SO DO SOMETHING...

SO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. There's little more annoying in modern punditry than on-the-other-handism, that irksome little quirk that causes professional pundits to sully perfectly sound columns by ending their focused critiques with indiscriminate, incoherent sprays of blame. Today's example? Sebastian Mallaby, who concisely dismantles the modern GOP's contempt for governance and then, out of nowhere, ruins it with a meaningless, inaccurate shot at the Democrats.

The Republicans' dismal performance could shake their grip on power -- much as the gold-ingot episode upset Japan's politics. But the top congressional Democrats seem barely more attractive than the Republicans; they have mastered the art of obstructionism but are light on policy proposals. In Japan in the 1990s, the collapse of the cronyistic ruling party was expected to usher in economic change that would pull the country out of its financial swamp. Instead, reform proceeded at a glacial pace, and it took a full decade for the economy to get going again.

The paradox of politics is that government is at once essential and dysfunctional. Globalization, demographic change, the sheer fact of economic growth: All these shifts create demands for government to step in, as a provider of safety nets for workers; retirement security for seniors; and public goods such as environmental quality and food safety, which become priorities as societies grow richer.

Sigh. It's not clear why Mallaby thinks Democrats lack a sufficient number of ten-point plans, but the sectors he cites -- safety nets, retirement security, environmental regulations, and food inspection -- are pretty much covered. I've made it part of my beat to remain relatively atop the constantly advancing horde of health care, pension, and entitlement expansion proposals, and if Mallaby wants, I'd be happy to dump some of the white papers weighing down my desk onto his. But maybe Mallaby just shares the weird pundit obsession with the new, rendering perfectly good but slightly aged ideas invalid for his purposes. In which case he could check out the superteam of Robert Rubin, Roger Altman, Jason Bordoff, and Peter Orszag who've put their magical econwonk rings together to form The Hamilton Project, which even distributes their ideas in pleasing and convenient PDF format.

As for environmental regulations, thanks, but I don't think they require new thinking so much as the application of old thinking. Same with the underfunded FDA, which is perfectly capable of inspecting food, if only they had the bank account to hire enough employees. Mallaby may be frustrated with the country's worrying direction and its sclerotic policy discourse, but he's proving himself the problem, not the solution. As someone who regularly wades through the work of progressive wonks, I assure him that the Democratic Party wouldn't look nearly so intellectually bereft if Washington Post columnists like Mallaby would use their megaphones to broadcast some of the fresh, resonant ideas swirling quietly about rather than simply sniffing at an intellectual landscape that seems barren because smug, lazy pundits refuse to populate it.

--Ezra Klein

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