I have watched with disappointment for months as Paul Krugman, one of my favorite writers, has used his column to question and undermine Sen. Obama's historic candidacy.
Paul Krugman has always been a committed progressive, and one of the true consistent voices questioning the Bush administration even when his approval ratings were stratospheric.
And while I understand Mr. Krugman has had to bare the disappointment of seeing his preferred candidate go down to defeat twice (I believe he supported Sen. Edwards before he dropped out, switching his allegiance to Sen. Clinton) I felt he was egregious in his attacks on the prospective nominee.
In retrospect however, whatever hurt feelings there may be, Paul Krugman has been a light which has helped to guide the progressive movement, and his concerns have all been to ensure we got a President every bit as progressive as we needed.
For this he deserves nothing less than our humble praise, even if it is time for him to come around to seeing what we do in Sen. Obama.
Very quickly, there has long been a fight within the Democratic party as to whether Democrats must move forward in an attempt to capture the middle, as Pres. Clinton and the Blue Dogs believe; or to confront head-on the hypocrisy and heartlessness of the conservative agenda with more stark contrasts.
The heart of this argument is about voters: Should we be trying to win independents or "the middle" where a swing of a few percent is the difference between a narrow win and a narrow loss? Or should we be trying to engage the mass of disaffected voters by showing we offer a clear break from the corruption and mismanagement that has characterized Republican governance.
It is clear that Krugman prefers the "fighter" camp, as I suspect the vast majority of people reading this do. Look at this example from his 11/16/07 column "Played For A Sucker" in which Krugman castigates Sen. Obama for saying social security is in crisis.
We all wish that American politics weren’t so bitter and partisan. But if you try to find common ground where none exists — which is the case for many issues today — you end up being played for a fool. And that’s what has just happened to Mr. Obama.
A perfect summation of the fighter vs. unifier view, it casts Sen. Obama as having been tricked into calling for bipartisan action on social security.
In an article from 2/4/08 entitled "Clinton, Obama, Insurance" Krugman asserts that Obama has used right wing talking points to attack Sen. Clinton's health care, and concludes thusly.
If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.
Here again, Krugman is singling out Sen. Obama for attacks and earning the ire of this community. But he is only doing it in defense of progressive ideals: Universal health care, keeping social security public, etc.
The point is, Paul Krugman has an opinion shared by many progressives: That we could have had a "fighter" as our nominee (Edwards, Clinton) but now we're stuck with someone who struggles to strike conciliatory poses to "the Enemy." And while I fall on the progressive side of the argument that says we need to offer clear distinctions and emphasize stark contrasts with Republicans, I don't believe that Sen. Obama's style undermine that goal. In fact, I believe his approach offers the progressive community far more for the future, and it is that which Paul Krugman, and many others in the "fighter" camp, are missing.
The historical moment we are in provides us with the greatest number of disaffected republicans and independents we've seen in a generation. It is a mistake at such a tenuous time to dismiss republicans as corrupt or dishonest, because we forget that there are far more voters that identify themselves as Republicans than there are politicians who enact their policies.
When a politician gives a speech, they speak to far more "average citizens" than they do pundits, politicians and bureaucrats put together. So instead of using language that labels the other party as dishonest, heartless and corrupt, as John Edwards and Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton have done (all heroes of mine, incidentally) we can use this moment to seize the high ground.
However, inflammatory rhetoric which creates no distinction between Republican voters and their representatives only inflames the tensions and hardens people in their partisanship. The average viewer is far more likely to agree if you bash Pres. Bush, or his specific policies on global warming, on veterans care, etc. (because those policies don't reflect the courage and generosity of the American people when they are called upon to act) than if you simply condemn "republicans" as a group.
Sen. Obama even said in a speech a few months ago (If someone finds the quote I'll be eternally grateful) "And while I understand the idea of reaching out across party lines is something that will bother many republican activists, I suspect many republican voters will be receptive."
That is why I do not feel Sen Obama is a rejection of the fighter paradigm, nor a capitulation to the centrist policies of the DLC.
He is, rather, a willing conduit through which disaffected Americans of all stripes can feel hope again. His policies are unabashedly progressive, just as Reagan's were unabashedly conservative. But he is a unifier because he is able to put across his agenda in a way palatable to the broader electorate.
If we have such strong majorities favoring widespread investment in alternative energies, universal health care, action on global warming and the environment, why bother alienating people by emphasizing party? Why not bring people in to your voting coalition by offering them a clear break (see: Change) without antagonizing them for the views or votes they may have held or cast?
It is in that spirit I declare Sen. Obama the official leader of the "fight the republicans" movement. Because a negotiated peace that earns us hefty majorities is better than an all out war which entrenches deadlock. Because it is the majorities we ride into the next congress that will determine what we can actually accomplish for the long term, as opposed to the short term self congratulatory pride of condemning those whose votes and views have proven disastrous.
I understand, for a man like Paul Krugman who cares so passionately about the progressive movement, that this moment was to be when we finally decapitated the conservative hydra and placed it's head at a spike at the gates of "Progressive-town." But many of us progressives feel we can win the election with a greater margin and mandate for change by pushing a hopeful, unifying vision than emphasizing partisanship.
But whatever the future of this internecine squabble, Paul Krugman was always there pushing for the most liberal policy prescriptions, and boldly calling out the right. His column has been a beacon for progressives even when it took courage to be so. And each criticism he has made has been with the best interests of the movement for which he clearly cares so deeply.
In conclusion, Krugman himself pointed this out:
All my criticisms of Obama have been from a progressive direction. I don’t think I’ve said anything that conservatives could use against him in the general election, or use to undermine his efforts if he makes it to the White House.
It's time to remember who our friends are.
Thank you Paul Krugman.