Jonah Goldberg

I hereby forfeit my claim to a right-wing conspiracy decoder ring by offering two cheers for the Democrats. I congratulate them on their victory Saturday night in the Senate, and while I can't quite wish them continued success on the course they are following, I'm beginning to make peace with the possibility that they'll win.

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For years, conservatives and liberals have flirted with the idea of disposing of the fool's errand of bipartisanship. Seeking compromise with partisans across the aisle is a recipe for getting nothing important done.

For liberals, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been a leader of this school. In 2007, Krugman wrote in Slate magazine that progressives should abandon any pretense at working with Republicans. The "middle ground," he wrote, "doesn't exist -- and if Democrats try to find it, they'll squander a huge opportunity. Right now, the stars are aligned for a major change in America's direction. If the Democrats play nice, that opportunity may soon be gone."

"If one thing is clear from the stimulus debate," he wrote earlier this year, "it's that the two parties have utterly different economic doctrines." Krugman went on to describe the different views in his typically tendentious manner.

He's right on the basic point. While there are plenty of hackish, opportunistic deal makers in both parties, the core visions -- one progressive, the other conservative -- that animate the rank and file are increasingly, and fundamentally, irreconcilable.

Hence, the quest for the middle ground usually rewards the worst kinds of politicians -- those devoid of any core convictions and only concerned with feathering their own nests -- and yields the worst kinds of policies. Blending the two visions is like trying to marry two different recipes. You don't get the best of both so much as a huge mess -- say, peanut butter and caviar -- or a fraudulent meal, like a "vegetarian" cheesesteak. Better to stay pure, have your way and convince the American people that your way is the best way.

In short, if you can't join 'em, beat 'em.

Now, the appeal of such an argument depends a great deal on your proximity to power. When your side is out of power, half a loaf is more appetizing than nothing. When in power, the thought of hogging the whole loaf for yourself instead of sharing is seductive.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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