Michael Kinsley Has It Wrong

In this week’s Time essay.

Barack Obama has refused $84 million of government money for the fall campaign because he believes he can raise more privately. For the Democrats to find it easier than the Republicans to raise money is a recent development, and a somewhat inspiring one. Affluent people who give to the Republican Party are advancing their own class interests, whereas those who give to the Democrats generally aren’t. This suggests an admirable seriousness about their giving. On the other hand, if they go off in a snit when their candidate loses the nomination, that will suggest that they aren’t really in this out of progressive passion–they just find politics an amusing hobby, like racehorses or yachts.

First of all, Sen. Obama’s ability to raise privately more than the $84 million he would get “publically” (it is, of course a euphemism for “at taxpayer’s expense”) puts the lie to the common slur that the Republican Party is the party of fat cats. If that was ever true, it no longer is (and has been transparently false since the ’92 election to anyone paying attention). The “seriousness” (Kinsley’s word) of these donors has not changed with their relative party affiliation.

Second when Kinsley says of radio talk show hosts (another euphemism?) “[T]hey have turned their guns on Barack Obama with remarkable ease and speed.”, whilst saying of Democrats in general “Democrats aren’t like that. It’s not that they’re too nice or too principled, or too unwilling to be ruthless…it is at least an open question as to whether Democrats this year will attempt to match the Republicans in their willingness to “swift-boat”–that is, to play dirty in what they regard as a noble cause.” He’s doing more than mixing apples and oranges. He also is purposefully mis-using the term “swift-boat” to mean something other than “to tell the truth about someone”. Further, since he means to use it in a pejorative sense, it’s clear that he vastly underestimates the Democrats ability in general and Obama’s ability in particular to play hardball politics – to “play dirty”, as he puts it. That, of course, is something all politicians at the national level have achieved at a rather high level of competence.

All this is nowhere near the main thrust of Kinsley’s argument, though, which is an admonition for Clinton supporters to grow up, get over it and get with the program.

But true, professional unscrupulousness–the kind of do-anything-to-win pragmatism that Democrats envy in Republicans–requires more than just working yourself up into a lather of dislike. Sometimes, in fact, it requires the opposite: putting aside your dislike, your disappointments, your anger, your feelings of betrayal. In the case of Hillary Clinton’s erstwhile supporters, all of these feelings seem overwrought to me. But there is no point in arguing about this, or at least not now. Now is the time to just get over it.

If he’s accusing Republicans of being able to jettison their principles in order to win elections (and inversely, accusing Democrats of being unable to do so when it serves their interests), I wonder what Kinsley thinks of yesterday’s FISA vote and its antecedents. What those votes show is just the opposite of what Kinsley says here.

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