Thursday, July 12, 2012

Senseless Centrists

Well, I'm back from my travels. I'm sure you all missed me, so I won't even bother to ask if you did. In any case, I was catching up on my blog-reading today, and I came across a very old quote by Paul Krugman that a friend of mine had put up on his blog from a few days back. My friend mentions that it sums up his political views better than a thousand-page tome could, and I find myself in agreement with him on this. But before I go any further, I guess I should let you read the quote, right? Well, here it is:
"To be both a liberal and a good economist you must have a certain sense of the tragic--that is, you must understand that not all goals can be attained, that life is a matter of painful tradeoffs. You must want to help the poor, but understand that welfare can encourage dependency. You must want to protect those who lose their jobs, but admit that generous unemployment benefits can raise the long-term rate of unemployment. You must be willing to tax the affluent to help those in need, but accept that too high a rate of taxation can discourage investment and innovation. To the free-market conservative, these are all arguments for government to do nothing, to accept whatever level of poverty and insecurity the market happens to produce. A serious liberal does not reply to such conservatives by denying that there are any trade-offs at all; he insists, rather, that some trade-offs are worth making, that helping the poor and protecting the unlucky may have costs but will ultimately make for a better society."
This is  something I often grapple with when I try to form opinions about public policy. There really isn't much more that I can say about the quote that Krugman himself didn't include in it. That's probably why I like it so much. In any case, I suppose the main point I want to get across in this post is that I honestly do believe that there are trade-offs to everything in public policy. This often leads me to take somewhat moderate stances on issues.

However, all of this is not to say that I want to be one of those alleged "sensible centrists." I don't really derive much in the way of satisfaction by throwing up my hands and declaring that both sides are equally wrong and they just need to grow up--that kind of talk doesn't get us anywhere, because that isn't the case right now. I am not Tom Friedman. I am not David Brooks. Just to give you an idea of why I don't really like the so-called "centrist dodge," let me drop some knowledge on you.

In one of his recent columns, Friedman says that we need a President who offers us a "three-step rehab plan" that includes the following:

  1. Short-term stimulus to bolster the recovery
  2. A long-term deficit reduction plan that combines tax reform with spending cuts
  3. A detailed plan to bend the health care cost curve downward
I've seen this before somewhere...Oh, that's right! Obama has proposed or enacted all of these things! The issue is that Republicans have stonewalled or tried to repeal all of them. But you won't catch a sensible centrist saying anything like that, because it would be bitter and partisan. 

Okay, look, it would be really, really nice if Republicans were reasonable like they were thirty years ago, but they're clearly not. Ronald Reagan would practically be a socialist by the standards of today's GOP. They've made it clear time and time again that they have no interest in compromising

The big issue I have with centrists like Friedman is that they try to lay the blame equally at the feet of both parties, when in fact that isn't the case. By dreaming up a centrist candidate and laying the blame for dysfunctional government at the feet of both parties, it obfuscates the fact that nearly all of their ideal centrist policies have essentially been enacted or proposed by one Barack H. Obama already. But no, it seems that we're doomed hear them cry a pox on both houses (of Congress), because to point out what actually is happening would be too partisan. 

Well, I've got news for you. It has been partisan and will continue to be partisan. People as widely read as David Brooks and Tom Friedman do the country a great disservice if they just sit by on the sidelines and bemoan the state of our politics.

Your move, centrists.