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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.

Originally posted to leftahead on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 09:55 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I don't begrudge Mr Krugman supporting... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nellcote, jhecht, judybrennan

    a candidate other than Obama, I resent him frequesntly being a jerk about, which -- now that I think about it -- is exactly what I resented about Senator Clinton's neverending quest, too.

    Barack Obama -- The President we were promised as kids!

    by Jimdotz on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 10:01:04 AM PDT

  •  Your "unifier" tag is the very first in dKos (0+ / 0-)

    Ain't that amazing?

    If I was a dehydrated baby, I wouldn't want bottled hot water from John McCain!

    by Fairy Tale on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 10:03:01 AM PDT

  •  HRC's had 7 years to fight for UHC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jimdotz

    Where is it? The same with Edwards. Where was his fight when he was in a position to do so? Krugman offers a false choice:

    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.

    Clinton was never willing to say how she would impose and enforce mandates. So the choice was between a real plan and an idea. Krugman's assertion that all his attacks were from the progressive side is total bullshit. Mandates are not progressive, nor is hypocrisy. He should stop making excuses for his behavior, and start seeking redemption.

    '1984': "Big Brother is watching you". 2008: You're going to end up on YouTube.

    by jhecht on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 10:10:06 AM PDT

    •  Stop fighting the old fights (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      In her own Voice

      This isn't about Edwards and Clinton. It isn't about their "unfair" attacks. And believe me, I would never attempt to explain away Sen. Clinton's conduct during the campaign.

      But do you doubt that Paul Krugman had, what he considered to be the best interests of the progressive movement at heart? Do you think he adopted some ulterior motive just for the election?

      He did what he did because he considered it right. And we thought he was wrong, and we won.

      But now that we have, let's remember who are friends were before this fight, because they are good friends who will be with us for some time.

    •  Never got any good answers to these points... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Klugstah

      from Krugman:

      First, Obama is vaguely floating ideas about how to close the hole in his plan — nothing integral to the plan. And given the way he has campaigned on the issue, he’ll have a very hard time saying after the fact, "oh, by the way, you have to sign up or there will be nasty penalties if you ever try later."

      Second, the odds are good that many people still won’t sign up while healthy, because they won’t think that far ahead. And then there will be tremendous pressure to grant amnesty when they get sick and come in seeking coverage. Imagine someone who didn’t sign up six years ago, shows up for treatment, and really can’t afford insurance with a 50 percent surcharge. Are we really going to able to make that penalty stick?

      Third, some of those who don’t sign up when healthy won’t show up for insurance for years, so that a number of people who should be paying into the pool won’t.

      Remember, the whole Obama position has been that if you make it affordable, they will come. Now he’s saying that if they don’t, we’ll punish them — but only when or if they show up in distress. I don’t believe this is workable.

      Update: I should also mention that if the penalties are enforced, so that people who show up seeking coverage have to pay a penalty rate, guess what will happen? A lot of people will end up deciding to forgo needed medical care. This is exactly what we’re trying to avoid — and it’s a far nastier outcome than anything a mandate would do.

      http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/...

      These are real questions, not answered by Obama or any supporter so far as I know, yet Krugman was treated as an enemy while people claimed that Clinton and Edwards would force you to have coverage even if you could not pay.

    •  the other point is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftahead

      That this is being misstated. Hillary is in favor of mandates. Obama is not. Neither is in favor of really reforming the system.

      If I have to live with the present system, I prefer no mandates. A real progressive would seek to overhaul how large medical corporations operate, how large pharmaceutical companies operate and how health insurance companies operate.

      Mandating I buy health insurance from a company that will then turn around and refuse to pay a bill, or put limits and exclusions on the policy so that you wind up with tens of thousands of dollars in bills anyway is not my idea of "making health care affordable."

      Many people could afford to self insure for most day to day health care problems if they could pay what insurance companies pay with contracted facilities. Medical bankruptcies could be greatly reduced if hospitals and doctors were prohibited from charging "full fees" to uninsured or out of network patients.

  •  The Social Security stance in particular (0+ / 0-)

    takes a talking point off the table. If Republicans said it was in crisis and Senator Obama disagreed then they'd be able to make hay with it. But if they say it is and he says "Sure is, and I have a way to fix it" then they're left with "Well, ours is better and stuff." This isn't exactly a strong rhetorical standpoint for them. For this one in particular, it doesn't make any difference to the progressive movement to say "Social Security is in crisis" vs. "Social Security is just fine, stop worrying." because if taxes are raised to help Social Security it works to get our government more income, which it definitely needs.

    The true Ben Franklin quote from Poor Richard's Almanack is "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."

    by Andy30tx on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 10:13:44 AM PDT

  •  Krugman was arrogant (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    judybrennan

    throughout the primary. He was leading the dismissiveness campaign that torqued so many obama supporters off.

    We never had a problem with his ideology, or at least I didn't, it was his insulting attitude toward Obama and his supporters.

  •  Excellent, well written diary! n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Finding your own Voice -- The personal is political!

    by In her own Voice on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 10:25:03 AM PDT

  •  I don't accep this at all (0+ / 0-)

    First of all, in arguing that he was supporting the "left wing" or "progressive" fighter wing of the party by allying with Hillary, Krugman is either simply stupid or outright disengenuous.

    Obama's candidacy (like any other) has its strenths and weaknesses. I would argue that to understand Obama you have to understand this politics in essence constitute vital center liberalism. Vital center liberalism embraces multiple paradoxes, trying on one hand to be progressive yet on the other accepting the underlying premises of the American political system. This explains I think his support for overturning FISA and his unwillingness to question the underlying fallacies of fighting a "war on terror." So, on a progressive scale of 1-4, Obama gets a solid 1.7 from me-or C-.

    On the other hand, Hillary Clinton comes out of a politics that is geared innately towards capitulating to the right-save perhaps on a few social issues such as abortion and also towards the politics of personal aggrandizement. Wherever Obama succeeds in articulating mildly progressive stances, Clinton (with very few exceptions) pulls discourse and options even farther to the right. Yes she is a fighter and she portrayed herself as "fighting for the blue collar workers" and for "the waitress in the diner" but on specific economic proposals there just was not that much difference between Obama and Clinton. She was not out stumping for a progressive agenda.

    What her campaign thrived on was demonizing anything that might remotely be construed as genuinely left-especially on foreign policy. Even her "feminism" was of the most crass, vulgar, second wave corporate style of feminism. Hillary gets a 1 on my progressive scale-or in other words, a solid D.

    A second point is that I disagree with you about how progressive Krugman is. Krugman is a garden variety mainstream economist who has made some interesting contributions to theories of financial crises and to trade theory. As a matter of practice though Krugman is thoroughly mainstream, save for his occasional nods to reality where he only partially embraces Keynes when it is convenient. On most matters his economics are only marginally distinguishable from the Washington Consensus.

  •  Krugman is a good man (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftahead

    with a good soul.  He spoke the truth as he saw it.  

    Let the past go.

  •  Let's face it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    judybrennan

    If history is any indication, the candidates we saw during the primaries were at their most progressive.  it's what they do to win democratic primaries.

    If the winner had been Clinton or Edwards, they too would have moved to the center.  I'm not sure though that movement such as that is what wins elections nowadays.  Polls indicate that the public's take on issues strongly identifies with the democrats.  The center has moved left, and the beltway pundits' received wisdom hasn't caught up imho.

  •  What bothered me about Krugman..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nellcote, leftahead

    ...is that he believed that Hillary was some kind of progressive.  If we had given Paul the raw facts of her voting history without her name attached to it, and the record she ran on - Bill Clinton's -  he would have been all over her right-of-center record.  She said she would "fight"; but there was no evidence in her long history of ever fighting for progressive causes against political will.  Never.  

    Obama has some centrist beliefs -- anyone who thinks he's Ralph Nader with a lot of money and power is naive.  But what I have seen Obama do time and time again (being from Chicago myself) is his ability to not just find consensus with the other side, but convince them that the progressive approach is in their best interests.  But here's the newsflash:  it doesn't work all the time and there are numerous times you cut your losses and pick your battles.  And you do this when you're building a working coalition.  That's where Obama's at now -- he does not have the power ascribed to him with our comic book mentality here at DKos.  

    He is dealing with a Democratic Congress full of Blue Dogs and representatives in red-leaning districts.  He is not President yet -- he has a lot to prove,a lot of people to win over.  Hobbling together support is an ongoing process which he has just begun.  You think Hillary was going to filibuster FISA?  Not do what she could to give the Blue Dogs and the DLC'ers political cover by supporting FISA?  Come on.  That's what Bill and Hillary did their entire careers.  They consistently caved to Republicans, over and over and over.  

    That Krugman bought her populist fighter shtick when her entire career belied that she would follow through had me scratching my head at a man I had always highly respected.

    Obama's health care plan a tad less professive than Hillary's?  Have you people met the Repubs and the Dem's who caved on health care 14 years ago?  The first thing Hillary was going to jettison was her precious mandates.  

    She wasn't a fighter.  She just played one on the campaign trail.  Paul's blindness to this surprised me.  That he hated Obama so much -- whose record on legislation was far more successful in getting progressive issues passed -- baffled me.  Still does.  

    And yes.  Obama believes in personal accountability.  It's about damned time progressives learned how to frame an issue that the conservatives thought they owned.  That just makes him smart, principled, and can take something that convervatives believe, put it into the mix of effective policies and legislation, and get things working again.  

    Without an us-against-them childish tantrum, like Bush and Hillary throw repeatedly.  

  •  It's not about "fighting" (0+ / 0-)

    I think where Krugman goes wrong is that he tends to focus on short term goals rather than building the infrastructure necessary to affect long term change.  

    I agree with him that both Edwards's and Clinton's health care plans are better than Obama's.  I even agree with him on the relative chances of seeing UHC in a Clinton vs. Obama administration.  

    However, while Clinton's plan may be closer to UHC, I believe that the chance it would be passed is virtually nil.  From a practical standpoint, then, the chance that we would see UHC under either administration is essentially the same.

    The question then becomes, which candidate will get us closer to UHC in the long run?  I believe that candidate is Barack Obama.  We don't need someone who will "fight" for something that's politically impossible.  We don't need someone who will try to shove something down people's throats.  What we need is someone who will change the way people think about issues.  We need someone who will make people believe that UHC is the right thing to do.  

    It's not about "fighting".  It's about convincing people.  Barack Obama is that candidate who can do that.  We may not see UHC under his presidency, but he, better than Clinton, can lay the foundation that will one day make it possible.

  •  Krugmann has been our guiding light (0+ / 0-)

    throughout these past 7 miserable years.  He strikes a cord with most progressives... and he seems to be mostly right.

    He liked Hillary's medical insurance plan better than Obama's and has said so... that makes him a person who believes in real progressive policies, not a partisan.

    I think he might have been pro-Edwards, because there we had a true progressive... and he recognized him as such.  Not pragmatic, but true to his principles.  We did not stand up with him, we might get a bit more "middle of the road" policies than we bargained for.

    I love Krugmann. He is a true liberal, with little patience for stupidity or compromise.

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