[Marxism] Paul Krugman responds to Thomas Friedman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 29 13:09:06 MDT 2011

Even though Krugman does not mention Friedman in this op-ed piece, 
it will be obvious that he had Friedman in mind.

NY Times July 28, 2011
The Centrist Cop-Out

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. 
Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to 
undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of 
government unless they get policy concessions they would never 
have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who 
would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — 
have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican 

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media 
apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple 
reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; 
pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if 
the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the 
insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally 
at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that 
if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would 
read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still 
rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one 
party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering 
over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: 
The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to 
the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes 
always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty 
for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if 
all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may 
know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” 
with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only 
chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered 
extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in 
the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only 
small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, 
Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far 
to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if 
anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s 

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an 
Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? 
“Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic 
president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — 
or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in 
danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his 
utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!

Which brings me to those “centrist” fantasies.

Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political 
spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t 
necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders 
who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.

But for those who insist that the center is always the place to 
be, I have an important piece of information: We already have a 
centrist president. Indeed, Bruce Bartlett, who served as a policy 
analyst in the Reagan administration, argues that Mr. Obama is in 
practice a moderate conservative.

Mr. Bartlett has a point. The president, as we’ve seen, was 
willing, even eager, to strike a budget deal that strongly favored 
conservative priorities. His health reform was very similar to the 
reform Mitt Romney installed in Massachusetts. Romneycare, in 
turn, closely followed the outlines of a plan originally proposed 
by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. And returning tax rates on 
high-income Americans to their level during the Roaring Nineties 
is hardly a socialist proposal.

True, Republicans insist that Mr. Obama is a leftist seeking a 
government takeover of the economy, but they would, wouldn’t they? 
The facts, should anyone choose to report them, say otherwise.

So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, 
it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of 
modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to 
acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making 
our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their 
motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you 
labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from 
the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports 
that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — 
a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with 
American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re 
not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

David Brooks is off today.


NY Times July 23, 2011
Make Way for the Radical Center

DID I mention that I’ve signed a pledge — just like those 
Republican congressmen who have signed written promises to 
different political enforcers not to raise taxes or permit 
same-sex marriage? My pledge is to never vote for anyone stupid 
enough to sign a pledge — thereby abdicating their governing 
responsibilities in a period of incredibly rapid change and 
financial stress. Sorry, I’ve signed it. Nothing more I can do.

If this kind of idiocy by elected officials sends you into a 
hair-pulling rage and leaves you wishing that we had more options 
today than our two-party system is putting forward — for instance, 
a party that would have offered a grand bargain on the deficit two 
years ago, not on the eve of a Treasury default — not only are you 
not alone, but help may be on the way.

Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its 
hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an 
Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012. I know it sounds 
gimmicky — an Internet convention — but an impressive group of 
frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents, called 
Americans Elect, is really serious, and they have thought out this 
process well. In a few days, Americans Elect will formally submit 
the 1.6 million signatures it has gathered to get on the 
presidential ballot in California as part of its unfolding 
national effort to get on the ballots of all 50 states for 2012.

The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating 
process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, 
which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide 
open — guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated 
independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but 
be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge 
both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with 
the debt, education and jobs.

“Our goal is to open up what has been an anticompetitive process 
to people in the middle who are unsatisfied with the choices of 
the two parties,” said Kahlil Byrd, the C.E.O. of Americans Elect, 
speaking from its swank offices, financed with some serious 
hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.

As the group explains on its Web site, www.americanselect.org: 
“Americans Elect is the first-ever open nominating process. We’re 
using the Internet to give every single voter — Democrat, 
Republican or independent — the power to nominate a presidential 
ticket in 2012. The people will choose the issues. The people will 
choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next 
June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the 
ballot in every state.”

Here is how it will work, explains Elliot Ackerman, an Iraq war 
veteran with a Silver Star, who serves as the chief operating 
officer of Americans Elect, and whose father, Peter, a successful 
investor, has been a prime engine behind the group. First, anyone 
interested in becoming a delegate goes to the Americans Elect Web 
site and registers. As part of that process, you will be asked to 
fill in a questionnaire about your political priorities: 
education, foreign policy, the economy, etc. This enables 
Americans Elect to put you in contact with others who share your 
views so you can discuss them and organize together. Then you will 
be invited to draft a candidate or support one who has already 
been drafted and to contribute to the list of questions that 
anyone running on the Americans Elect platform will have to answer 
on the site.

“The questions, the priorities, the nominations and the rules will 
all come from the community, not from two entrenched parties,” 
said Ackerman.

Any presidential nominee must conform to all the Constitutional 
requirements, as well as be considered someone of similar stature 
to our previous presidents. That means no Lady Gaga allowed. Every 
candidate will have to post in words or video his or her answers 
to the platform questions produced by the Americans Elect 
delegates. In April 2012, the candidate pool will be reduced to 
six through three rounds of voting. The six, assuming they all 
want to run, will then have to name their running mates. The only 
rule is that a Democrat must run with a Republican or independent, 
and a Republican with a Democrat or independent.

“Each presidential candidate has to pick a running mate outside of 
their party and reaching across the divide of politics,” said 
Ackerman. In June 2012, the online convention will choose who 
among the six will run as the Americans Elect candidate — 
automatically on the ballot in all 50 states. If President Obama 
wants to run with John Boehner on the Americans Elect platform 
that would be fine — provided they go through the process. 
(President Obama should dump the Democrats and run as an 
independent, which he is, at heart, anyway.)

Write it down: Americans Elect. What Amazon.com did to books, what 
the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, 
what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do 
to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political 
life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the 
incumbents and let the people in. Watch out.

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