Paul Krugman: “The Conscience of a Liberal”
(I need help with the placement of footnotes throughout this essay. I had problems accessing this feature on my computer program- Kenneth Powers)
Since winning the majority of the elections in 2006, the Democratic Party has been gaining momentum. Furthermore, Nancy Pelosi’s victory as a speaker of the House of Representatives signified the beginning of a new era for the Democratic Party. As Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battled for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, people of all across the country began to sense a newfound energy within the party as the first woman or African-American now had a serious chance of occupying the most powerful office in the world. Shortly after winning the nomination, Sen. Obama has voiced a liberal position that many Democrats have shied away from in recent years. He is now calling for tax cuts for the middle and working class while advocating tax increases for the wealthy.
It comes to no surprise that Obama is gaining so much support for his campaign which calls for “change” because the average American has withered tough economic storms since President Bush took office in 2001. Since then, World Trade Center was demolished as thousands of people lost their lives to terrorists. The U.S. has also been engaged in two wars in the Middle East. Furthermore, American workers have endured one of the nation’s longest recessions.
Paul Krugman, an associate professor and New York Times writer explains further why the majority of the people in our nation are fed up with President Bush and the policies of right-wing conservatives in his latest book, “The Conscience of a Liberal.” In his book, he is a staunch defender of some of the liberal policies that have helped the downtrodden in our country. In his book he writes, ‘My generation grew up in a nation of strong democratic values and broadly-based prosperity. But both of these values and shared prosperity have been slipping away in recent years.’1 Thus, Krugman believes that the people in our country and the government need to embrace the principles of liberalism in order to improve the quality of life for most Americans in his book.
Krugman believes that a liberal revival in American politics would expand the shrinking middle class. It is widely known that the unemployment rate has been on the rise since the beginning of the new century. In David Kennedy’s article in the New York Book Review, he discusses Krugman’s book and how those who are wealthy have not been affected by the recent recession. ‘Chief executives who typically earned 30 times more than their employers now take home more than 300 times as much.’2
To defend his position, Krugman points to the effectiveness of President Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives which focused on creating new jobs for people and revitalizing businesses. He also discusses the American Gilded Age, when Eugene Debbs established the American Railroad Union and the Socialist Party of America. ‘The challenge for us is to do again what the New Deal did: to create institutions that will support a decent society,’3 Krugman said in “The Conscience of a Liberal.”
In addition, the author also gives examples of how The New Deal policies have impacted the lives of American workers today, as most companies pay into unemployment insurance and have affordable health insurance plans. He adds that labor unions are now stronger because of the New Deal era and policies that called for taxing the rich have contributed to the narrowed gap in income between the haves and have not’s.4
Nevertheless, recent attacks on unions have not only rolled back progress for progressive causes but they have also reduced the bargaining power of the labor leaders. ‘Conservative initiatives to cut taxes for the rich, disassemble social programs and demolish unions have led to the sharply rising economic inequality in our country,’ John Larson wrote in Publisher’s Weekly.5
Krugman also adds that Republicans have gained political power over the past 50 years by shifting their focus away form bread and butter issues during elections and have emphasized more on family value issues like abortion, national security and public school prayer. ‘The right wing has set out to exploit racial tensions and national security anxieties to get the public’s focus off of what’s going wrong with the U.S. economy,’ 6 according to quote from Krugman’s book in Kennedy’s New York Times Book Review article. Krugman adds that the right wing groups have also painted powerful presidents like President Carter and President Clinton as national defense weaklings while most of the national security disasters like 9-11 and the Persian Gulf War occurred while Republicans held the nation’s highest office.7
While Krugman appears to blame conservatives for most of the economics problems in today’s society, he also sheds some of the blame on many leaders in the Democratic Party for softening their stance on progressive issue. In the 1992 and 1996 elections, Bill Clinton came across as a centrist politician to appease independents and some conservative voters. Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have also recently broke some alliances with liberal factions to capture the Christian, religious vote. Bill Gaston, writer for Wild River Review, however agrees with some of the centrists stances that these popular politicians have made to get voters. ‘The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted is if Democrats both in the presidency and a large majority of Congress overcome Republican opposition,’ he wrote.8 Even though Krugman takes a liberal perspective in his book, he adds that both parties must work together as they did in the 30s and 40s to solve some of the economic problems that plagued the nation. ‘Both parties appear to be focused on getting the religious vote rather than dealing with issues like the minimum wage increase, which would sustain families,’ Krugman wrote. 9
After carefully reviewing Krugman’s book, I agree that it is time for a liberal revival in American politics. I also agree, however, that the Democratic Party must champion some of the positions of social conservatives. For example, I believe that if Barack Obama is elected as president of the United States, he needs to be carefully when negotiating with terrorist countries. I recently read that he took a position against assassinating Osama Bin Laden. I believe that Bin Laden needs to be eliminated because of the senseless and numerous murders that he has already committed and because he is a definite threat to all Americans. As a born-again Christian, I support some of the right-wing causes like prayer in public schools and a ban on same sex marriage. To prevent prayer in schools or to allow same sex marriage goes against Biblical principles, which have been the foundation of our country. Furthermore, I believe the reason why our country has prospered as opposed to other nations is because of its belief in Christian principles.
While I also agree with Krugman stance on New Deal programs like welfare, I think that we should continue to examine workfare programs that encourage those who are destitute to continue to seek work. These programs allow taxpayers to feel as if they get more value for their welfare dollars when they observe welfare recipients getting benefits. Secondly, putting unemployed people in workplace like environments addresses the biggest barrier to long-run unemployment which is the lake of recent workforce experiences. Temporary services that hire clerical and light industrial workers have been beneficial for me when I was laid off of my last job.
In turn, Krugman gives a convincing argument for the need for liberal politics in today’s society which faces tremendous economic challenges. In his book, Krugman shows the reader how liberal policies will provide better paying jobs to the middle and working class as well as regulate the salaries of the top executives and business owners. He also examines how the conservatives came to power in the late 1960s by painting liberals as national defense cowards and immoral heathens. And while the Democratic Party has made gains in the last election, the type of progress that Krugman talks about in his book will rest upon the voters who come out to the polls in November.
1. P. Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal, W.M. Norton, 2007, pg. 32
2. D. Kennedy, “Paul Krugman: The Conscience of a Liberal, New York Times:
Sunday Book Review, Oct. 2007, p. 17
3. Krugman, pg. 41
4. Krugman, pg. 57
5. J. Larson, “Notes from The Conscience of a Liberal,” Publisher’s Weekly,
6. Kennedy, pg.18
7. Krugman, pg. 98
8. Gaston, Bill, “Paul Krugman: “The Conscience of a Liberal,” Wild River
Review, June 2008 pg. 9
9. Krugman, pg. 100