But even absent the turbulent years stretching from 9/11 to the global financial crisis, the political homeostasis of the Nineties was never going to last: For one thing, political homeostasis never lasts; for another, the incremental, one-piece-at-a-time reformist mode of politics is far too conservative to satisfy the Left, which demands from its politics not only better governance but also meaning, identity, and a sense of transcendence. (One of the great cultural disasters of our recent history is that the Right now matches the Left in the religious fervor with which it practices politics.) “We’re more or less happy with everything except health care” is not exactly a barricade to man in the war against the running dogs of capitalist imperialism or imperialist capitalism or whatever.
And memories are short: Some time between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Lehman Brothers, a new generation sprung up with no real memory of thermonuclear dread, no meaningful knowledge of famine–terrorism and Siberian concentration camps and the rest of the sorry story of socialism in practice. And so “socialism” has, for the moment, once again become the rallying cry of the day: For Senator Bernie Sanders, who as of this writing is the man most likely to becoming the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, but also for younger figures such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and even a few callow young columnists at the New York Times. And now from a callow old New York Times columnist, the former economist Paul Krugman, we have the assurance that whatever it is that Senator Sanders means by socialism, it isn’t “socialism.” It’s just Denmark. Professor Krugman apparently is to be the Salena Zito of 2020: When the Democrats talk of socialism, we are to take them seriously but not literally.