Irate Moderates

IRATE MODERATES….Sebastian Mallaby has a column in the Washington Post today that’s so relentlessly misguided that I just don’t have the energy to take it on. But I do want to say one thing about it, because it fits into the “irate moderate” theme that I was talking about a few days ago.

The column is about Wal-Mart, and Mallaby is complaining that although moderate Dems got out of the corporation-bashing business in the late 80s, they’ve since lost the religion. Every single moderate Dem ? even Joe Lieberman! ? is now bashing Wal-Mart. “How can supposedly centrist Democrats defend this betrayal of their principles?” he asks sadly.

Well, here’s the thing. When every single moderate Dem starts attacking Wal-Mart, maybe nobody’s betraying any principles at all. Instead, maybe they’ve figured out something that Mallaby hasn’t: it’s not the 80s anymore and things have changed. And one of the things that’s changed is that Wal-Mart has gotten a lot bigger, unions have continued shrinking, working class wages have stagnated, and corporate power has grown tremendously. It’s perfectly rational for even moderate, pro-business Dems to look at the record of the past couple of decades and conclude that things have gotten pretty far out of whack and that Wal-Mart is a good symbol of this imbalance.

In other words, reality matters, not just politics. At one of my panel sessions this weekend, a member of the audience asked if reading blogs for the past four years had made me less willing than before to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt. I answered that it would be silly to pretend that reading people like Digby and Atrios hadn’t affected my political views, but that something much more important had happened during my time reading blogs: George Bush had mismanaged the country for four years. Anyone sentient who has simply watched Bush govern during that time would be less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Hell, even conservatives feel that way.

The same is true more broadly. There’s a reason that so many former moderates are so irate these days, and it’s not because they aren’t moderates anymore. It’s because moderates should be irate over the events of the past decade. People like Mallaby seem unable to figure that out, and therefore assume that any change of heart is motivated not by events, but by a “betrayal” of principles.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The American economy has changed for the worse over the past couple of decades if you’re part of the working or middle class, and over the same period the Newt Gingrich-inspired Republican Party has changed the nature of partisan politics into a scorched earth cultural bloodbath. Of course moderates are pissed. Of course they’ve changed their views. They’d be nuts not to.

POSTSCRIPT: But I will (partly) concede one point to Mallaby: it’s foolish to paint Wal-Mart or the broader business community as “evil.” They aren’t, any more than ordinary human beings are evil. It’s just that, left to their own devices, both humans and corporations tend to act solely in their own self-interest. That’s why we have laws to control human behavior, and it’s why we need laws and regulations to control corporate behavior. I prefer a society in which people don’t gun each other down in the streets, and I also prefer a society in which middle class workers prosper when the economy grows. I support laws that encourage both.