Objective reality and intra-Dem debate

by Robert Waldmann

On Ed Kilgore’s thoughts on Peter Beinart.

He wrote:

he mentions both the Washington Monthly and the New Republic (which he used to edit) as onetime journalistic bulwarks of the soon-to-be discarded Clintonism (and Obamism) that have now “moved left,” I would point out to him the not-exactly-distant-past March/April issue of WaMo devoted to praise of Obama as great president who continued Clinton’s legacy. My own basic view is that Clinton and Obama and virtually all center-left folk have “moved left” in response to conservative counter-revolutionary activity, the disastrous consequences of the Bush Era, and other manifestations of objective reality. As my resolutely New Demish friend Will Marshall observed nearly a decade ago, “we’re all populists now” thanks to W., who’s now being denounced as a RINO piker by most of his GOP successors.

I comment:

“other manifestations of objective reality” … heh indeed.   I think that in the intra-Democratic party debate, reality has a clear liberal bias.   Let’s pretend that there is no Republican party (it’s real fun to do that).  There would still be new information relevant to the debate between the past eventheliberal Peter Beinart and the current actually liberal Peter Beinart (I should admit that I haven’t read the recent Beinart article).

1) Financial deregulation was not just a Bush era phenomenon.  The key error was almost Bush era (the commodity futures modernization act signed by Clinton in December 2000) but the enthusiasm for deregulation and new financial instruments was not new then.   Alan Greenspan was reappointed by Clinton (and enthusiastically applauded by Paul Krugman).  The economic disaster convinced many Democrats that they (we ?) had mistaken views about finance and financial regulation in the 90s.

2) Welfare reform.  I have a rule not to discuss that topic here so I won’t go on.

3) Liberal interventionism.  This is closely related to Bush’s insanity.  But recall how many otherwise sane Democratic bloggers and pundits supported the invasion of Iraq.  Even without Iraq the inevitable extreme difficulty of the necessary war in Afghanistan would have caused a big shift.

4) Re inventing government.  IIRC the idea was that it was possible to achieve progressive goals of public policy with fewer public employees by contracting out and using vouchers.   I think there is a lot of evidence that this costs more not less (dramatically in the case of Medicare advantage).  The idea that the Federal Bureacracy is inefficient is very hard to reconcile with accounting data.

5) The continued decline in crime.  This may in part be the result of vastly harsher sentencing (recall the Clinton signed Crime bill passed in 1994 included a practically irrelevant 3 strikes and you’re out clause and introduced the death penalty for about 50 new crimes).  But the result is a huge shift from tough on crime to sentencing reform.  I think this has very little to do with any post 2000 Republican insanity. Also I think the decline in crime has a lot to do with a sensible action by a Republican president — Nixon signing the clean air act and getting lead out of gasoline.

6) The continued increase in inequlity but without extraordinary economic growth.  Unless the late 90s were the new normal,  the huge increase in inequality (which started in 79) is inconsistent with decent growth of median incomes.  That will lead to populism.  Post 2000 Republican insanity is not needed.

Basically, I think almost all of the centrist Demcorats’ hypotheses were incorrect and have been disproven by the data.   I think the debate within the party has developed more or less as rational debate would have.  I don’t think that Republican insanity should have been needed.  I also guess that you are right that it played an important role, but the evidence should have been enough.