December 07, 2007
Obama v. Krugman
Something's really gone off the rails when the Obama campaign decides to release an oppo document on Paul Krugman. It's not only the actual attacks that are weak (most of them rely on misinterpreting one comment, then misinterpreting the next, then pretending there's a contradiction), but, seriously, it's Paul Krugman. Arguably the most progressive voice in American media. When I argued that the campaign should take the gloves off, I really didn't expect their target, in this document and in the health care fight more generally, would be progressivism. What in hell is going on over there?
Update: To say a bit more on this, the campaign's attack on Krugman raises the question they don't want to answer: What changed? When Obama's plan came out, Krugman, and me, and Jon Cohn, and all the usual suspects criticized it for lacking an individual mandate, but said that, on the overall, it was pretty good, and Obama had passed the bar. Suddenly, we're all up in arms. Why?
Well, it was one thing when Obama simply didn't have a mechanism to achieve universality. It became a whole other when he began criticizing mechanisms to achieve universality. Previously, he'd gotten some flack for buying into the conservative argument that Social Security was in crisis. Now he was constructing a conservative argument against far-reaching reform proposals. And he kept doing it. And now his campaign is misrepresenting Krugman's comments in order to imply contradiction. But Krugman hasn't contradicted himself. Where his original comments focused on Obama's plan, his newer arguments are attempting to beat back Obama's rhetoric. And Obama's rhetoric has become much, much worse than his plan. That it's ended with him having to go on the offensive against the most forthrightly progressive voice in major American media is evidence of that fact.
December 7, 2007 | Permalink
Is it really taking the gloves off by pointing out that Krugman is more critical of Obama's plan now than a few months ago?
Posted by: mad6798j | Dec 7, 2007 3:34:05 PM
their target, in this document and in the health care fight more generally, would be progressivism.
On the scheme of health policy solutions, mandates are as "DLC-centrist" as it gets.
Posted by: wisewon | Dec 7, 2007 3:35:45 PM
If you didn't then you haven't been paying attention to who are Obaman's backers. He ain't no progressive homes.
Not in the least.
Posted by: A.Citizen | Dec 7, 2007 3:40:35 PM
Why be surprised that Obama disdains progressives? I mean, this is the guy who has so much as said that atheists can not have the same moral value as those who have "faith," and who joins forces with a minister who believes that gay people should be exterminated in order to pick up some votes in South Carolina.
Posted by: dk | Dec 7, 2007 3:41:05 PM
As we all know it was inexcusable brutality of HRC to refer to Obama as "not walking the walk" or something equally anodyne. So I think Obama can be accused of "taking the gloves off" for attacking Paul Krugman for not liking Obama's health care plan.
Posted by: aimai | Dec 7, 2007 3:46:06 PM
I wouldn't trade places with the Republicans this year for anything, and I think we're extremely likely to win the White House no matter who's nominated on either side. The breaking of the DuMond story cemented that impression for me; they're getting a non-viable candidate no matter *what* they do.
But I'm not thrilled with any of our choices. And Obama strikes me as easily the worst of the major three (though still far better than Richardson, who'd be a nightmare on either half of the ticket). There's just nothing to him other than this carefully preened image of the post-partisan candidate--and they call *Edwards* the slick one.
I have lots of problems with Hillary, but we'll be far better off with her both as the nominee and as the president.
Posted by: Mike B. | Dec 7, 2007 3:50:35 PM
Having a guy sing for him at a few campaign stops is hardly "joining forces" with someone who wants to exterminate gays.
He backed measures banning discrimination against gays while in the state legislature, and supports repealing don't ask don't tell in the military. You're really grasping at straws trying to make him out to be viciously anti-gay, and he's not.
As for his piece on Krugman, it reads more like a defense of Obama's position than an attack on Krugman. It's not like he calls Krugman names or implies he's being dishonest.
Posted by: mad6798j | Dec 7, 2007 3:53:55 PM
Well, it was one thing when Obama simply didn't have a mechanism to achieve universality. It became a whole other when he began criticizing mechanisms to achieve universality. Previously, he'd gotten some flack for buying into the conservative argument that Social Security was in crisis. Now he was constructing a conservative argument against far-reaching reform proposals. And he kept doing it. And now his campaign is misrepresenting Krugman's comments in order to imly contradiction. But Krugman hasn't contradicted himself. Where his original comments focused on Obama's plan, his newer arguments are attempting to beat back Obama's rhetoric. And Obama's rhetoric has become much, much worse than his plan. That it's ended with him having to go on the offensive against the most forthrightly progressive voice in major American media is evidence of that fact.
This makes some sense. A lot of time could have been saved by focusing just on this element.
But in the course of pushing back on Obama's rhetoric, a re-examination of the policy differences themselves occurred by the same folks-- you, Krugman, etc. And in the desire to push back on the rhetoric, the impact of the differences in policy were overstated-- as I've said previously-- in a black-and-white nature, when the reality is more gray.
The fact that I really didn't get your concern in this post prior the "update" addition, is evidence of the point. Most of this pushback has actually been focused on the policy particulars rather than the rhetoric. Your first post on this subject and what it said about Obama, was the real interesting nugget in this whole thing. I agreed with you on that. The rest of this has been mostly a disagreement on the presumed impact of mandates and the degree of difference that actually exists between the policies. That's a policy discussion. And it does seem reasonable to interpret a shift in your and Krugman's view on the importance/magnitude of this issue. That may not have been the intent, but that was the effect.
Posted by: wisewon | Dec 7, 2007 3:54:41 PM
Why on earth does Ezra revere Krugman so much????
How dare Obama to criticize the gospel of Krugman.
Posted by: thehova | Dec 7, 2007 4:00:46 PM
Perhaps you can go on "Hardball" with the misogynist Chris Matthews and state your views about how this hurts the Obama campaign, not unlike your views yesterday regarding Clinton. It is unwise when Democrats use Republican talking points and I fear the Obama campaign is, not only about health care but especially about Social Security.
Posted by: Ann Brown | Dec 7, 2007 4:04:07 PM
This, and Obama's apparent surge generally, is very, very troubling. It does not bode well for us at all, as Obama is the candidate most likely to give away an election that is ours to lose.
Democrats need to get really serious about this race really fast. People are always complaining about how "early" it is, but we're barely a month out from a handful of actual votes that will probably decide who carries the Democratic banner in 2008. There is very good reason to wonder whether Obama is ready for prime time, but we're on the verge of putting him there without even considering this question.
If Obama wasn't in the race, I think we'd see a more serious campaign. Clinton and Edwards have reasonably distinct ideological perspectives, and each would bring different electoral strengths to the ticket. It would be nice to have a forceful but rational debate over the future of the party and the different paths they represent.
But Obama is a sideshow, a candidate whose celebrity is his only rationale. It is very fitting that Oprah is campaigning for him. Obama's supporters represent a disturbing cult of personality that I do not see anywhere else (except Ron Paul). They seem to think that his very existence is somehow miraculous and that his election would be "transformative" in some ineffable, metaphysical way. Andy Sullivan's argument, essentially, which should really tell you something.
Posted by: Jason C. | Dec 7, 2007 4:10:25 PM
Question for Obama supporters: It seems like only yesterday health insurance for everybody was an almost talismanic goal for liberals. And please don't say: we want health care for all not health insurance for all, because even in Canada, say, or Britain, people are enrolled in an insurance plan. It's just that it's social insurance, paid for by taxation. As far as I know, you can't just hop on a plane from New York to Toronto, schedule back surgery, and expect Canadian taxpayers to pay for it. You'll have to provide proof that you're enrolled in Ontario's version of Medicare. This is similar to how our own system works for the elderly. You have to be enrolled in the government-sponsored insurance plan known as Medicare in order to receive benefits. This is just how it's done everywhere in the rich world, because of the necessity of financial controls.
So, back to my point: it seems mighty implausible to me that the many people who are supporting Obama for the nomination supported health insurance for all a few months ago, but now no longer do. So, why, as I browse the liberal blogoshphere, do I encounter almost no criticism among his supporters for the non-universality of his healthcare proposal? This obviously doesn't imply the necessity of urging him to embrace mandates. But why are there no calls for Obama to augment his proposal with, say, a call to open up Medicare for all who want to join (or some other comparably progressive concept to reach universality)? Is universality really just no longer a progressive ideal? Really? Or is it rather the case that y'all understandably don't want to bloody your preferred candidate? The latter seems more likely, and, while understandable, you can hardly blame Ezra and those of us who are passionately committed to the ideal of universality for continuing to inconveniently point out your candidate's principle shortcoming. It is inconvenient for y'all, I can understand that. Just like it would be mighty inconvenient for us to have a standard bearer next year who doesn't support UHC.
Oh, and guess what: an Obama who was calling for Medicare to be opened up for anybody who wants to join would have this particular liberal dropping Hillary or Edwards like a hot potato.
Posted by: Jasper | Dec 7, 2007 4:18:46 PM
Yes, I just re-posted the above comment from a previous thread, but apparently the party had moved on while I was furiously typing away. I hope Ezra doesn't begrudge my hogging so much of the internets.
Posted by: Jasper | Dec 7, 2007 4:19:53 PM
Look, Krugman should at least be more fair in his attacks. There are serious problems with health care mandates. His attempts to deny that are simply fundamentally unfair. Clinton won't even discuss how her mandate is enforced. Is that being upfront and honest?
Here's part of the Obama doc:
KRUGMAN THEN: Obama's Health Care Plan "Is Smart And Serious, Put Together By People Who Know What They're Doing." Paul Krugman wrote, "The Obama plan is smart and serious, put together by people who know what they're doing...So there's a lot to commend the Obama plan." [New York Times, 6/4/07]
KRUGMAN NOW: "The Fundamental Weakness Of The Obama Plan Was Apparent From The Beginning." Paul Krugman wrote, "The fundamental weakness of the Obama plan was apparent from the beginning." [New York Times, 11/30/07]
Posted by: ohiomeister | Dec 7, 2007 4:54:24 PM
A mandate could make insurance cheaper for everyone by forcing the young and healthy, a group that traditionally opts out of the system, to sign up. But making people buy insurance before good plans are affordable could lead more people to ignore the mandate. A mandate to buy insurance before much more is done to make it affordable would also mean even higher profits for insurance companies and bigger government subsidies to make coverage affordable.
Nor do mandates come close to guaranteeing universal coverage. The Massachusetts health care plan enacted when Republican Mitt Romney was governor mandates coverage. By the end of this month, every Massachusetts resident is supposed to be enrolled or pay a penalty.
The plan has caused some 200,000 previously uninsured people to sign up, according to the New York Times. But at least that many, and probably far more, have not. The $219 penalty in the form of a loss of the personal exemption on the state income tax was not severe enough to prompt everyone to enroll. That penalty is expected to grow to at least $1,000 next year.
The Massachusetts plan has two other problems that the presidential candidates should address. The state has had to exempt an estimated 20 percent of its population from the mandate because they can't afford to participate. And the cost of subsidizing insurance for the many low-income residents who signed up for the plan greatly exceeded predictions, and that's before the double-digit increase in rates insurers are expected to charge next year.
Government mandates have been used to force people to buy auto insurance, immunize their children, pay child support and pay workers a minimum wage. But compliance rates, according to the journal Health Affairs, are far from universal; just 77 to 85 percent for immunization and 30 percent for child support. Some studies have found that despite mandates, about 20 percent of people still don't buy auto insurance, which is why the rest have to pay extra to guard against uninsured motorists.
Posted by: ohiomeister | Dec 7, 2007 4:55:07 PM
To answer your question in brief- it's called battered Democrat syndrome. They assume what Obama describes (for that matter Clinton on her it will take you electing me twice) is in fact reality because they assume going in they will lose, so we better lower our standards because that's "realistic." In short, their analysis is based on fear of being hit rather than on what they want to do or believe.
Posted by: akaison | Dec 7, 2007 4:55:53 PM
I'm getting a stiff neck from my head swinging to the left (Edwards), then to the right (Obama sometimes, Clinton sometimes) and then reversing again. I wonder if DSM has a number for 'pendulum neck swing'? LOL
Anyway, Obama's team (whoever they are at any given moment) and Obama himself, doesn't seem to know that there's a war going on in the Dem. party between the progressives and various forms of the middle. And he doesn't seem to know that Krugman is clearly in the progressive camp (and the one name in economics that the progressives nearly all agree with). He's going to drive folks in my camp toward either Clinton or Edwards - and he almost had me.
Every pol will triangulate on some issues, that's a given. But triangulating among the Dem positions just can't be done by adopting the words and themes of the GOP. That's a sellout - and my bet is most progressives won't be the buyers.
Inexperience counts and it shows! My conclusion at this time: Obama's not ready for prime time.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 7, 2007 5:01:12 PM
"Well, it was one thing when Obama simply didn't have a mechanism to achieve universality. It became a whole other when he began criticizing mechanisms to achieve universality"
What Team Obama has been up to the past couple weeks on healthcare is not only disgusting, but in terms of politics, it's costing him any real shot at the nomination.
No matter what happens in Iowa, does Team Obama really think they're going to win the eventual 2-way race for the Democratic nomination by running as the implacable opponent of universal healthcare in the field?
This has been a massive miscalculation from Team Obama all along, and they're just digging themselves in deeper into their hole.
Posted by: Petey | Dec 7, 2007 5:08:04 PM
It's more appropriately called empty suit rock star candidate syndrome. After all, the savior can do no wrong.
This is the left's version of the 25% who will always support Bush, no matter what.
Posted by: RalphB | Dec 7, 2007 5:10:22 PM
Obama's just managed to convince me that Clinton is a better candidate for the nomination than he is. While neither was ever my candidate of choice, I'd given their merits relative to each other some consideration and never dreamed that I'd come to this conclusion. I never thought Obama would make it so abundantly clear that he's Clinton's intellectual inferior by speaking such complete gibberish. Obama has absolutely no appeal to me at all as an intellectual lightweight, something I'm now firmly convinced he happens to be.
Posted by: Rob J | Dec 7, 2007 5:16:54 PM
"In short, their analysis is based on fear of being hit rather than on what they want to do or believe."
Isn't it time for a Democratic Party willing to show a little backbone?
Posted by: Petey | Dec 7, 2007 5:19:55 PM
Think this is overwrought: as one commentator above said, Obama is defending himself, mostly by quoting his attacker. That's going off the rails?
For an intelligent, centrist voice on this debate, check out Ron Brownstein's piece on the same issue in today's LA Times/National Journal, called "Contortions Over Health Care":
Short version: Obama doesn't want to talk about the need for a mandate, probably to preserve his lifeline to conservatives. But Hillary doesn't want to talk about the costs to the consumer, probably to preserve her connection with liberals. It's not a black/white issue.
Posted by: Kit Stolz | Dec 7, 2007 5:20:27 PM
"Short version: Obama doesn't want to talk about the need for a mandate, probably to preserve his lifeline to conservatives. But Hillary doesn't want to talk about the costs to the consumer, probably to preserve her connection with liberals."
And Edwards is perfectly willing to talk about the details of his plan, since he's the leader of a Democratic Party willing to show a little backbone.
Posted by: Petey | Dec 7, 2007 5:26:30 PM
Obama's biggest, and to me the key, flaw this campaign is his unwillingness to confront directly unless first confront directly, especially against right-wing talking points. This could be a sign that he is weak on the policy and does not know how to effectively confront them when they pop up. It could be a sign, however, that he is unwilling or unable to confront unless directly confronted because he lacks the aggression necessary. If politics is an extension of war by other means, he qualifies as a concientious objector...
Posted by: William Smith | Dec 7, 2007 5:32:39 PM
While I agree with everyone here, Obama can walk back on this when he's elected. It's bad, but it's not a disaster. Saying he's not a progressive (as if this is a definitive litmus test) is also ridiculous. He or anybody else will be "right" on some things, and not on others. I'd bet that in the long run he'd provide a decent health plan - maybe no worse than Edwards or HRC.
People here have very active imaginations.
Posted by: B Clark | Dec 7, 2007 5:46:10 PM
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