The following is a section from Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal. The book is full of excellent insights and provides a brief history of the twentieth century political economy. One of the major claims of the book is that universal health care–one with a mandate for coverage–is the essential step in reducing social/economic inequality.
I like this section–actually the final one in the book–as it expresses the need for a strong candidate who can argue for her (ahem!) policy proposals and fight off the conservative attacks. We don’t need a message of uniting the country–as if Dems and GOPs could agree on the need for universal health care–but we do need our own strong partisan.
On Being Partisan
The progressive agenda is clear and achievable, but it will face fierce opposition. The central fact of modern American political life is the control of the Republican Party by movement conservatives, whose vision of what America should be is completely antithetical to that of the progressive movement. Because of that control, the notion, beloved of political pundits, that we can make progress through bipartisan consensus is simply foolish. On health care reform, which is the first domestic priority for progressives, there’s no way to achieve a bipartisan compromise between Republicans who want to strangle Medicare and Democrats who want guaranteed coverage for all. When a health care reform plan is actually presented to Congress, the leaders of movement conservatism will do what they did in 1993–urge Republicans to oppose the plan in any form, lest successful health reform undermine the movement conservative agenda. And most Republicans will probably go along.
To be progressive, then, means being a partisan–at least for now. The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted is if Democrats have both the presidency and a large enough majority in Congress to overcome Republican opposition. And achieving that kind of political preponderance will require leadership that makes opponents of the progressive agenda pay a political price for their obstructionism–leadership that, like FDR, welcomes the hatred of the interest groups trying to prevent us from making our society better.
If the new progressive movement succeeds, the need for partisanship will eventually diminish. In the 1950s you could support Social Security and unions and yet still vote for Eisenhower in good conscience, because the Republican Party had eventually (and temporarily) accepted the New Deal’s achievements. In the long run we can hope for a return to that kind of politics: two reasonable parties that accept all that is best in our country but compete over their ability to deliver a decent life to all Americans, and keep each other honest.
For now, being an active liberal means being a progressive, and being a progressive means being partisan. But the end goal isn’t one-party rule. It’s the reestablishment of a truly vital, competitive democracy. Because in the end, democracy is what being a liberal is all about.