What Is Needed to Improve Civility?


Paul Krugman’s column today in the Times congratulates President Obama on a wonderful speech, but argues that coming together across differences is far from realistic.

But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let’s listen to each other more carefully; but what we’ll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

On one hand, I can see where Krugman is going. Given the imposing, complicated issues we face as a country and our lightning fast discourse thanks to technology, improving civility in our politics is going to be beyond difficult.

On the other hand, I think it’s a cop out. I don’t think civility means what Krugman thinks it means. I agree with Krugman’s claim that we do have two fundamental worldviews at work in our nation; I embrace that reality. I am resistant to the deepening of the chasm between these paradigms over the past few decades. Today, people don’t listen to agree but to disagree. Somehow we have moved to a passive-aggressive style of politics where disagreement on issues is so dangerous that we avoid each other. As the Schiff letter I discussed the other day argues, politics becomes about the problem-solver, not about the problems being solved. As a result, few problems are solved.

Whether or not President Obama’s speech was enough to snap this country out of its trance can only be determined over the next few months/years. Our track record supports the view that it might just be a blip, and that the prevailing winds toward incivility will continue. The question I am left with is what will it take – short of a revolution – to change the way we operate?


Krugman on Co-ops: They’re a ‘sham’

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Co-ops is the new word in the health care reform debate for capitulation. It’s the status quo masquerading as reform.

Paul Krugman gets at this today in his column:

And let’s be clear: the supposed alternative, nonprofit co-ops, is a sham. That’s not just my opinion; it’s what the market says: stocks of health insurance companies soared on news that the Gang of Six senators trying to negotiate a bipartisan approach to health reform were dropping the public plan. Clearly, investors believe that co-ops would offer little real competition to private insurers.

Again: if health care reform is pleasing those in power, the hegemonic structure, it’s not really reform, or at least not the reform that’s needed.

Clearly, the dropping of the public plan in favor of co-ops is not real change if insurance companies are loving it.

Krugman: Obama Needs to Grow, Clean Government

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Paul Krugman’s column in the Times today calls for the Obama administration to both grow and cleanse the government, noting that this will need to be done with little margin for error.

Before Mr. Obama can make government cool, however, he has to make it good. Indeed, he has to be a goo-goo.

Goo-goo, in case you’re wondering, is a century-old term for “good government” types, reformers opposed to corruption and patronage. Franklin Roosevelt was a goo-goo extraordinaire. He simultaneously made government much bigger and much cleaner. Mr. Obama needs to do the same thing.


Like the New Deal, the incoming administration must greatly expand the role of government to rescue an ailing economy. But also like the New Deal, the Obama team faces political opponents who will seize on any signs of corruption or abuse — or invent them, if necessary — in an attempt to discredit the administration’s program.

I have little to add, as I think Krugman hits the nail on the head here.  I wanted to share this now so that, when the GOP shrieks about corruption in the upcoming months/years, we’ll have a reference point for it.

The government, of course, is all about preserving and furthering the common good.  Some people can’t get the notion that there may be a group of people capable of doing good things for others while working together.  And when they see it, it’s going to take a lot of work for them to appreciate it.