The Plank

Whither Class Warfare?

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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.

--Dayo Olopade

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