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Does Ezra Klein Really Not Understand the Point of Politics?


So Ezra Klein’s big lead-off article at Vox was, well, strange. Not that I disagree with all of it, although there is way too much both sides do it in here. But see here:

The silver lining is that politics doesn’t just take place in Washington. The point of politics is policy. And most people don’t experience policy as a political argument. They experience it as a tax bill, or a health insurance card, or a deployment. And, ultimately, there’s no spin effective enough to persuade Americans to ignore a cratering economy, or skyrocketing health-care costs, or a failing war. A political movement that fools itself into crafting national policy based on bad evidence is a political movement that will, sooner or later, face a reckoning at the polls.

The point of politics is not policy. The point of politics is power. This is blindingly obvious. I know that there is a subset of Beltway pundit types who really wish that politics was about policy. They want to talk about policy and wonkish details. They don’t want to talk about building social movements. But that is a severe misreading of what politics actually are about. The civil rights movement or the conservative movement did not succeed because of policy debates. They succeeded because they were able to marshal power. The environmental movement faded in part because it did begin to believe that politics was about policy and deemphasized its base expressing power. To a lesser extent, the labor movement did the same thing. The Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson laugh at Klein’s formulation.

And the idea that the right evidence is going to save a political party and the wrong evidence is going to destroy one, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to this unless you are cherrypicking fairly significantly. I mean, OK, Hoover’s actions during the Depression did doom the Republicans. But while Obama won in 2008, I don’t exactly recall Bush’s many failed policies making him one of the worst presidents in American history permanently dooming the Republican Party. Oh yeah, because Republicans knew how to take power in a number of ways that frustrate the majority of the country today.

Maybe some of this is that I take a longer-term view because I’m a historian. But maybe some of it comes from some pretty significant ideological blinders that Klein wears.

Thanks to friend of the blog Robert Cruickshank for bringing this to my attention.

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