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Why Democrats Liked the 1990s


”Democrats Face Harsh Legislative Reality Check,” said a banner at the bottom of an MSNBC program this afternoon. The political left, which includes numerous MSNBC employees, is struggling to understand why an unpopular and unbelievable president with a 50-50 Senate and a closely divided House cannot easily enact a multitrillion-dollar spending increase crafted by a Vermont socialist.

Determined to avoid the obvious, media folk have gone in search of alternative explanations. Meanwhile many so-called progressives have decided they can be most helpful by taking to social media to insult Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) for their reluctance to hit up taxpayers for an extra $3,500,000,000,000. From the amount of vitriol hurled at the two senators on Twitter you’d think they’d just broken up with Taylor Swift.

As for the pundits laboring to explain the explicable,

Paul Krugman

of the New York Times has formed a conclusion on why some Democratic lawmakers aren’t eager to embrace the Sanders agenda rejected by Democratic voters last year. Mr. Krugman writes that “some Democrats seem to have formed their perceptions about both economics and politics during the Clinton years and haven’t updated their views since.” Mr. Krugman adds:

That is, it makes a lot of sense to see Biden’s problems getting his plans across the finish line as being caused by the Rip Van Winkle caucus, Democrats who checked out intellectually a couple of decades ago and haven’t caught up with America as it now is.

By “checked out intellectually,” Mr. Krugman means that such Democrats have noticed that during the Clinton presidency the U.S. economy had a longer period of robust growth that it has had at any time since.

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Mr. Krugman wasn’t able to generate such deep thoughts on his own, and in his column he offers a gracious tip of the cap to New York magazine’s Eric Levitz, who recently wrote:

No law of political economy dictated that

Nancy Pelosi’s

caucus would include a critical mass of fiscally center-right, performatively anti-left Democrats. But structural factors did make that outcome rather likely. After all, the typical Democratic congress member is an affluent boomer. This is a demographic that watched

Bill Clinton

lead their party out of the wilderness while disowning Sister Souljah — and then, preside over a tech boom after slashing the deficit. Assemble a hundred-something Democrats with six-figure salaries and postwar birthdates and chances are a few are going to be skeptical of “big government.”

If organized labor were strong, and congressional apportionment fair, then progressives might have been able to screen out such moderates through primary campaigns, or else, convert them through lobbying efforts. As is, the left’s capacity to impose ideological discipline on Democrats is highly limited outside deep-blue urban areas.

So economic facts have prevented Bernie Sanders from enforcing ideological discipline on a large swath of the electorate? Coincidentally, that’s the same problem socialist leaders have in many other countries, and why such leaders often quickly tire of the democratic process.

The Clinton era may also have been the period when Mr. Krugman checked out intellectually in favor of ideology. He can’t claim now that he’s unaware of the economic prosperity of that era because that’s when he first began to make his name as a compelling author of inaccurate forecasts.

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In the July-August 1997 issue of Harvard Business Review, Mr. Krugman argued that a group of “new paradigm” economists were wrong to think that Americans could expect faster economic growth. Mr. Krugman instructed that “standard economic analysis suggests that the United States cannot look forward to growth at a rate of much more than 2% over the next few years.” He added:

However, many influential people—business leaders, journalists, and even a few reputable economists—do not accept that dreary verdict. They believe that the old speed limits on growth have been repealed, perhaps even that the whole idea of speed limits is obsolete.

Mr. Krugman insisted that “it is time to get serious: an economic doctrine, no matter how appealing, must be rejected if it cannot stand up to well-informed criticism. We would like to believe that the U.S. economy can grow much faster if only the Fed would let it. But all the evidence suggests that it cannot.”

Mr. Krugman published his piece right around the time that President Clinton was signing the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which included, among other benefits, a cut in the federal tax on capital gains.

That special year of 1997, when Mr. Clinton and House Speaker

Newt Gingrich

(R., Ga.) negotiated a bipartisan economic policy, would turn out to be the first of four straight years in which real GDP growth averaged better than 4%.

Maybe an understanding of this recent history is why some Democrats are reluctant to vote for the Build Back Bernie plan.

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James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”

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(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web.)

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