The Ghost of Grover Cleveland


Paul Krugman makes analogies:

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that makes you wonder: yesterday ABC News reported on its Web site that the Clinton campaign is holding a “Rural Americans for Hillary” lunch and campaign briefing — at the offices of the Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group, which lobbies for the agribusiness and biotech giant Monsanto. You don’t have to be a Naderite to feel uncomfortable about the implied closeness.

I’d put it this way: many progressives, myself included, hope that the next president will be another F.D.R. But we worry that he or she will turn out to be another Grover Cleveland instead — better-intentioned and much more competent than the current occupant of the White House, but too dependent on lobbyists’ money to seriously confront the excesses of our new Gilded Age.

Of course instead of "Grover Cleveland" for these purposes you could have used "Bill Clinton," likewise a much better-intentioned and wildly more competent leader than George W. Bush but who nevertheless wasn't revolutionizing the American political or economic landscape. On the other hand, if the health care reform plan Clinton proposed at the beginning of his administration had passed, Clinton would be considered -- along with Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson -- one of the three main architects of the American welfare state instead of as a moderate technocrat with much to be proud of but little in the way of big picture programmatic achievements.

Krugman himself argues in his book that given the absence of a Great Depression and a comparable crisis to World War II it's not at all realistic to expect an actual recurrence of something like the extremely dramatic changes of the FDR years. But a health care reform plan along the lines of what Clinton or Edwards or Obama has achieved would be a very big deal and if it worked well would build public confidence in the ability of the public sector to take on big problems and could lay the groundwork for further things to come down the road.