[digg-reddit-me]I admit that I’m biased. I used to think that Frank Rich’s columns – in the period before he went behind the Time Select wall – were hysterical and often shrill. Though I generally would agree with the fundamental point he was making, I would find his style distasteful. I preferred Krugman’s polemicism to Rich’s because, while Krugman could also often be shrill, Krugman seemed to take strategic positions that I could appreciate while Rich was attempting to get at the cultural relevance of the matters at hand.
Each columnist positioned himself differently in the debate. Paul Krugman considered himself a gladiator in the arena fighting to advance his cause. His column was not supposed to be read as a means of understanding the news, but as a means of making the strongest arguments against Republican policies. Frank Rich was trying to analyze the news and the cultural moment and to inform his readers while writing partisan screeds against the current administration. ((My objection here is not to a columnist writing to inform also offered his opinion, but to the tone of Rich’s opinions.)) In the end, this is why I found Krugman’s partisanship more palatable than Krugman’s.
But times have changed. Now Krugman reserves almost as much bile for fellow Democrat Barack Obama as for the Republicans; and Frank Rich, while continuing to blast Republicans, has focused more on the analysis and moderated his tone. ((He has also written a number of columns very supportive of Obama.))
In the end, the disagreements between the two colleagues is not about a particular candidate but about each person’s approach to politics. Krugman is a partisan, through and through. He believes political gain comes from sticking with your base, attacking your enemies, destroying their positions, and forcing your way through. His approach is the perfect approach for a political minority trying to protect its interests, and it mirrors the Republican approach to governance since 1994 and especially during Bush’s time as president. No matter how many votes they received, the Republicans continued to govern as a minority party – purging dissidents within their ranks, refusing to compromise, obfuscating their true agenda, focusing more on talking points than on policy. A strong majority party – such as the Democrats between 1932 and 1972 or the Republicans between 1980 and 2000 has a “big tent”, pulling in moderates and independents. A strong party focuses less on the weaknesses of the opposition and more on the strengths of its own positions, feeling confident that a majority of the country supports their honest positions. A strong party (because it already holds significant power and because it’s members, having won, are now faced with running matters) is more focused on governance than a minority party, which is focused on stopping what it opposes. A strong majority party’s positions become more nuanced. There is a place for the type of partisanship that Krugman venerates – and Krugman demonstrated the value of such partisanship from Bush’s election in 2000 until 2006. Krugman was the voice of opposition.
Frank Rich struggled during this time – because he could not seem to quite reconcile his position as an analyst and his outrage at the conduct of the current administration. He could see the cultural and political trends going against him, and tried to balance his opposition to the zeitgeist of his time with an analysis of the way things were headed.
But today, Krugman seems intent on ensuring that the Democratic party stays a minority party – eschewing the “big tent” politics that creates lasting political movements in favor of small-time, talking-point wins.