With friends like Paul Krugman, Hillary Clinton doesn't need enemies:
In 1956 Adlai Stevenson, running against Dwight Eisenhower, tried to make the political style of his opponent’s vice president, a man by the name of Richard Nixon, an issue. The nation, he warned, was in danger of becoming “a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland.”
The quote comes from “Nixonland,” a soon-to-be-published political history of the years from 1964 to 1972 written by Rick Perlstein, the author of “Before the Storm.” As Mr. Perlstein shows, Stevenson warned in vain: during those years America did indeed become the land of slander and scare, of the politics of hatred.
And it still is. In fact, these days even the Democratic Party seems to be turning into Nixonland.
By coincidence, I'm actually reading the galleys of Nixonland at the moment, and - well, let's just say that the comparison of the current Democratic race to the political landscape depicted in Perlstein's book strikes me as almost entirely laughable. But even more laughable is Krugman's culprit for the Nixonification of Democratic politics - one Barack Obama:
I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody ...
That last clause is an accurate description of one of my fellow bloggers and some of other pro-Obama independents, but almost nobody else on the Democratic side, so far as I can tell. As for Krugman's examples of the Nixonian "venom" supposed spewing forth from the Obamanians, well, he has exactly two:
During the current campaign, Mrs. Clinton’s entirely reasonable remark that it took L.B.J.’s political courage and skills to bring Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to fruition was cast as some kind of outrageous denigration of Dr. King.
And the latest prominent example came when David Shuster of MSNBC, after pointing out that Chelsea Clinton was working for her mother’s campaign — as adult children of presidential aspirants often do — asked, “doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” Mr. Shuster has been suspended, but as the Clinton campaign rightly points out, his remark was part of a broader pattern at the network.
So David Shuster is somehow an agent of the Obama campaign? And the MLK vs. LBJ fracas is supposed to be more telling than, say, Bill Clinton's transparent attempt to paint Obama as a Jesse Jackson-style racialist niche candidate? One would think that Krugman, who's given to claiming that the entire conservative ascendancy can be explained by the GOP's exploitation of Southern racism, would aware of the irony of accusing Barack Obama's campaign of employing Nixonesque tactics in this election.
I say this, mind you, as someone who doesn't think that a Nixon-style politics of cynical management is always worse than an Obama-style politics of moral uplift. (More on this topic once I've finished Nixonland ...) But neither does Paul Krugman, so far as I call tell! Indeed, his preference for Hillary seems to reflect, at least in part, his view of politics as brutal trench warfare in which Democrats need to be a brass-knuckled as the GOP if they're going to have a fighting chance. In other words, he likes her precisely because she's Nixonesque. Which only makes his reading of the Democratic primary campaign all the more absurd.