Friday, January 14, 2011

A Tale of Two Systems

Krugman takes the reaction to the Arizona killings to the next step. He argues that the differences between conservatives and liberals are real and that they cannot be resolved. The basic division, as he sees it, is between those who want a free enterprise system with a social safety net and those who view taxation to pay for the safety net as theft. The later engage in strong rhetoric because that is how one responds to a thief. He used the healthcare debate as an example. Some wanted to extend benefits to the uninsured and others did not want to pay for it. He also pointed out that it was acceptable in the GOP to favor a similar plan when it was proposed by a Republican in Massachusetts. The GOP has moved further to the right and Romney is now forced to disown his healthcare plan.

Krugman concludes by arguing that despite our unresolvable differences we should be able to engage in debate over our differences without using inflammatory rhetoric. Frankly, I don't believe that this is possible. The conservative strategy has been to split the populist movement that has always been a powerful factor in American politics. The Tea Party movement is an example of that strategy. It consists primarily of people who have not been significant beneficiaries of the free enterprise system but who have been taught to hate government interference in the market system. It is also tinged with a strong odor of nativism and racism. They see illegal immigrants and people of color as beneficiaries of government entitlements. Most of them should favor a progressive tax system, since few are in the upper income brackets, but they have learned to associate taxes with benefits that go to folks who do not deserve them. They are also beneficiaries of many public programs such a public education system. They distrust public education, however, because they believe that government wants to teach their kids a value system that is alien to their own. As long as we have 20% of the population who share these values, it will be in the interest of the GOP to get them to the polls. To keep them actively engaged in politics it is easier to program them to hate the opposition than it is to present them with issues and get them involved in discussions on how to solve our national problems. A significant portion of populists do not believe that Obama is an American citizen and many believe that he is a socialist, a communist or a fascist. This has not been an accident.

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