I'm taking issue with Paul Krugman's column today, which pays homage to his favored candidate John Edwards. He praises him for good reasons: by plowing the primary race to the left, he singlehandedly forced other Democrats to pony up and produce more progressive plans for health care and the environment, for two. As a result, we have a genuine contrast between the parties on the major issues--a pleasant fact seen in high relief in the series of debates that (perhaps) culminated last night. But the shrewd, disinterested leadership Krugman imputes to Edwards is one he is--erroneously--not willing to acknowledge exists in the Republican party. To wit:
Mr. Edwards ran an unabashedly populist campaign, while Mr. Obama portrays himself as a candidate who can transcend partisanship--and given the economic elitism of the modern Republican Party, populism is unavoidably partisan. [emphasis mine]
I just fundamentally disagree with the yoking together of the "modern Republican Party" to comprise both its leadership and its past and present citizen supporters. Sure, the theorizing of the conservative elite, which places a premium on capital accumulation, corporate personhood and deregulated market activity, has convinced poor- and working-class Republicans to vote against their economic interests for several election cycles. These voters are not necessarily wrong to do so--they are perhaps spurred by unflagging belief in American individualism (i.e. the hope that they will themselves wake up one day replete with yachts and chalets; how else to explain the successful GOP fetishization of top-tier tax cuts?).
But I happen to think populism is avoidably partisan; the shocking class divide that has gripped America affects all voters, rich and poor, Democratic and Republican, and Americans, like Krugman, concerned with economic inequality in their country cannot afford to so simplify the terms. After all, is poverty not the central concern of a very wealthy Democratic leader, as it should be the concern of a downscale Republican family in middle America? Hasn't Mike Huckabee successfully tapped into resentment of that very real Wall-Street-to-Washington axis of power? Krugman is kidding himself if he can't acknowledge Huckabee, nor that a party is not its people, nor the strain that the GOP leadership has placed on their base with such inhumane economic policies.
In fact, his commentary joins the counterproductive rhetorical war that Republican partisans have been winning for decades. More irksome, he does so at a time when the millions of people (of all political persuasions) who suffer in an inequal America are--more than ever--up for grabs politically, if only the Democratic party would find crosspartisan ways to shake free the indoctrination of Reaganomics, and its own angry, exclusionary tone.