The Republican Party’s Long Decline Leads to Irrationality

The Republican Partys Long Decline Leads to Irrationality

(Image: CartoonArts International / The New York Times Syndicate)

The economist Brad DeLong notes that the Republican Party we now see in the primaries has been building for a couple of decades: “I went to Washington in 1993 to work for what we called Lloyd Bentsen’s Treasury as part of the sane technocratic bipartisan center,” Mr. DeLong wrote in a blog post on Feb 28. “And it took me only two months — two months! — to conclude that America’s best hope for sane technocratic governance required the elimination of the Republican Party from our political system as rapidly as possible … Nothing since has led me to question or change that belief — only to strengthen it.”

I can’t help thinking of my own decade-plus in the journalistic trenches. Early on in my tenure at The New York Times, I felt I had no choice but to point out the inconvenient truth that the official line of the commentariat was all wrong. George W. Bush was not a nice, blunt, honest guy who happened to be a conservative; he was a serial liar pursuing a hard-line agenda, who, among other things, deliberately misled the United States into war.

For this I was labeled “shrill.”

More than that: throughout these past 10-plus years, it has been considered ill-mannered and uncouth, not to mention unacceptably partisan, to suggest that the political parties aren’t symmetric — that, for example, the reluctance of Democrats to cut Social Security and Medicare is not equivalent to the G.O.P.’s consistent pursuit of huge unfunded tax cuts; that the occasional desire of Democrats to put evidence in a more favorable light is not equivalent to the constant, raw dishonesty emanating from the right.

And pundits in good standing have been expected to make calls for bipartisanship that involve pretending that Republican politicians are actually the kind of statesmen the party used to include, but no longer does.

So now we see a primary struggle in which the choice is between a series of not-Romneys whose political and policy views are stark raving mad, on one side, and the not-not-Romney who is, maybe, just pretending to share those views. How did that happen?

The answer, as Mr. Delong suggests, is that it happened a long time ago.

The G.O.P. isn’t just spectacularly unlucky in its menu of candidates; this is what the party has been for decades.

Rick Santorum isn’t someone out of left field; he’s always been what you see now, and he was a central figure in his Senate days.

All that has happened now is that the mannerisms have finally gotten to the point that the pretense that the G.O.P. is a reasonable party is no longer sustainable.

But you weren’t supposed to notice until just about now.

Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008.

Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including “The Return of Depression Economics” (2008) and “The Conscience of a Liberal” (2007). Copyright 2011 The New York Times.