The Bizarre and Manipulative Crusade by Centrist NYT Columnists to Persuade Clinton to Adopt the Republican Fiscal and Regulatory Agenda – [with update]

All the experts tell us not to pay too much attention to polls for another week or two. Still, it does look as if Hillary Clinton got a big bounce from her convention, swamping her opponent’s bounce a week earlier. Better still, from the Democrats’ point of view, the swing in the polls appears to be doing what some of us thought it might: sending Donald Trump into a derp spiral, in which his ugly nonsense gets even uglier and more nonsensical as his electoral prospects sink.

As a result, we’re finally seeing some prominent Republicans not just refusing to endorse Mr. Trump, but actually declaring their support for Mrs. Clinton. So how should she respond?

The obvious answer, you might think, is that she should keep doing what she is doing — emphasizing how unfit her rival is for office, letting her allies point out her own qualifications and continuing to advocate a moderately center-­left policy agenda that is largely a continuation of President Obama’s.

But at least some commentators are calling on her to do something very different — to make a right turn, moving the Democratic agenda toward the preferences of those fleeing the sinking Republican ship. The idea, I guess, is to offer to create an American version of a European-­style grand coalition of the center­-left and the center-­right.

I don’t think there’s much prospect that Mrs. Clinton will actually do that. But if by any chance she and those around her are tempted to take this recommendation seriously: Don’t.

No Right Turn, Paul Krugman, New York Times, Aug. 5*

Last Wednesday Thomas Friedman used his NYT weekly column to do what he … well … does: Sing the gospel of supply-side economics and deregulation.  Or, more precisely, trash as Commie-light—er, “anti-entrepreneurial” and therefore “anti-growth”—the type of fiscal and regulatory policies that fueled the economy during the era when his father-in-law and uncles-in-law were building their multibillion-dollar shopping mall empire.

His in-laws bucked the tide of that economic era, see, and somehow managed to get the business loans they needed from banks in their local area of eastern Iowa despite that dastardly, Commie-inspired Glass-Steagall abomination.  And there turned out to be customers—lots of them!—with enough disposable income to buy even some things they didn’t really need at the local mall, notwithstanding those jobs-killing corporate and individual tax rates that rival—gasp—those of today’s poverty-stricken northern European countries.

Those countries’ economies don’t produce jobs, Friedman says, because their fiscal and regulatory policies are anti-entrepreneurial.  And it’s business startups that produce jobs, for heaven’s sake!  And supply-side fiscal and deregulatory policies are entrepreneurial and produce jobs!  Like they did in the G.W. Bush administration!

Why didn’t Ike, JFK and LBJ think of that?!?  And aren’t the Germans supposed to be good in math?!

Friedman had implored Michael Bloomberg to run for president this year—something about there being a Third Way—but Bloomberg declined.  And now that Friedman has to choose between only two ways, and has chosen Clinton, he wants her to win.

Thus his column last week in which he generously advises her that she could knock Trump out—the column is titled “How Clinton Could Knock Trump Out”—if she would just ditch that Bernie Sanders-inspired Commie party platform and adopt Paul Ryan’s.  I mean, adopt a center-right, business-Republican platform.

Seriously.  He says that.  But he segues into it this way:

Mind you, I hope Trump remains in his total whack-­job mode, because it distracted attention from the latest economic news — that was perfectly set up for Trump to take political advantage of — that the economy grew an anemic 1.2 percent in the second quarter, and growth in the first quarter was revised downward. That economic news was teed up for Trump, the self­-styled job-creator, and he shanked it deep into the woods, for it never to be heard from again.

Trump has gone amazingly far without having done an ounce of homework in preparation for the presidency, relying instead on feeding tweets to an anxious G.O.P. base. His candidacy should be over by now. But it isn’t.

It scares me that people are so fed up with elites, so hate and mistrust Clinton and are so worried about the future — jobs, globalization and terrorism — that a bare majority could still fall for this self-­infatuated carnival barker if he exhibited half a political brain.

And that leads to my second reason for pushing Clinton to inject some capitalism into her economic plan: The coalition she could lead. If there is one thing that is not going to revive growth right now, it is an anti­trade, regulatory heavy, socialist-­lite agenda the Democratic Party has drifted to under the sway of Bernie Sanders. Socialism is the greatest system ever invented for making people equally poor. Capitalism makes people unequally rich, but I would much rather grow our pie bigger and faster and better than re-divide a shrinking one.

There are a lot of center­-right, business Republicans today feeling orphaned by Trump. They can’t vote for him — but a lot of them still claim they can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, either. Clinton should be reaching out to them with a real pro­-growth, start­up, deregulation, entrepreneurship agenda and give them a positive reason to vote for her.

It makes sense politically: Take Trump on at his self-­proclaimed strength. And it makes sense economically: If Clinton wins, she will need to get stuff done, not just give stuff away.

I have no idea what socialism has to do with antitrade policy.  With the single exception of the antitrade-agreement plank, the Sanders-pushed parts of the platform are Germany-lite, Scandinavia-lite, Holland-lite.  But the antitrade policy is not.  The strong pro-labor regulatory nature of Germany’s economy, and its strong social safety net, underlie that country’s significant trade surpluses and therefore its pro-trade laws.  They work in tandem, not at cross-purposes, as our policies do.

In any event, the Dem platform’s fiscal and regulatory policies are independent of the antitrade plank.

That Friedman is advocating a brazenly elitist fiscal and regulatory platform as the elixir by which the Democratic nominee could ensure her defeat of the faux economic populist in an election cycle whose very essence is, by this pundit’s own acknowledgment, driven by anti-elitist sentiment—and is using as his pretext that the last quarter’s growth was only 1.2%—suggests a presumption by him that Clinton is awfully easily confused.

Or it would if he himself weren’t so confused.

I read Friedman’s column on Thursday, the day after it was published, and reflexively wanted to deconstruct it sarcastically here in a post titled “Thomas Friedman Thinks Northern Europe’s People Are Equally Poor.”  Or, “Thomas Friedman Finally Finds His Long-Sought Third Way: Convince Clinton to Adopt the Center-Right, Business Republicans Orphaned by Trump. Adoption Fees Will Be Waived.”

But it seemed hardly worth the time, and I didn’t bother.  Friedman is so long past his sell-by date as a pundit—what brung him to the dance was his expertise on a Middle East whose central tenets existed for decades but mostly no longer do, and he has as much expertise on domestic fiscal and regulatory policy, economic history, and national politics, as my Democratic-voting cat has; she votes the way I tell her to—that I doubted that anyone who actually read that column would do anything but laugh at it.

But I was wrong.  Krugman, to his tremendous credit, did something more than laugh at it.  He devoted his column last Friday to angrily and devastatingly deconstructing it.  First, the economic disinformation embedded in the column, and then the audacious political jujitsu by which Friedman casually presumes that the public is clamoring for more supply-side economics and deregulation of business, including—especially, he suggests—the finance industry.

Glass-Steagall was so effective for all those decades not just in protecting against a banking collapse but also because, although not an amendment to the Sherman Antitrust Act, it indeed effectively kept the finance industry decentralized and it curtailed that industry’s economic and political power.  Friedman’s in-laws could get a business loan from a local bank in Cedar Rapids in the 1950s, on decent borrowing terms, because the local bank wasn’t competing with Chase Manhattan—which in turn was leaving the roulette tables to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

It is the anti-regulation zealots who are anti-growth.  An awful lot of people who shopped at Friedman’s in-laws’ malls nationwide could do so courtesy of active enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act—and the protections of Glass-Steagall.  The public—or at least most of it—is not clamoring for more supply-side economics and deregulation of business, including—especially—of the finance industry.  But Friedman thinks this because he thinks supply-side economics and deregulation of business, including the finance industry is synonymous with growth:

I get that [Clinton] had to lean toward Sanders and his voters to win the nomination; their concerns with fairness and inequality are honorable. But those concerns can be addressed only with economic growth; the rising anti-­immigration sentiments in the country can be defused only with economic growth; the general anxiety feeding Trumpism can be eased only with economic growth.

Sanders had no plan whatsoever for growth. Trump doesn’t, either, but he can fake it. It’s time that Hillary pivoted. The country today doesn’t need the first female president. It needs the first president in a long time who can govern with a center-­left, center-­right coalition, and actually end the gridlock on fiscal policy in a smart way.

If Trump continues to melt down into a puddle of bile, more and more Republicans will be up for grabs. With the right pro-growth economic policies, Clinton would have an opening to not only enlist them to help her win, but to build a governing coalition for the morning after.

Yup.  Think of all those Republicans whose votes will be there for the grabbing if Clinton renounces the party platform she agreed to and bragged in her nomination acceptance speech that it’s the most progressive platform ever, thus courting the exponentially greater loss of support among Sanders supporters than the supporters she’d gain among Republicans.  Sounds like a plan!  Making it a zero-sum game should work great for Clinton!

The public and Sanders both are aware, although Friedman is not, that virtually all income and wealth gains in the last 15 years has gone to the top percent of the economic scale.  Sanders had plans to address this, and some it is in the party platform.  Clinton, too, had plans to address this, and those plans are in the platform.  Their plans would increase growth via the demand side, but Friedman isn’t aware of demand-side growth policy, so it doesn’t count.  Neither Sanders’ nor Clinton’s contributions to the platform entail supply-side economics or deregulation, so Friedman thinks Sanders didn’t have a plan and Clinton’s should be junked in favor of the Heritage Foundation platform.

As Krugman points out, the public is more observant than Friedman is.  Here’s the denouement of Krugman’s takedown of Friedman:

So now the strategy that rightists had used to sell policies that were neither popular nor successful has blown up in their faces. And the Democratic response should be to adopt some of those policies? Say what?

Also, I can’t help but notice a curious pattern in the recommendations of some self­-proclaimed centrists. When Republicans were in the ascendant, centrists urged Democrats to adapt by moving right. Now that Republicans are in trouble, with some feeling that they have no choice except to vote Democratic, these same centrists are urging Democrats to … adapt by moving right. Funny how that works.

Back to the main theme: Grand coalitions do sometimes have a place in politics, as a response to crises that are neither party’s fault — external threats to national security, economic disaster. But that’s not what is happening here. Trumpism is basically a creation of the modern conservative movement, which used coded appeals to prejudice to make political gains, then found itself unable to rein in a candidate who skipped the coding. If some conservatives find this too much and bolt the party, good for them, and they should be welcomed into the coalition of the sane. But they can’t expect policy concessions in return. When Dr. Frankenstein finally realizes that he has created a monster, he doesn’t get a reward. Mrs. Clinton and her party should stay the course.

I couldn’t agree more.  And, presciently, did.  But I’m not a NYT columnist.

Frank Bruni is, and in his Times column today advises Clinton, as Friedman does, to simply renege on her pledge to the Sanders supporters that she is committed to joining with Sanders and other congressional progressives to try to enact the platform planks—those originating with her and those reflecting his proposals.  And that she believes in them.

Bruni’s argument overlaps with Friedman’s in its forward-looking, left-right governing-coalition thing, but seems more interested in seeing actual centrism outcomes than in rightwing fiscal and regulatory policies as Friedman wants to see.  But his theme is even stranger than Friedman’s.

Unlike Friedman, who thinks Clinton risks losing if she doesn’t become Paul Ryan, Bruni is mesmerized by the fact that Clinton now appears to have a comfortable enough lead in the polls to allow her to—you guessed it—renounce her commitment to Sanders-induced platform planks.

This, he proffers, would help her lower her high personal negatives—apparently on the assumption that her negatives have something to do with the Sanders-induced platform planks.  Which would be a good bet if, say, Sanders’ negatives were high.  But they’re not, so Clinton’s high negatives probably aren’t related to that economic-progressive platform after all.  Although, who knows, right?

Bruni goes on to advise Clinton not to campaign for or with Democratic Senate candidates who are trying to unseat Republican incumbents.  After all, he says, she will need to work with Republicans to pass legislation, and even if the incumbent Republicans were defeated and so won’t be around to not cooperate, as payback, Clinton’s having campaigned against their former colleagues will cause the remaining Republicans to not cooperate, as payback.

The bottom line is that progressives aren’t invited to the party.  Either party.  They need not apply.  They’re fine as decoration, but only as decoration.  The Republican legislative agenda is the only option. And always will be.

Heads, they win.  Tails, we lose.  Because this is what the public—which is now in an economic-populist and anti-elitist posture—wants.  Or doesn’t want.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s all the same to the pundits and pols.  To the elitists, that is.

Sounds like a conflict of interest there.  But, whatever.

*Date corrected. Krugman’s column was published on Aug. 5, not Aug. 6.  8/8 at 10:09 a.m.


UPDATE: Guess I’m not the only one who reacted with incredulity to Friedman’s column:

Thomas Friedman’s economic illiteracy and sycophancy for Wall Street “elites” have never been in doubt, but he has (unknowingly) plumbed new depths in his columns advising Hillary Clinton to remake the Democratic Party in Bill’s image – by embracing Wall Street’s dream of deregulation. Friedman has literally learned nothing from the three great epidemics of accounting control fraud (“liar’s” loans, inflated appraisals, and fraudulent resale of these fraudulently originated mortgages) that drove the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

In other columns in this series on Friedman’s columns advising Hillary on moving the Democratic Party well to the right of the Republican Party on economic issues, I show that Friedman has literally learned nothing from the successes of stimulus, education, and infrastructure, the horrific failures of austerity and deregulation, or his repeated distortion of “capitalism” and “socialism.”. Friedman gives no indication that he realizes that (1) his economic dogmas were all falsified by our recurrent financial crises and (2) the policies implemented on the basis of those dogmas proved disastrous.

Friedman advises Hillary to embrace Wall Street elites and adopt the deregulatory, desupervisory, and de facto decriminalization (the three “de’s”) policies that Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush implemented. The three de’s have created the “criminogenic environments” that led to the epidemics of accounting control fraud that drove the savings and loan debacle, the Enron-era accounting control fraud scandals, and the most recent crisis. Friedman urges Hillary to use Bill as her model and embrace elite bankers and financial deregulation because, what could go wrong?

In his column entitled How Clinton Could Knock Trump Out, Friedman bemoans “the anti-bank sentiment of the Democratic Party.” …

Bill Black: Thomas Friedman’s Big Idea for Hillary – Embrace Wall Street and Deregulation, Naked Capitalism, Posted on August 8, 2016 by Yves Smith

Added 8/8 at 6:43 p.m.