In his column Monday at The New York Times, Princeton economist Paul Krugman argued that, contrary to his expectations, the Democrats have finally discarded the Third Way as their operative electoral strategy.
They "seem seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting 'centrist' positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game." The independent voters whose approval such a strategy seeks don't exist anymore, he said, as most of them affiliate strongly with one of the two major parties and the rest "are mainly just confused."
In particular, Krugman argued, the Democrats are moving away from "the kind of people...who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy."
As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?
And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.
As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.
And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line...