On the Complexity of Making Things Complicated

Hillary Clinton

Sometimes the key to politics is to make things complicated not so much by making them actually complicated, but by complicating things with additional layers and steps. Political discourse is something like the living, realtime inspiration for internet chatter; after two or three quick rounds it’s hard to tell what anyone is referring to, anymore.

But at the same time, it is not as if the rhetorical devices of American politics are especially complex. Consider, for instance, Paul Krugman:

This policy unity has been helped by the fact that Obama has had a moderate degree of success in achieving these goals. If he had had an easy time, the party might be divided between those wanting more radical action and those not in a hurry; if he had failed utterly, the party might be divided (as it was for much of the past three decades) between a liberal faction and a Republican-lite faction. As it is, however, Obama has managed to achieve a lot of what Democrats have sought for generations, but only with great difficulty against scorched-earth opposition. This means that the conflict between “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” — exemplified these days by Elizabeth Warren — and the more pro-big-business wing is relatively muted: the liberal wing knows that Obama has gotten most of what could be gotten, and the actual policies haven’t been the kind that would scare off the less liberal wing.

One would think this easy piece of political perspective would not be so rare in our discourse, but for some reason—perhaps a tendency toward equivocation for the sake of narrative simplification—it sometimes seems useful to take a moment and think about how it comes about.

And of course it is always dangerous to say, let us start with Ross Douthat; thus, we can keep it short:

Clinton’s iconic status is, increasingly, the only clear advantage the Democratic Party has. If her position is weakened, diminished or challenged, the entire coalition risks collapse.

And, yes, the New York Times columnist goes on and on and on; one might expect he would simply wrap up by pronouncing her Satan herself, but … er … right. Something.

Matt Yglesias calls excrement, and of a particularly pungent nature:

[Douthat’s] more intriguing idea was a vision of a deeply divided Democratic Party that, absent the presence of a star candidate, would likely fall apart: “the post-Obama Democratic Party could well be the Austro-Hungarian empire of presidential majorities: a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement, one major crisis away from dissolution.”

This, I think, is completely wrong. The Democratic Party could easily lose the next election, but the coalition as a whole is more durable and robust than it’s ever been for reasons that go much deeper than Hillary’s popularity.

And it really is quite a list, spanning versions of Democratic principles that are (ahem!) near enough for government work to what Democrats are, by social legend, supposed to be: war and peace, banking, economic inequality, education, geography, and even the polarization of politics. Perhaps Douthat sees Democrats as mechanically like Republicans, but while the Tea Party is busy trying to wreck the GOP congressional leadership, there is also a notion flitting about for the grasping, a suggestion that Douthat would be exactly correct if Democrats were Republicans.

Which, of course, brings us back to Krugman:

In fact, it’s the Republicans who desperately need a hero. In retrospect, they needed W much more than they realized: he combined policy fealty to the plutocrats with a personal manner that appealed to the base, in a way no Republican now manages.

Democrats have every reason right now to hang together, and many of them are actually good, positive, affirmative reasons.


Krugman, Paul. “Disciplined Democrats”. The Conscience of a Liberal. 15 June 2014.

Douthat, Ross. “There Is No Alternative”. The New York Times. 7 June 2014.

Yglesias, Matt. “7 reasons the Democratic coalition is more united than ever”. Vox. 14 June 2014.

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