Today we look at two books with the same name: The first by Clark Medal Medal and Nobel Prize winning Economist and now syndicated New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and the other, from the late Progressive Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), that in fact share the same title, serve the same purpose: a response to the 1960 Conservative manifesto “Conscience of a Conservative” from then Senator Barry Goldwater, and also as a policy platform that Democrats can and should rally around in order to grow its base, and pass legislation that will reclaim the opportunities for the middle class lost at the result of decades of trickle down economic policies. Both echo a theme that we at The Florida Squeeze have really centered all of our work on: when Democrats run candidates with deep commitments to the beliefs that we all share, we win.
Senator Paul Wellstone, is one of my heroes and chances are, if you’re a progressive activist or identify yourself as a liberal the late Senator is one of yours as well. For those that don’t know, Dr. Paul Wellstone PhD, was a long time progressive activist and thinker. He graduated with a BA and PhD in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While teaching at Carleton College in Minnesota, Wellstone began organizing- working with the disenfranchised including the poor, minority groups, and other politically disenfranchised groups. He built a career at in the grassroots, fighting for better public housing, affordable healthcare, updated education policies and schools, free school lunches and universal pre-k. His first book in 1978, How The Rural Poor Got Poorer, actually chronicles his early work.
Since that time, Wellstone had become a very involved and loyal progressive activist. He was arrested in the 1970s for his participation in a Anti-Vietnam protest which led to subsequent FBI interest, he participated in sit-ins a major banks, and walked picket lines with workers at Meat Packing Plant in Texas. At one point, his students at Carleton, when hearing that their favorite professor might be fired, staged a sit in, vowing not to leave until they were reassured of his continued employment at the College. A star was born.
Upon his arrival in the US Senate in 1990, Wellstone quickly became one of the institutions liberal lions. He credited his victory in 1990 and reelection in 1996 to the grassroots organization of his campaigns. In the national political world, Wellstone built a reputation around his fighting for peace, environmental protections, labor rights, affordable health care access, campaign finance reform and expanding opportunity for the middle and working classes. He was a strong proponent of expanding mental health care coverage, and a progressive minded immigration policy that included a path to citizenship.
Wellstone’s book Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda, is one of my all time favorite political books. It’s one I recommend for all progressive organizers, operatives ,policy wonks, and voters to add to their collection. It serves as a folksy autobiography of Wellstone’s life, policy views, and proposes and a policy platform that Democrat’s should use to grow the party and recapture the heart of America. It was Wellstone’s lifework to fight for an unabashed liberal agenda that put the interests of America’s farmers, workers, and middle class families first. From the book:
Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives, lessening human suffering, advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and in the world…how can we live in the richest, most privileged country in the world, at the peak of its economic performance, and still hear the Republicans, and too many Democrats, that we cannot afford to provide a good education for every child, that we cannot afford to provide health security for all our citizens?
The second book is written by economist Paul Krugman’s “Conscience Of Liberal” is not a wonky indiscernible, policy driven book that will you with more questions than you had before opening the cover- quite the contrary. In this work, Krugman, a Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, a Centenary Professor at the London School of Economics and the 2008 Nobel winner for his work on New Trade Theory and Economic Geography, examines the wealth and incomes gaps seen in the twentieth century in America and the policies that that evolved during that time to deal with certain economic headwinds.
In the book, Krugman points out the reader that America transitioned from a pre World War II economy dominated by disparity to a post war era of vast equality and access to opportunity. Most importantly, Krugman points out that it was Roosevelt’s New Deal policies coupled with never before seen bipartisanship in all government institutions that lead to widespread prosperity, and the subsequent explosive growth of the middle class. But then came the cancer. In addition the reviewing the economic history, Kruman examines the political history of our economy as well. Krugman defines the conservative movement that seemed to take over the mainstream thought of the Republican Party with the central focus to destroy Roosevelt’s new deal and replace with the arcane World War II era inequality. Krugman argues that the rise of Conservatism in today’s Republican Party has its roots in the party of Goldwater and Buckley and the trend continued with Nixon and later blossomed, and came to he a head with Reagan in the 1980s. Conservative America’s favorite Democrat, Bill Clinton panned to the cause as well with welfare reform, Glass-Stegall repeal and NAFTA. Finally Krugman ties the Bush legacy to Conservative economic policies as well, and even to the attacks on the New Deal with GWB’s views on Social Security.
Despite the seemingly growing problems with our economy and broken politics, Krugman remain optimistic. Why? Progressives. He mentions that demographic trends are not going to be kind to Conservative electoral hopes. Additionally, like Wellstone, he includes ideas that can be part of a progressive platform at the national level for the Democratic Party. One that puts social justice, safety nets, and universal health care at the top of the funding list with less on national defense an corporate welfare. He argues that Democrats for decades, have continued to move significantly to the right to appease Republicans, while the Republicans not only move to the far right themselves, continue to label the Democrats as leftist radicals. From the book:
‘It’s hard to make the case that Democrats have moved significantly to the left: On economic issues from welfare to taxes, Bill Clinton arguably governed not just to the right of Jimmy Carter, but to the right of Richard Nixon. On the other side it’s obvious that Republicans have moved to the right.’
Krugman echoes the Wellstone opinion that Democrats would have more success if they ran candidates that stuck to their beliefs rather than those that run to the middle, or appease Conservatives. In the later parts is where his book really earns its title. Krugman argues a point that lives in the hearts of all progressives. While Democrats have invoked patriotism and conservatism, Progressive and democrats in general have in fact, have become the compassionate conservatives via attempting to protect the interests of ALL Americans and the economic future of the Republic while today’s Republican party lead by the Conservative Tea Party are solely focused on the protecting the interests of the one percent and thus, pushing for more inequality. Thus Krugman introduces to an interesting paradox: to be a liberal is in fact to be conservative AND a progressive simultaneously.
Both of these books belong in our bookstore and your bookshelf or in your E-Book library. The Middle Class in America has been the victim of disastrous conservative economic policies brought forth by Republicans and enabled by Democrats, that have done both but exacerbate our problems, and let proven solutions on rot on the shelves. With a New Deal styled platform that includes economic policies with upward social mobility, universal health care, raising the minimum wage, and affordable college education, the Democratic party can reclaim its future, and help America get its future back on the right track.
As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll pick up these Must Reads, and all of our books at the TFS Bookstore.