For a century, liberals have been chasing the same organizing idea: to perfect the welfare state—the soaringly aspirational, deeply flawed apparatus of Social Security, public health insurance, and progressive taxation designed to guarantee a secure middle class—and to extend its protections to every American. A year ago, after Obama’s health-care reforms became law, that project looked closer to completion. Now we are debating the terms of its erosion—with Republican proposals to cut the benefits of Medicare and Medicaid, conservative efforts to repeal protections for labor unions, and an emerging Washington consensus that the costs of a broad welfare state may be beyond what Americans will willingly pay. The White House meeting this past December [with Paul Krugman and other left-of-center economists], viewed in retrospect, seemed to mark the end of the expansive first part of Obama’s administration and the beginning of an austere second phase. Krugman, departing, found himself left in the position that every purist fears, holding blueprints for impossible buildings.
“I think what people like Paul Ryan are trying to do is set us on a glide path to a much harsher society,” Krugman now says. “A country in which, step by step, more and more people are cast out into a situation of not having health insurance and poverty, and so we slide back to a Victorian notion that life is full of evils and that’s too bad but that’s the way that God made the world. That large numbers of the poor, large numbers of the elderly just live in dire poverty and don’t have health care because life is tough.” For two years, Krugman has been arguing that this trajectory might have been averted if only Obama had been a little less deferential, a little more demanding, a little more alarmed. And so Krugman has given the debate on the left its shape: whether the president could have mounted a more effective defense of the welfare state, and whether liberalism’s tragic flaw is Obama’s instinct for conciliation or his leading critic’s naïveté.
Category Archives: Politics
Mike Konczal, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day:
A contract, like a marriage contract or like a labor contract, can be “freely” entered into but still contain elements of coercion to it. Coercion can still be the central characteristic of it. That the market is a series of voluntary transactions, and any outcome of it just, is an illusion. How to pull away that veil is the project, and feminist thought gives us a start on it.
Eliot Weinberger reviews Decision Points in the LRB:
In the book, as in his life, Bush the postmodernist is a simulacrum: a Connecticut blueblood who pretended to be a Texas cowboy, though he couldn’t ride a horse and lived on a ‘ranch’ with no cattle. He was, and is, happiest when surrounded by professionals in the three areas in which he was a notable failure: athletics, the military and business. He is like a sports fan who dresses up in the team jersey to watch the game. References to his ‘military service’ recur frequently throughout the book, as though it were actually more than a few months spent avoiding it. He was the only modern American president to appear in public in a military uniform – even Eisenhower never wore his while president – like a ribboned despot from a banana republic.
Reporter Charlie LeDuff, on seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was shot and killed during a botched police raid last May:
Was it inevitable … that abject poverty would lead to Aiyana’s death and so many others? Was it death by TV? By police incompetence? By parental neglect? By civic malfeasance? About 350 people are murdered each year in Detroit. There are some 10,000 unsolved homicides dating back to 1960. Many are as fucked up and sad as Aiyana’s. But I felt unraveling this one death could help diagnose what has gone wrong in this city, so I decided to retrace the events leading up to that pitiable moment on the porch on Lillibridge Street.
LeDuff, who left The Detroit News in October, “made national headlines in January 2009 when he and News photographer Max Ortiz produced a front-page story and photo of a corpse partially frozen in the bottom of an elevator shaft in an abandoned Detroit warehouse.”
“Tater disease what brung us the Irish!”
From Slate, in December 2001:
[Japanese-American architect Minoru] Yamasaki received the World Trade Center commission the year after the Dhahran Airport [in Saudi Arabia, “an impressive melding of modern technology and traditional Islamic form”] was completed. Yamasaki described its plaza as “a mecca, a great relief from the narrow streets and sidewalks of the surrounding Wall Street area.” True to his word, Yamasaki replicated the plan of Mecca’s courtyard by creating a vast delineated square, isolated from the city’s bustle by low colonnaded structures and capped by two enormous, perfectly square towers—minarets, really. Yamasaki’s courtyard mimicked Mecca’s assemblage of holy sites—the Qa’ba (a cube) containing the sacred stone, what some believe is the burial site of Hagar and Ishmael, and the holy spring—by including several sculptural features, including a fountain, and he anchored the composition in a radial circular pattern, similar to Mecca’s.