War­ren is a se­ri­ous thinker; these days that can hurt you

Dayton Daily News - - IDEAS & VOICES / BALANCED VIEWS - Paul Krug­man Paul Krug­man writes for the New York Times.

Al­most 40 years have passed since Daniel Patrick Moyni­han — a se­ri­ous in­tel­lec­tual turned in­flu­en­tial politi­cian — made waves by declar­ing, “All of a sud­den, Repub­li­cans have be­come a party of ideas.” He didn’t say they were good ideas; but the GOP seemed to him to be open to new think­ing in a way Democrats weren’t.

That was a long time ago. To­day’s GOP is a party of closed minds, hos­tile to ex­per­tise, ag­gres­sively un­in­ter­ested in ev­i­dence, whose idea of a pol­icy ar­gu­ment in­volves loudly re­peat­ing the same old de­bunked doc­trines. Paul Ryan’s “in­no­va­tive” pro­pos­als of 2011 (cut taxes and pri­va­tize Medi­care) were al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able from those of Newt Gin­grich in 1995.

Mean­while, Democrats have ex­pe­ri­enced an in­tel­lec­tual re­nais­sance. They have emerged from their 1990s cringe, no longer afraid to chal­lenge con­ser­va­tive pieties; and there’s a lot of se­ri­ous, well-in­formed in­tra­party de­bate about is­sues from health care to cli­mate change.

You don’t have to agree with Medi­care for All or pro­pos­als for a Green New Deal, to rec­og­nize these are im­por­tant ideas re­ceiv­ing se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion.

The ques­tion is whether our me­dia en­vi­ron­ment can han­dle a real party of ideas. Can news or­ga­ni­za­tions tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween gen­uine pol­icy minds and poseurs like Ryan? Are they even will­ing to dis­cuss pol­icy rather than snark about can­di­dates’ flaws?

Which brings me to the case of El­iz­a­beth War­ren, who is prob­a­bly to­day’s clos­est equiv­a­lent to Moyni­han in his prime.

Like Moyni­han, she’s a se­ri­ous in­tel­lec­tual turned in­flu­en­tial politi­cian. Her schol­arly work on bank­ruptcy and its re­la­tion­ship to ris­ing in­equal­ity made her a ma­jor player in pol­icy de­bate long be­fore she en­tered pol­i­tics her­self. Like many oth­ers, I found one of her key in­sights — that ris­ing bank­ruptcy rates weren’t caused by prof­li­gate con­sumerism, that they largely re­flected the des­per­ate at­tempts of mid­dle-class fam­i­lies to buy homes in good school dis­tricts — rev­e­la­tory.

Is there any­one like War­ren on the other side of the aisle? No. Not only aren’t there any GOP politi­cians with com­pa­ra­ble in­tel­lec­tual heft, there aren’t even half­way com­pe­tent in­tel­lec­tu­als with any in­flu­ence in the party. The GOP doesn’t want peo­ple who think hard and look at ev­i­dence; it wants peo­ple who slav­ishly reaf­firm its dogma.

Does all of this mean that War­ren should be pres­i­dent? Cer­tainly not — a lot of things de­ter­mine whether some­one will suc­ceed in that job, and in­tel­lec­tual grav­i­tas is nei­ther nec­es­sary nor suf­fi­cient. But War­ren’s achieve­ments as a scholar/pol­i­cy­maker are cen­tral to her po­lit­i­cal iden­tity, and should be front and cen­ter in any re­port­ing about her.

But, of course, they aren’t. What I’m see­ing are sto­ries about whether she han­dled ques­tions about her Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage well, or whether she’s “lik­able.”

This kind of jour­nal­ism is de­struc­tively lazy, and has a ter­ri­ble track record. I’m old enough to re­mem­ber the near-uni­ver­sal por­trayal of Ge­orge W. Bush as a bluff, hon­est guy, de­spite the ob­vi­ous lies un­der­ly­ing his pol­icy pro­pos­als; then he took us to war on false pre­tenses.

More­over, trivia-based re­port­ing is, in prac­tice, deeply bi­ased — not in a con­ven­tional par­ti­san sense, but in its im­plicit as­sump­tion that a politi­cian can’t be se­ri­ous un­less he (and I mean he) is a con­ser­va­tive white male. That kind of bias, if it per­sists, will be a big prob­lem for a Demo­cratic Party that has never been more se­ri­ous about pol­icy, but has also never been more pro­gres­sive and more di­verse.

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