Progressives, To Arms!
Forget about Bush—and the middle ground.
Here's a thought for progressives: Bush isn't the problem. And the next president should not try to be the anti-Bush.
No, I haven't lost my mind. I'm not saying that we should look kindly on the Worst President Ever; we'll all breathe a sigh of relief when he leaves office 405 days, 2 hours, and 46 minutes from now. (Yes, a friend gave me one of those Bush countdown clocks.) Nor am I suggesting that we should forgive and forget; I very much hope that the next president will open the records and let the full story of the Bush era's outrages be told.
But Bush will soon be gone. What progressives should be focused on now is taking on the political movement that brought Bush to power. In short, what we need right now isn't Bush bashing—what we need is partisanship.
OK, before I get there, a word about terms—specifically, liberal vs. progressive. Everyone seems to have their own definitions; mine involves the distinction between values and action. If you think every American should be guaranteed health insurance, you're a liberal; if you're trying to make universal health care happen, you're a progressive.
And here's the thing: Progressives have an opportunity, because American public opinion has become a lot more liberal.
Not everyone understands that. In fact, the reaction of the news media to the first clear electoral manifestation of America's new liberalism—the Democratic sweep in last year's congressional elections—was almost comical in its denial.
Thus, in 1994, Time celebrated the Republican victory in the midterm elections by putting a herd of charging elephants on its cover. But its response to the Democratic victory of 2006—a victory in which House Democrats achieved a larger majority, both in seats and in the popular vote, than the Republicans ever did in their 12-year reign—was a pair of overlapping red and blue circles, with the headline "The center is the place to be."
Oh, and the guests on Meet the Press the Sunday after the Democratic sweep were, you guessed it, Joe Lieberman and John McCain.
More seriously, many pundits have attributed last year's Republican defeat to Iraq, with the implication that once the war has receded as an issue, the right will reassert its natural political advantage—in spite of polls that show a large Democratic advantage on just about every domestic issue.
Paul Krugman writes a twice-weekly column for the New York Times and is professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. His home page contains links to many of his other articles and essays.
This piece is adapted from Paul Krugman's recent book, The Conscience of a Liberal, with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright © 2007 by Paul Krugman. Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.