by tristero

In the New York Times, Paul Krugman is currently focused like a laser beam on the astounding economic stupidities of the Very Serious People in this country and abroad. Mark Bittman - a legendary figure among those of us who care about food in America - talks about everything else. Here, he links our inability to address our national eating disorder with our inability to regulate guns and attributes it to a failure of leadership. This isn't a terribly original thought, but it is an important starting point. There's a great deal of truth in it.

Yet, I think the issue is more complicated than a mere failure of leadership. No president can effect social change without a combination of support and, equally important, an organized, powerful effort by others who are in a position of influence to push the president towards more reform than s/he feels comfortable with. This is the lesson of Eric Foner's masterful book on Lincoln and slavery, The Fiery Trial. Few doubt that Lincoln loathed slavery and hoped that the peculiar institution would be destroyed. Yet, according to Foner, he had to be pushed, and pushed hard, at every step along the way to the Emancipation Proclamation, and beyond.

It is quite obvious, of course, that while Foner's ostensible subject was Lincoln, his real topic was the modern relationship between between a centrist/right centrist president and liberals.In short, true leadership on food issues, gun control, and numerous other social problems comes from us. It means studying carefully how liberals in a position of power have been able to influence a sympathetic, but nevertheless non-liberal, Chief of State. It means studying carefully how to obtain and sustain those positions of power. It will require a far more supple liberal rhetoric than exists today, and, with a few exceptions like Warren, much better candidates.

The good news is that, compared to 2000, liberal rhetoric and tactics have improved dramatically. The bad news is that there is a very long way to go. It is still a fact, for example, that much of the most prominent liberal commentary comes, with the exception of Krugman, Taibbi, and to some extent Maddow, from professional comedians and people who have never been personally involved in politics or public policy (Frank Rich, Bittman). But until these voices are heard, and heard loudly...What Bittman says.

[Slightly edited after initial posting.]