I’m wary of criticizing Paul Krugman. I’m a firm believer in the DeLong Rules of Krugman, which can be paraphrased very simply:
- Don’t disagree with Paul Krugman.
- Re-read rule #1, you fucking moron.
Nonetheless, I think Krugman, in an otherwise excellent column, misstates the motivations behind the ‘centrist’ Democrats opposition to the public option for healthcare:
Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex — but who in politics doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say that what’s really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.
I think he’s right in that it’s not about the campaign contributions. If their reluctance to support a public option were based solely on the electoral calculus of campaign donations versus popular support–that is, votes–the votes win hands down. Any Democratic senator in a swing state who needs independent and Republican votes can’t afford to piss off the ~50% of Republicans and ~70% of independents who support a public option. To the extent that an Evan Bayh is supported by independents and Republicans, does he really think that these crossover voters are the ones who oppose a public option? (Actually, Bayh just might think so, since he’s dumber than a fucking sack of hammers). So, if this is simple electoral politics, the obvious move is to screw your donors (of course, we are talking about ‘new Democrats’ who are the most inept politicians in recorded history, so who knows?).
So, Mad Biologist, how is this about money? It’s simple: it’s about life after politics. One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you’ve tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind…). It’s funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don’t…seem…to…ever…leave.
I can’t blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren’t that many ‘straight paths’ to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.
But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village’s political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be ‘populist’, or, heaven forbid, liberal.
The narcissistic motivation is far more subtle. Many ex-politicians are invited to join think tanks or, at least, be participants on panels and round tables (which often pay a decent stipend for ‘marquee’ names, such as an ex-senator). This allows them to, once again, for a brief, shining moment, walk into a room and have everyone treat them as a Very Important Person. And you get to blather on about policy without having to the heavy lifting of politics and politicking. Yet if you’re tagged as the ‘wrong sort’, you won’t get these perks either.
So, I think we’re missing the big picture on corruption: it’s the retirement, stupid.
Or maybe the centrists are just assholes.