Channeled By Krugman: What Obama Needs To Learn From FDR

Last July, I wrote a post titled What Obama Needs To Learn From . . . FDR. One of my main points was:

[T]hat is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle. . . . FDR governed as a liberal but politicked like a populist. . . . The lesson of Hofstadter is to embrace liberal governance and understand populist politics. It may sound cynical, but you must get through the door to govern. Lincoln knew this. FDR knew this. Hofstadter knew this. I hope Obama can learn this.

Today Paul Krugman, who has discussed this issue in some detail with Brad Delong, picks up on the lessons of FDR:

Barack Obama recently lamented the fact that “politics has become so bitter and partisan” — which it certainly has. But he then went on to say that partisanship is why “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that’s what we have to change first.” Um, no. If history is any guide, what we need are political leaders willing to tackle the big problems despite bitter partisan opposition. . . .

Or to put it another way: what we need now is another F.D.R., not another Dwight Eisenhower. . . . I urge Mr. Obama — and everyone else who thinks that good will alone is enough to change the tone of our politics — to read the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the quintessential example of a president who tackled big problems that demanded solutions.

For the fact is that F.D.R. faced fierce opposition as he created the institutions — Social Security, unemployment insurance, more progressive taxation and beyond — that helped alleviate inequality. And he didn’t shy away from confrontation. “We had to struggle,” he declared in 1936, “with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. ... Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Yes, I made this point also, when Cass Sunstein made his ahistorical argument of FDR as nonpartisan. More.

Krugman has grasped and expanded the essential point all Democrats must learn - they can not wish away politics and partisanship. Or as Krugman puts it -- only through solutions garnered THROUGH partisan politics can true bipartisanship emerge:

If all goes well, we’ll eventually have a new era of bipartisanship — but that will be the end of the story, not the beginning. . . . It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by “modern Republicans” who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.

In his discussion with Brad Delong, Krugman posited, as described by Delong:

. . . . Second, while I [Delong] am profoundly, profoundly disappointed and disgusted by the surrender of the reality-based wing of the Republican policy community to the gang of Republican political spivs who currently hold the levers of power, I do think that there is hope that they will come to their senses and that building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward will be possible and is our best chance.

Paul, I think, believes otherwise: The events of the past decade and a half have convinced him, I think, that people like me are hopelessly naive, and that the Democratic coalition is the only place where reality-based discourse is possible. Thus, in his view, the best road forward to (a) make the Democratic coalition politically dominant through aggressive populism, and then (b) to argue for pragmatic reality-based technocratic rather than idealistic fantasy-based ideological policies within the Democratic coalition.

He may well be right.

I think, in this column, Krugman has explained precisely why he is right.

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    As I pointed out before (none / 0) (#1)
    by Stewieeeee on Fri Jan 26, 2007 at 10:10:56 AM EST
    the comparison isn't, I was going to say apt, but it's not fair either.

    FDR implemented his great vision against the backdrop of the Great Depression.  NOT against the backdrop of partisanship.  Which is not say partisanship didn't exist back then, it's only to say that his ability to implement his vision was not, primarily, the result of partisanship.  But the result of an event called the Great Depression.

    My guess is Krugman isn't saying FDR could have implemented his same vision against the backdrop of 50s prosperity fueled by partisanship.

    And lo behold.  If half of America was standing in a bread line right now, Obama's priorities might change.

    Well,. you would think that ... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Meteor Blades on Fri Jan 26, 2007 at 01:37:58 PM EST
    ...since it's what you have been saying for so long.

    Kudos on breaking through to the megamedia.

    A related Obama problem (none / 0) (#3)
    by chemoelectric on Fri Jan 26, 2007 at 04:00:16 PM EST
    A related problem with Barack Obama is that the things he says about religion are prejudiced against atheists. For example, his claim that the 'I have a dream' speech and an inaugural speech of Lincoln wouldnâ€<sup>TM</sup>t have the same force without the mention of 'God'; this is total nonsense. Atheists can have the same dream as MLK and just as deeply, and it is insulting to suggest otherwise. As for Lincoln, his greatest speech, the Gettysburg Address, except for a rather neutral reference to a 'creator', appealed only to humanity. Only after the speech was delivered did he, in his constant editing, insert 'God' as an embellishment.

    Should we be surprised that a desire to embrace the 'middle' comes along with this particular mild bigotry?

    Religion and Politics (none / 0) (#4)
    by Ernesto Del Mundo on Fri Jan 26, 2007 at 05:45:35 PM EST
    I don't believe either Bush or Obama believe any of the religious references they spew. They just do it to get votes from those people that they know can be fooled most of the time.

    Genocide, anti-Semitism, and FDR's responsibility (none / 0) (#5)
    by Aaron on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 05:49:05 PM EST
    I hope that Barack Obama doesn't learn to sit back and do nothing while genocide occurs right before his eyes, the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt did.

    Just as Bill Clinton sat by and did nothing while a million Rwandans were butchered like cattle in the streets and in their homes, FDR knew as early as 1940, that the Germans were sending Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals etc. to death camps to be gassed and then incinerated in ovens.  By 1942 FDR was well aware of the scope of the genocide, particularly as it pertained to the Jews, and yet he did nothing.

    President Roosevelt knew that bombing the rail lines which were feeding concentration camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald would have severely hampered the effectiveness of the Nazi final solution, and yet he did nothing.

    President Roosevelt knew that he could bomb the death camps themselves, and though this would have killed some Jews directly, it would've saved many more by destroying the mechanisms of genocide, and yet he did nothing.

    President Roosevelt knew that he could grant Jews visas to enter the United States or he could have convinced the British to allow fleeing Jews to enter Palestine, and yet he did nothing.

    President Roosevelt knew about, and was perhaps responsible for, the US State Department's secret obstruction of rescue opportunities for Jews, and it's blocking of the transmission of Holocaust related information, and he allowed this so that the allies and the United States would not be burdened with Jewish refugees.  Making him a willing accomplice in genocide.

    FDR only issued an executive order creating the War Refugee Board, after it became politically expedient to do so when the Congress began pressuring him for action, saving the lives of 200,000 Jews and 20,000 non-Jews.  Far too little, far too late in my estimation.

    To some FDR is a hero, and there is no doubt that he did great things for America, just as Hitler made the trains run on time, but there's also no doubt that he was a consummate anti-Semite, who had no problem allowing a million Jewish children and babies to be systematically erased from existence, butchered like pigs in a slaughterhouse.

    This is not something that I will ever forgive or forget, never forget!  I spit in FDR's face, and if I ever get a chance I will surely piss on his grave.  I hope that bastard burns in hell for all eternity, for it is well deserved.

    Let's just hope that if Barack Obama is ever elected president by the people, he will not become a silent partner in the elimination of an entire race of people, and a facilitator of genocide.

    I agree with you as far as it goes (none / 0) (#6)
    by Iris on Tue Sep 30, 2008 at 02:34:01 PM EST
    but it's easy to criticize FDR in hindsight for not doing more to stop the Holocaust (you could argue that defeating the Germans stopped it pretty well, and how many more would have died if that had been delayed?).  Also, let's recall that the liberal critique of Obama included the fact that Samantha Power was one of his advisors (advocated intervening to stop genocide) and while he opposed the Iraq war from the start, he has talked about taking unilateral action in Pakistan if we had information on the whereabouts of Bin Laden.  But only as a LAST resort, as in if Pakistan refused to take action themselves.  But that's very much in line with how the U.S. would go about catching an international criminal.

    As for genocide during the 90's, I remind you that the Clinton administration intervened more than once to stop genocide, over conservative Republican opposition.  Remember?  They accused him of "wagging the dog" to distract from personal scandals.