NYT columnist Paul Krugman has a couple of instructive pieces about the importance of history and memory in politics, and Democrats who want to win in 2016 ought to read both of them.
In his ‘Conscience of a Liberal’ blog Krugman opens with a chart indicating that favorable ratings of George W. Bush have increased in Gallup Polls by 14 percent (from 35-49) for all Americans between March 2009 and June 2013. For Democrats Dubya’s approvals have increased by 14 points (from 10-24) during that time frame, with a 12 percent improvement for Republicans (from 72-84) and a 17 percent (from 29-46) uptick for self-described “Independents.”
Considering, as Krugman succinctly puts it, that “George W. Bush presided over utter disaster on all fronts,” leaving the U.S. and world economies in a horrific shambles, it is amazing that half of all respondents have a favorable impression of him.
The charitable take on all this historical denial is that Americans are a forgiving people, to a fault. An alternative perspective is that we are the most easily-distracted people on the planet. Or worse, a nation with an astoundingly gullible electorate.
To be fair Americans’ passion for historical denial started well before Bush II. And Democrats have to bear some of the blame. As Krugman explains,
…Progressives are much too willing to cede history to the other side. Legends about the past matter. Really bad economics flourishes in part because Republicans constantly extol the Reagan record, while Democrats rarely mention how shabby that record was compared with the growth in jobs and incomes under Clinton.
Krugman warns, “nonetheless, Jeb is adopting the same policies and even turning to the same advisers.” And it’s not just Jeb Bush. “It’s actually quite horrifying, if you think about it, to hear Republican contenders for president unveil their big ideas, which are to slash taxes on rich people, deregulate banks, and bomb or invade countries we don’t like. What could go wrong?”
Republican historical revisionism is essential to their hopes for 2016. As Krugman notes in his blog’s conclusion, “There’s a reason conservatives constantly publish books and articles glorifying Harding and Coolidge while sliming FDR; there’s a reason they’re still running against Jimmy Carter; and there’s a reason they’re doing their best to rehabilitate W. And progressives need to fight back.”
Krugman’s May 15 column, “Fraternity of Failure” coins a near perfect sobriquet for the GOP in light of their Dubya embrace/ambivalence/denial. First a proper pummeling for Jeb:
The big “Let’s move on” story of the past few days involved Mr. Bush’s response when asked in an interview whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He answered that yes, he would. No W.M.D.? No stability after all the lives and money expended? No problem.
Then he tried to walk it back. He “interpreted the question wrong,” and isn’t interested in engaging “hypotheticals.” Anyway, “going back in time” is a “disservice” to those who served in the war.
Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders — especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief — is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors’ mistakes. That’s sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate’s character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews.
Krugman then blasts Bush III for “the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” He notes that Jeb is getting the band back together, “a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles,” including Wolfowitz and Chertoff. “In Bushworld,” adds Krugman, “playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on national security issues seems to be a required credential.”
Republicans, not just the Bushies, notes Krugman, suffer from a tribal incapacity for honest self-evaluation, characterized by a refusal to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. He recounts an extensive litany of failed GOP predictions about the consequences of policies
Krugman concludes with an astute observation and a chilling question: “It’s kind of a fraternity of failure: men and women united by a shared history of getting everything wrong, and refusing to admit it. Will they get the chance to add more chapters to their reign of error?”
Not if Democrats make sure that the Republican presidential nominees are forced to account for their records.