: 140 hours of testimony on potential abuse of the White House Christmas card list. And, of course, seven years of investigations into a failed real estate deal.

When Mrs. Clinton famously spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to undermine her husband’s presidency, she wasn’t being hyperbolic; she was simply describing the obvious reality.

And since accusations of Democratic scandal, not to mention congressional “investigations” that started from a presumption of guilt, had become the norm, the very idea of bad behavior independent of politics disappeared: The flip side of the obsessive pursuit of a Democratic president was utter refusal to investigate even the most obvious wrongdoing by Republicans in office.

There were multiple real scandals during the administration of George W. Bush, ranging from what looked like a political purge in the Justice Department to the deceptions that led us into invading Iraq; nobody was ever held accountable.

The erosion of norms continued after President Obama took office. He faced total obstruction at every turn; blackmail over the debt ceiling; and now, a refusal even to hold hearings on his nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

What was the purpose of this assault on the implicit rules and understandings that we need to make democracy work? Well, when Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995, he was trying to, guess what, privatize Medicare. The rage against Bill Clinton partly reflected the fact that he raised taxes modestly on the wealthy.

In other words, Republican leaders have spent the past couple of decades doing exactly what the likes of Mr. Ryan are doing now: trashing democratic norms in pursuit of economic benefits for their donor class.

So we shouldn’t really be too surprised that Mr. Comey, who turns out to be a Republican first and a public servant, well, not so much, decided to politically weaponize his position on the eve of the election; that’s what Republicans have been doing across the board. And we shouldn’t be surprised at all that Mr. Trump’s lurid personal failings haven’t caused a break with the leaders of his party’s establishment: They decided long ago that only Democrats have scandals.

Despite Mr. Comey’s abuse of power, Mrs. Clinton will probably win. But Republicans won’t accept it. When Mr. Trump rages about a “rigged election,” expect muted disagreement at best from a party establishment that in a fundamental sense never accepts the legitimacy of a Democrat in the White House. And no matter what Mrs. Clinton does, the barrage of fake scandals will continue, now with demands for impeachment.

Can anything be done to limit the damage? It would help if the media finally learned its lesson, and stopped treating Republican scandal-mongering as genuine news. And it would also help if Democrats won the Senate, so that at least some governing could get done.

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One Response to “Brooks and Krugman”

  1. Russian Sage Says:

    Brooks theory of political jockeying unravels at the seams unless he inhabits the world of Lewis Carroll.

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