In a blog post this morning for the New York Times, Paul Krugman attempts, mischievously in my view, to score some ideological points.
Yesterday he and I were on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” and when the show had ended but the panelists were still seated together I said I’d just had one of those shows where you forget to make the two points you were most eager to make. Everyone smiled—that can happen. Then someone asked what the points were.
We had talked on the show about the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis, and I’d stated that the Republicans who’d pushed the shutdown had made a mistake, going forward without a serious strategy, endgame or plan. But, I said, the larger point I’d meant to make is that what’s going on now in the GOP is not only a continuation of old fights but a big brawl between old-style, experienced or “establishment” Republicans, who put an emphasis on realistic strategy in order to win, and their rising challengers on websites, in talk radio and in some think tanks, who take a different approach, who are more slash-and-burn, or purist. And this fight, or split, while not new, is becoming more consequential to the party’s future.
The second point I’d wanted to make, I said, is that for all the Republican Party’s troubles, for all the fighting and fisticuffs, there is one great thing, and it is that the party is alive with idea and argument and debate. This is good, it speaks of a liveliness and vitality appropriate to a great party. And if I were a Democrat, I said, teasingly but also seriously, I would wish my party were engaged in such spirited debate, and be anxious that it is not.
Someone said there should be a new segment on the show called “What I Meant to Say,” and we laughed, talked a little more, went our ways.
When I referred to what is happening among Republicans in the area of ideas, I had in mind a number of things – disagreements about tax policy that include subarguments about questions like the treatment of carried interest. There are real disagreements about the impact of an immigration bill on unemployed and underemployed U.S. citizens. There is a continuing and rising Republican debate about foreign policy, about what America’s role in the world should be, of which the NSA spying debate is, in a way, a subset. There are both present and coming debates about spending. Must we be the party of cutting entitlements because they can bankrupt us, or are there other, more winning and in the end more constructive and realistic approaches that promote growth while taking into account the number of Americans who right now depend on government because of forces—globalization, for one—beyond their control? All these debates involve ideas about what is just, desirable, possible.
These are just a few issue areas. But there’s a lot going on! And these debates are playing out in a lot of places, if least satisfyingly on Capitol Hill.
While Paul, in his post this morning, concedes it’s possible to argue that “the GOP is full of ferment, with passionate arguments that are very different from the relative placidity of Democrats these days,” he reminds us the truly sophisticated would understand “the much-ballyhooed rift between Wall Street and the Tea Party is entirely about tactics, not policies.”
That is simply not true.
Some quick examples. Wall Street is pro-immigration and wants a bill; the tea party is not and does not. Wall Street would fight to the death for the favorable tax treatment of carried interest; the Tea Party would do away with it in a great populist roar. If there were another financial crisis and the banks wanted bailouts, Wall Street would argue passionately for it, and the tea party would fiercely oppose it. Even as we speak the tea party is calling repeal of the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act another example of crony capitalism, while Wall Street, if you will, argues it’s a matter of higher costs and jobs.
These are not tactical issues, they are or bear on serious policy questions.
Paul, in his work, often seems so immersed in an ideological world—in who is right and must be momentarily held high (they’ll be wrong tomorrow) and, more frequently, who is wrong and must be denounced (Paul Ryan’s ideas are not just “terrible”, they’re old)—that he doesn’t even notice what is going on among those he disagrees with, or doesn’t find it worthy of inquiry because whatever they’re doing it couldn’t possibly be in good faith. (My friend James Taranto summed up Krugman’s blog post as, “Oh yeah? Well, the jerkstore called, and they’re running outta you!”)
A small point connected to this. Paul writes that he “really wanted to ask” me about what I meant, but “time was up.” Actually time wasn’t up. The show wasn’t ending, it had ended. He could have asked me my thoughts right there, or afterwards, as we strolled, the two of us, from the studio to the street. There was plenty of time, if he was really interested.