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Paul Krugman is very smart.

He has a Nobel Prize.

He is a tenured professor at Princeton.

He’s written a whole bunch of stuff.

He’s a brilliant economist.

But he (still) can’t count to 60.

Krugman’s New York Times column today constitutes a major contribution to the heterodox "But I want a pony" theory of politics -- initially developed by various contributors to the liberal web site Daily Kos -- which rejects conventional models of political outcomes that are based on outmoded methods such as counting votes and knowing the rules of the legislative process in favor of the claim advanced by pony theorists that anything is possible if only the president "fights" for it.

This theory echoes the Bush administration’s criticism of the "reality-based community’s" alleged failure to recognize that actions of sufficiently determined political actors can in fact override and replace existing reality with alternative realities (which will then be subjected to judicious study by the "reality-based community").

Under the "But I want a pony" theory, presidents who bow to the constraints of reality, rather than overriding it through sufficient determination and combativeness, are deemed "unprepared to deal with the world as [they] find it."

Krugman argues that President Obama has committed this error -- by failing to "fight" (apparently meaning to give sufficiently forceful speeches) for a larger stimulus, or to defend the Fed’s policy of Quantitive Easing against Chinese objections in sufficiently confrontational terms, or by suggesting the possibility of compromise with Republicans who will soon hold the power to block his entire agenda.

According to the "But I want a pony" theory, the fact that the 60 votes necessary to overcome Republican filibusters were not available is not the obstacle to passage that traditional theories which regard politics as subject to the constraints of reality consider it. Similarly, the unimaginative conventional wisdom -- that calling people (Chinese officials, or Republican members of Contress) hypocrites is usually an ineffective way to elicit their cooperation where such cooperation is both seemingly contrary to their interests and necessary for the achievement of one's own goals -- can be set aside due to the recent paradigm-shattering discovery of the reality-bending properties of vehemence.

While holding the potential to revolutionize the field of political science as much as any innovation since the remote viewing approach advocated by Courtney Brown, pony theory still exhibits gaps and contradictions requiring further research. For instance, it fits uncomfortably with Krugman’s previous preference for quantitative research methods in economics, which do in fact rely on both counting and on an ontological commitment to the existence of objective reality, rather than pony theory's view of reality as malleable and socially constructed.

President Obama has thus far insisted on counting all the way to 60, and acted as though measures that could not command 60 votes in the Senate could not overcome a filibuster.

But Paul Krugman is very smart. Maybe he’s figured out a shortcut to or end run around 60 involving "fighting," by means of successfully framing one's preferred policies as desirable, and discrediting opponents' claims. Let’s watch Krugman show us how it’s done:



Originally posted to mll on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 02:06 PM PST.


Paul Krugman

68%48 votes
15%11 votes
7%5 votes
8%6 votes

| 70 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's not really what he said. (14+ / 0-)

    IMO, he really said that you don't start out by telling people you are going to fold. Ever buy a car?

  •  Is this a rerun (8+ / 0-)
    from a public option diary.

    Now it's the 60 excuse.

    Trumka: "Absolutely Insane" to Extend Tax Cuts for Millionaires

    by TomP on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 02:19:08 PM PST

    •  Nope. Original material, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angry marmot

      One of the virtues of Pony theory is its generalizability.

      It can be applied across a range of issues, including -- as you point out -- the debate over the public option.

      If pony theory is valid, it should be able to more or less magically overcome filibusters in any issue area: health care, economic stimulus, cap and trade...the range of application is virtually limitless!

  •  I think a lot of people, Paul Krugman (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    included, do not understand the difference between the "right thing" and the "right thing to do". One deals with and ideal, the other with reality.

    True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. - K.V.

    by psilocynic on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 02:19:57 PM PST

    •  The right thing to do (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      laker to make them actually USE the filibuster to stop us.

      America, we can do better than this...

      by Randomfactor on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 02:22:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly. Krugman is brilliant at (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      explaining why policies are good or bad, in principle.

      His judgments of the merits and demerits of policies are spot on. For example, a larger stimulus was definitely desirable. Quantitative easing is an appropriate action by the Fed. And the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy should be allowed to expire.

      But he lacks any sense of what is politically feasible. A larger stimulus was desirable, but not possible.

      But then, maybe pony theory can square the circle.

      •  Sometimes we don't know what is possible until we (0+ / 0-)


        Many who know how to count to 60, still wonder what might have been possible had Obama tried a more agressive Martin Luther King, Jr. type of strategy.

        And then converting, bribing, or intimidating one or two Republican's to our side.

        Now we will never know.  

        The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

        by HoundDog on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 07:24:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is not one of those times. (0+ / 0-)

          The issue wasn't one or two Republicans. Nearly a fifth of the Senate was unwilling to vote for a stimulus bill above $800 billion.

          The final cost, $789 billion, is well below the $800 billion ceiling that the three Republicans and a group of 15 centrist Senate Democrats had demanded in exchange for their support.

          There was no possible way to convince 18 Senators to change their vote. An MLK strategy would have taken months, probably years, by which time we'd be mired in a depression that the stimulus bill avoided.

          An MLK-type strategy to demand a public option would have resulted in no health care bill at all.

          •  I'm suggesting a totally different scenario where (0+ / 0-)

            President Obama and all of us Democrats pulled the stops from the first month with DADT, and other progressive legislation that showed courage, and capitalized on the momentum of the election.

            A series of quick wins, or even courageous principled losses could have created a very different first year, so that by the time these votes came up, we could have had different numbers.

            A real fierce urgency of now kind of strategy might have fired up our base.  

            The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

            by HoundDog on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 08:01:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes, I understand your point. It's insane. (0+ / 0-)

              First, in January 2009, the economy was in extremely bad condition, with several hundreds thousand jobs being lost every month, and a depression far worse than what we experienced a very real danger. There was simply no option but to focus on getting immediate package of a stimulus program to rescue the economy. And their was no time for the kind of campaign that would have been necessary to persuade 18 Senators to change their position, based on their own reading of what voters in their states would accept. That's why Obama proposed a plan before he was even sworn in, hoping Congress would have the bill ready for his signature on inauguration day. The idea that the president's initial focus would be anything other than rescuing the economy is crazy. If he'd put anything ahead of jobs, he would have instantly lost the support of half of the public. Your scenario would require the president to commit political suicide.

              Second, you evidently don't understand of the most fundamental things about American politics: Getting legislation passed costs political capital. And trying to do multiple things at the same time results in not getting any of them.  Newly inaugurated presidents do not gain support when they pass controversial legislation; they lose it. Otherwise, Obama would be much more popular than he is after achieving the best record of progressive legislative accomplishment since the 1960s.

              Remember how much damage Clinton suffered from the perception that he was putting gays-in-the-military ahead of dealing with a much less severe recession? Remember how Clinton's lack of focus undermined his legislative agenda?

              DADT, and other progressive legislation would have been controversial, and resulted in declining public support for Obama. By the time he got around to health care, there would have been no chance of passing anything. That's why Presidents but their top priorities first. Obama did stimulus, health care, and financial reform first. If he'd delayed them, he wouldn't have had enough political capital left by them he brought them up, because he'd have spent it all on other things.

              Third, you seem to assume that the progressive base shares your particular priorities. Different progressives prioritize different issues. For me, healthcare was the overriding issue. It is the moral issue of our time. After preventing a depression, nothing was more important than extending coverage to tens of millions of Americans. You seem to think DADT and other issues are more important. Your fully entitled to your own priorities. But if Obama had done anything other than health care right after the stimulus, a lot of us would have been angry and disillusioned.  

              Finally, let's assume that the sort of agenda you would have preferred would have fired up the base. The base is not enough. Even if the base were fired up, it would have alienated moderates and independents, leaving Obama with insufficient public support to pass his highest legislative priorities.

  •  When was the last filibuster? (0+ / 0-)

    I don't think it was within the past 20 years or so.  I could be wrong, of course.

    America, we can do better than this...

    by Randomfactor on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 02:22:02 PM PST

  •  Leeches! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When the politicians are all calling for bigger and better leeches for the patient, isn't it perhaps more sensible for a doctor to suggest that the fever and clearly septic wound might respond better to antibiotics?

    We know that (R)s don't believe in macroeconomics (or evolution or global warming), but does that mean the rest of us can't learn from it and use it, and demand that our representatives do so as well?

  •  There is winning a vote today (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IowaPopulist, laker

    and there is pushing public opinion, getting the handful of uncertain votes to swing, and good old horse trading.

    I may want a pony, so I'm going to start by talking about all of the benefits of riding animals, and if I can get the discussion to the point of which riding animal, then I can argue I want a pony and not a plow horse or a mule, or that we need to get two ponies and each have one.

    •  Right. (0+ / 0-)

      And in January 2009, we were in an economic emergency. We needed a "winning vote today"; taking several months to move public opinion wasn't an option. The economy would have deteriorated, possibly beyond saving from a depression, by then. And it's unlikely that delay would have persuaded more Republicans to vote for a larger stimulus, anyway.

      •  We are still in an economic emergency. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        denise b

        Everyone in the bottom 80% is pretty well aware of it.

        There's a month long waiting list in my area to get an appointment to start selling Plasma for 20 bucks a shot.

        There are no "permanent tax cuts". 9th grade civics, people.

        by JesseCW on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 04:19:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, we are. (0+ / 0-)

          But it would be one hell of a lot worse if the stimulus hadn't passed, or had been delayed significantly while the economy was in free fall. (It's not in free fall anymore; it's just not growing fast enough.

          Holding out for a larger stimulus --which we wouldn't have gotten because the votes just weren't there for it -- would have made things worse, not better.

          •  Did you really just declare that weak stimulous (0+ / 0-)

            is proof that a strong one could not have passed?

            You do realize that doesn't logically follow, right?

            You just keep claiming, with no support, that every bill that has passed has been absolutely the best possible bill.

            That is to say, you're starting from the premise that President Obama is perfect and then trying to use that premise as proof of itself.

            There are no "permanent tax cuts". 9th grade civics, people.

            by JesseCW on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 08:30:02 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Are you really incapable of understanding (0+ / 0-)

              obvious facts?

              1. Passing the stimulus required 60 votes.
              1. Of the 60 Senators who voted for the stimulus, 18 of them were unwilling to vote for a stimulus larger than 800 billion.
              1. Sixty minus eighteen is 42. There were forty-two Senators -- all Democrats -- willing to vote for a larger stimulus. Forty-two votes were not enough to pass a stimulus bill.
              1. Therefore, it was mathematically impossible to pass a larger stimulus bill.

              Which part of that do you not understand? You do realize that does logically follow, right?

              You just keep claiming, with no support, that every bill that has passed has been absolutely the best possible bill.

              Wrong. I keep proving that with, you know, facts (see numbers 1-4 above). By contrast, all you've got is imaginary alternative universes that are incompatible with known facts.

              The burden of proof here is on you. If you think that a better bill was possible, you have to come up with a plausible scenario under which that could occur. You've failed to do that. Apparently, Krugman's not the only one who can't count to 60.

              •  omitted link for point 2 (0+ / 0-)


                The final cost, $789 billion, is well below the $800 billion ceiling that the three Republicans and a group of 15 centrist Senate Democrats had demanded in exchange for their support.

  •  What a load of crap (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Obama is the lousiest negotiator on the planet, starting out in some pre-compromised position at every turn.

    Extremely demoralizing to his base.

    After 2 years of this, I don't really care if Democrats ever win again.   It's just to damn embarrassing to be a Democrat with the likes of him and Harry Reid at the helm.

    When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. Jimi Hendrix

    by Dave B on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 02:48:34 PM PST

  •  Krugman is right that the President (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    should have hammered the Chinese for the hypocrisy of their complaints about quantitative easing. It would have alerted their ever so delicate sensibilities to the reality that Congress can and should enact tariffs against Chinese goods if they don't halt their daily manipulation of the dollar-yuan exchange rate. He should also be attacking the Republicans for their millionaire's tax cut. The next election is less than 2 years away and it is not too early to tell people where their new heroes stand, and for whom.

    You are right that the President's power is limited, but his freedom of speech isn't.

    •  Obama's saying or not saying those things (0+ / 0-)

      makes no real difference to the policy outcome. Krugman's case for Obama to "fight" is different from yours. He thinks being more confrontational will lead top better policy outcomes, regardless of political realities such as the need for Republican votes.

      As for your case: China is well aware of the sentiment in the Congress. And Obama has certainly attacked the Republican position on taxes. But Obama needs cooperation from both of them, and attacking them makes such cooperation less likely.

      And if Obama doesn't at least give the appearance of being willing to compromise, it will absolve Republicans of blame for the gridlock they're going to cause. If he expresses a willingness to compromise, it puts the onus on the Republicans to make concessions. Which puts them in a tough spot because their base doesn't want compromise, but independents do. It's not a reluctance to fight on Obama's part; it's political jujitsu.

      The Democratic base may be in a tizzy now, but they'll be plenty of fights to mobilize us between now and 2012.

      •  He doesn't need cooperation from China. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Congress and the President can force them to either quit manipulating or find another market for their goods. Talking to them has been totally unsuccessful. He should put them on notice publicly and score political points at home in the process. I'm also not advocating that he fight the Republicans to the death. He should score his points then compromise. They are big boys (although maybe only adolescents) and knowing that they will be made to pay a political price for misbehaving will have a salutary effect on their behavior in general.

        •  Incredibly shortsighted (0+ / 0-)

          Obama needs China's cooperation across a range of issues -- including dealing with North Korea, Iran (with which China is a major trading partner), Pakistan (which allies with China as a counter to India), and Sudan (where China has major investments). China has influence over those countries.

          And then there's the fact that China holds over 800 billion dollars in US debt.  

          Across a range of issues important to the Obama administration, we need China's cooperation. Confronting them over currency risks failure of other priorities.

          •  It's incredibly short sighted to let them destroy (0+ / 0-)

            our industrial economy for hoped diplomatic assistance that they don't provide even when they get everything they want from us. The diplomatic stuff is, at any rate, insignificant. As for China countering India, China has a major territorial dispute with India. They are a real danger to that country.

  •  Amazed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that on the movie "Inside Job" they did not mention him, when he was warning all the time about the "real estate bubble"

    A good movie anyhow.

  •  Demand double, negotiate for half. (0+ / 0-)

    If you ask for half, you'll get a quarter.

    Every time they mention the filibuster, take something off the table. If they want to fillibuster, that's fine. The longer they filibuster, the less you're willing to negotiate with them and the more you're willing to negotiate with others. Make the individuals sit there for days or weeks with their mug on TV until enough of their colleagues negotiate pork that the magic 60 comes up. Make the one who filibusters actually pay the price, and break out the Prisoner's Dilemma grid to ratchet up the defections.

    It's not math, man, it's politics. Unless the Democrats break the GOP's party discipline, this country is in for a world of hurt, so get on it.

    --- Perma-ban or bust. - opendna

    by opendna on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 06:54:55 PM PST

    •  Wrong (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Obama's request for the stimulus was for less than the stimulus that Congress actually passed.

      When the meeting broke up, after four hours of discussion, interrupted only briefly when the President brought out a cake and led the group in singing "Happy Birthday" to Orszag, there was still indecision about how big a stimulus Obama would recommend to Congress. Summers, Romer, Geithner, Orszag, Emanuel, and Jason Furman huddled in the corner to lock down the number. Emanuel made the final call: six hundred and seventy-five to seven hundred and seventy-five billion dollars, with the understanding that, as the bill made its way through Congress, it was more likely to grow than to shrink. The final legislation was for seven hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars.

      And asking for more would not have resulted in a larger bill. There were 18 Senators (3 Republicans, 15 conservative Democrats) who insisted that the bill not exceed $800 billion.

      If Obama had asked for more than a billion, it would have resulted in those 18 Senators digging in their heals, and the result would have been gridlock, not a larger stimulus bill.

      Congress was "a big constraint," Axelrod said. "If we asked for $1.2 trillion, it probably would have created such a case of sticker shock that the system would have locked up there." He pointed east, toward Capitol Hill. "And the world was watching us, the market was watching us. If we failed to produce a stimulus bill, that in and of itself could have had deleterious effects."

      And your theory about "making the Republicans pay the price" makes no sense. What makes you think the blame would fall on the Republicans?

      Yes, it's absolutely politics. That's the problem. Krugman and the pony theorists have no idea how politics works. Obama does.

  •  Totally pathetic (0+ / 0-)

    Nothing but an lame excuse to use the word "ponies" to slam everyone you disagree with.

    •  No, I'm not (0+ / 0-)

      slamming everyone I disagree with. I'm slamming people who make unfounded criticisms of the president reflecting ignorance of the political constraints he faces, and pretend that you can overcome a filibuster with 42 votes (see here).

      It's the pony theorists who are pathetic. Unfortunately, they seem to be taking over, to judge by the poll. For those of us who want this to be a reality-based community, that's tragic.

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