Paul Krugman writes terrifically about so many things--most recently his dissection of America's insanely unbalanced subsidies for owner-occupied housing.
Yet when the name "Barack Obama" appears, the great economist seems to lose his moorings. This morning's column slams Obama for his alleged centrist tendencies.
As Krugman begins:
It's feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It's also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country's direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton?
This sounds odd coming from Krugman, who spent months knocking Obama for allegedly denigrating the Clinton years. Krugman also omits any mention of that little Iraq matter, on which Obama has not been a waffling centrist.
Krugman denigrates both Clinton and Obama by holding them against a false standard of what liberal Democratic politics is about. Krugman also offers a rather naïve analysis of American politics. President Clinton was a centrist for many reasons. The most important ones had nothing to do with his inner feelings or his personal ideology. He was centrist because he could count the wafer-thin majority he struggled to hold in the Senate and the House. If he had captured the support of seven more reliable Senators, Clinton would have enjoyed a different presidency.
FDR enacted the New Deal with a huge legislative majority. Rick Perlstein's engrossing Nixonland notes that LBJ enacted Medicare, Medicaid, and civil rights legislation with a 2-1 House majority. Before and after this unique period, LBJ was perhaps the ultimate dealmaker and triangulating politician.
If Barack Obama enjoys a large majority, he will be positioned to enact a very progressive legislative agenda. If he doesn't, he will have to make painful compromises. Without the votes, full-throated partisan rhetoric quickly becomes empty bluster.
My jaw dropped farthest when I read Krugman's twin dismissal of Obama's political challenge and the historical nature of a potential Obama victory. He writes: "One thing is clear: for Democrats, winning this election should be the easy part." Man, I wish I had this confidence.
Electing an African-American president of the United States named Barack Hussein Obama is never going to be the easy part. Lest you have any doubts, read Andrew Golis's sobering Talking Points Memo commentary.
Golis notes what another story in today's Times can only discuss through polite euphemism: Even in 2008, many American voters are racially prejudiced.
Given this American reality, one might say it is a mistake for Democrats to nominate a black man as its standard bearer. I refuse to make this concession. Can we say the obvious? An Obama victory would be a huge moment in American history. If anyone can climb this mountain, Obama is the one to do it.
His presidency might succeed or fail. We cannot know today if he would deliver on health reform, or whether his presidency will be swallowed by a terrorist attack, budget problems, or Iraq. One thing we do know: He won't be remembered as another Carter or another Clinton. He won't be remembered as another Reagan. He will be remembered as himself, not another anybody.
Make no mistake. This election will be a dogfight. The best thing Obama can do for every progressive cause is to assemble an electoral majority. Paul Krugman worries that an Obama victory would be less transformative than Reagan's was. I can only wonder what country Krugman is talking about.
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