It is times like this when I really curse the New York Times for putting it’s columnists behind a paid subscription firewall.
Paul Krugman’s latest column — “Centrism Is for Suckers” — is an absolute must read for those “moderates” in both parties who take issue with the aggressive, take no prisoners partisanship of HA and much of the liberal blogosphere. It is also an important lesson for those independent minded voters who believe they can still afford to pick and choose candidates regardless of party affiliation, at a time when our Republican controlled Congress steadfastly refuses to exercise its constitutional obligation to act as a check and balance on one of the most authoritarian and ruthless administrations in American history.
If you want to understand the state of America today, a good place to start is with the contrast between the political strategies of conservative business advocacy groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and those of more or less liberal advocacy groups like the Sierra Club.
The chamber recently got into trouble because of ads it ran praising Republican members of Congress who, it said, voted for the Medicare prescription drug program. It turned out that one of the congressmen praised in the ads actually voted against the program, while two others weren’t even in Congress when the vote took place.
Oops. But the bigger question is, aren’t business groups supposed to favor fiscal responsibility and reducing the size of government? So why is the chamber praising a program that substantially increases the size of government and has no visible means of financial support?
The answer is obvious: the Bush administration hopes to win some votes in the midterm elections from older Americans now receiving drug benefits, and the chamber, like many conservative organizations these days, believes that its interests are best served by helping Republicans win elections.
Now compare this with the behavior of advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group, both of which have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club’s executive director defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, “We choose people, not parties.” And it’s true that Mr. Chafee has usually voted with environmental groups.
But while this principle might once have made sense, it’s just naive today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party’s leadership and the ruthlessness with which it exercises its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee’s personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant when it comes to actual policy outcomes; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the “R” after his name.
Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.
Perhaps I’ve already blockquoted more than the Fair Use Doctrine allows, but it would be a worse transgression not to include Krugman’s final paragraph:
The fact is that in 1994, the year when radical Republicans took control both of Congress and of their own party, things fell apart, and the center did not hold. Now we’re living in an age of one-letter politics, in which a politician’s partisan affiliation is almost always far more important than his or her personal beliefs. And those who refuse to recognize this reality end up being useful idiots for those, like President Bush, who have been consistently ruthless in their partisanship.
I for one do not wish to be a “useful idiot” and that explains why I work so hard to elect Democrats — not because I have any particular allegiance to the Democratic Party, but because I understand it is the only way to enact progressive policies while fending off political attacks from the right. This is the political world we live in, and those who ignore the letter next to a candidate’s name on the ballot are ignoring political reality.
I’m not saying this is a good thing — it’s just the way things are.