Because pretty much every thought that comes out of his head is garbage.
Today's offal is Robert J. "Not-Paul" Samuelson's pet theory that the reason our politics in general is so "poisonous[ly] polariz[ed]" is that "politics increasingly devotes itself to making people feel good about themselves -- elevating their sense of self-worth and affirming their belief in their moral superiority."
Not-Paul might have a point if the two parties were largely fighting over issues of little real-world significance but fraught with moral implications - if most current partisan issues were likely to have no wider impact than the debates over midnight basketball or Terry Schiavo. If that's what our politics looked like, he'd have a case.
So does he? He continues: "Global warming is about "saving the planet." Abortion and gay marriage evoke deep values, each side believing it commands the high ground. Certainly, President Obama pitched his health-care plan as a moral issue."
Well, yeah. Addressing global warming really is about "saving the planet," at least as we know it. For its proponents, health care reform was about extending affordable health insurance to an additional 30 million people, and not letting insurers drop you the moment you became sick. And depending on your assumptions about the personhood of the fetus, abortion is either about preserving or denying the right of tens of millions of women to retain control over their bodies, or about the killing of over a million people each year.
That's big stuff. It matters. This ain't midnight basketball.
And look at the rest of our major issues: the stimulus bill was about keeping us out of a far worse recession than we're in, a recession that's already leaving millions of Americans without jobs for more than six months, resulting in great hardship for millions of families. But without the stimulus, those numbers would have been much, much greater. The objective of the financial regulation bills being considered by Congress is to ensure that goings-on in the world of high finance, opaque to most Americans, don't reach out and knock a hole in the real economy a second time in the foreseeable future.
Or the recent past: earlier in this new millennium, we've fought over a war that killed hundreds of thousands and cost us hundreds of billions (so far), whether torture is justified, whether to keep Social Security intact, and so forth. Big stuff. Hell, the fight over the 2000 election was big, because if it had gone the other way, there would have almost surely been no Iraq war, no program of torture, no attempt to gut Social Security. Sure, there have also been some 'feel-good' issues during these years - stuff where the level of passion is far higher than the consequences dictate - but there have always been issues like that. People are like that: that's why people care about sports teams and the stuff in the tabloids.
As an alternative theory of why our politics is so heated, Not-Paul might consider the notion that while one side's arguing mostly on the basis of objective facts, the other side's throwing up a lot of smoke about socialism, totalitarianism, and the end of our freedoms. They've been hearing for a year and a half that Obama was going to take away their guns (and gun sales boomed last year), that he was going to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine and push Rush Limbaugh off the air (with George Will being one of the leading pushers of this foundationless notion), that ACORN was taking over the 2010 Census, and who knows what else.
And consider this: if health care had been about the left feeling good about itself, we could have made the public option the be-all and end-all of this bill. But ultimately, almost all of us realized it wasn't about us, and that the benefits of even a bill without a public option for those lacking insurance were more important than fighting a big, righteous fight that we were likely to lose.
There's just nothing to support Not-Paul's ridiculous notion that our politics is about self-esteem, rather than the things that matter. And as usual, it's impossible to overstate what a worthless crock of shit Robert J. Samuelson is.