The New York Times Book Review assigned Stanford history professor David Kennedy to review Paul Krugman's new book, “The Conscience of a Liberal.” It is an extremely negative review. I have not read the book so can not comment on it but I did read the review. And I found it inconsistent to say the least. For example, after chiding Krugman for being, in Kennedy's words, “factually shaky,” he then writes:
For this dismal state of affairs the Democratic Party is held to be blameless. Never mind the Democrats’ embrace of inherently divisive identity politics, or Democratic condescension toward the ungrammatical yokels who consider their spiritual and moral commitments no less important than the minimum wage or the Endangered Species Act, nor even the Democrats’ vulnerable post-Vietnam record on national security.
Ummm, that all sounds factually shaky to me. What is the basis of Kennedy's statement? A fact or 2 to support this sweeping claim, especially from someone throwing stones, might have been in order. Kennedy continues:
As Krugman sees it, the modern Republican Party has been taken over by radicals. “There hasn’t been any corresponding radicalization of the Democratic Party, so the right-wing takeover of the G.O.P. is the underlying cause of today’s bitter partisanship.” No two to tango for him. The ascendancy of modern conservatism is “an almost embarrassingly simple story,” he says, and race is the key. “Much of the whole phenomenon can be summed up in just five words: Southern whites started voting Republican. … End of story.”
A fuller and more nuanced story might at least gesture toward the role that environmental and natural-resource issues have played in making red-state country out of the interior West, not to mention the unsettling effects of the “value issues” on voters well beyond Dixie. . . .
Again, this seems factually shaky to me. A few facts to support his view on this. As far I can see, Kennedy replaces his opinions for Krugman's. Fair enough. But not fair enough when a reviewer is decrying factual shakiness.
Now this part just seems plain dumb to me:
For all that he inveighs against the evils of partisanship, Krugman astonishingly concludes by repudiating the chimera of “bipartisan compromise” and declaring that “to be a progressive, then, means being a partisan — at least for now.”
What is astonishing about that? Krugman's point is that faced with a Republican Party that will not engage in bipartisanship or even nod a progressive goals, there is little choice for anyone looking to advance a progressive agenda. Krugman has made the commonsense, almost obvious, observation that when the Republican Party has definitively eschewed “bipartisanship,” it is impossible to embrace it. Indeed, in Kennedy's words, it takes two to tango.
Kennedy's misunderstanding of this simple and obvious insight leads him to write silliness like this:
Indeed, at times he seems more intent on settling his neocon adversaries’ hash than on advancing solutions to vexed policy issues. “Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” he writes, a sentence that both stylistically and substantively says much about the shortcomings of this book.
But this is the whole point. You can not “advance solutions to vexed policy issues” without settling partisan hash, thanks to the takeover of the Republican Party by the most extreme movements in our country. And here's the funny thing – Kennedy AGREES:
That assorted wing nuts have pretty much managed to hijack the Republican Party in recent years is scarcely in doubt.
But Kennedy fails to address Krugman's thesis that to “advance solutions to vexed policy issues,” today's extremist Republican Party must be defeated and the Republican Party must be remade in order to allow for the much desired “bipartisnship” that Kennedy, following the High Broderism, desires against all odds.
In short, the review is pretty lousy.