Krugman, Obama and Democratic Values

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman criticizes Barack Obama's health care plan as inferior to those proposed by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. He also writes that Obama's response to those who point out its deficiencies, particularly in its lack of a universal health care mandate which would require health insurance for everyone, is one that will come back to hurt Americans, by fortifying Republican opposition, should he become President.

[L]ately Mr. Obama has been stressing his differences with his rivals by attacking their plans from the right — which means that he has been giving credence to false talking points that will be used against any Democratic health care plan a couple of years from now.

....Mr. Obama is storing up trouble for health reformers by suggesting that there is something nasty about plans that “force every American to buy health care.”

....My main concern right now is with Mr. Obama’s rhetoric: by echoing the talking points of those who oppose any form of universal health care, he’s making the task of any future president who tries to deliver universal care considerably more difficult.

After discussing why Obama is wrong to oppose a mandate and universal health care, he concludes:


[T]he debate over mandates has reinforced the uncomfortable sense among some health reformers that Mr. Obama just isn’t that serious about achieving universal care — that he introduced a plan because he had to, but that every time there’s a hard choice to be made he comes down on the side of doing less.

The Obama campaign has responded to Krugman's column. As Ezra says in a post about Obama's response to Krugman's column:

Something's really gone off the rails when the Obama campaign decides to release an oppo document on Paul Krugman. It's not only the actual attacks that are weak (most of them rely on misinterpreting one comment, then misinterpreting the next, then pretending there's a contradiction), but, seriously, it's Paul Krugman. Arguably the most progressive voice in American media. When I argued that the campaign should take the gloves off, I really didn't expect their target, in this document and in the health care fight more generally, would be progressivism. What in hell is going on over there?

Obama's biggest problem is turning out to be his inability to fight for Democratic values. As Ezra says:

Well, it was one thing when Obama simply didn't have a mechanism to achieve universality. It became a whole other when he began criticizing mechanisms to achieve universality. Previously, he'd gotten some flack for buying into the conservative argument that Social Security was in crisis. Now he was constructing a conservative argument against far-reaching reform proposals. And he kept doing it. And now his campaign is misrepresenting Krugman's comments in order to imply contradiction. But Krugman hasn't contradicted himself. Where his original comments focused on Obama's plan, his newer arguments are attempting to beat back Obama's rhetoric. And Obama's rhetoric has become much, much worse than his plan. That it's ended with him having to go on the offensive against the most forthrightly progressive voice in major American media is evidence of that fact.

A commenter at Ezra's (Jim in Portland) says:

Every pol will triangulate on some issues, that's a given. But triangulating among the Dem positions just can't be done by adopting the words and themes of the GOP. That's a sellout - and my bet is most progressives won't be the buyers.

Inexperience counts and it shows! My conclusion at this time: Obama's not ready for prime time.

Big Tent Democrat, who consistently writes about Krugman's columns here, is on a much deserved traveling break for a few weeks, but he whispered in my e-mail box:

Krugman PUSHES ALL THE CANDIDATES from the progressive point of view. Including Hillary. Barack Obama has a history of attacking progressive voices. See his first strike here, in which he attacked those of us who criticized Dems who voted for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts in 2005. Obama wrote:
According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.

The Hillary Clinton campaign, as it has all this year -- attending Yearly Kos, fighting O'Reilly, skipping Fox Debates, etc.-- understands that Dems do not all agree on the issues but welcomes ALL Democratic voices, especially progressive voices.

Barack Obama prefers to attack Democrats instead of fighting for Democrat values against Republicans. Hillary Clinton knows who the REAL fight will be with.

Jerome Armstrong at MyDD has two good responses (here and here)to Obama's swipe at Krugman. As to some theories about Obama's strategy in making this ill-advised attack on Krugman, see Third Estate.

Update: Taylor Marsh weighs in.

< Dems Determined To Own Iraq Debacle | Huckabee and Dumond: Succumbing to the Anti-Clinton Zealots >
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    Obama needs these issues. (none / 0) (#1)
    by MarkL on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 11:23:30 AM EST
    I like the analysis at Third Estate.
    If correct, it shows that Obama really is the protege of Lieberman and McCain that I thought he was 2 years ago.
    I think another issue is at play here: Obama has concluded that talking about Iraq alone will not take him past Hillary.
    I surmise, judging from the number of times Obama has touted his 2002 speech, that he thought he would seem clearly superior to Hillary on Iraq. He does not, because he has done almost nothing in the Senate, and has voted to fund the war.
    The issue of Iraq does showcase his values, but it also demonstrates his weakness in fighting for those values---the same problem mentioned in Jeralyn's article.

    I have found Obama an acceptable candidate recently---behind Hillary---but now I'm  reconsidering.

    Semantics. (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mystylplx on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 11:53:32 AM EST
    Still the semantic argument from Krugman? None of the candidates plans will cover every single person, mandates or no mandates. If we can't stop people from killing each other by outlawing murder then we sure as hell can't force people to sign up for medical insurance by making it illegal to be uninsured. None of the candidates plans will be "Universal" if "Universal" means every single person. The only way to do that is a single payer system taken out of tax revenue that automatically covers every American, and none of the candidates plans do that.

    This is a silly semantic argument. Stop already. This is like saying that a 'Universal Housing Plan' that made housing available to any homeless person wasn't really "Universal" if it didn't make homelessness against the law. It's a bizarre and senseless argument and Krugman is full of crapola.

    Obama has been attacked by John Edwrads, Hillary Clinton, Paul Krugman, and others on a purely senseless semantic argument. And then he gets criticized for defending himself.

    Mandates won't end up insuring any more people, especially after people realize there's no teeth in the mandate (and there won't be), but what they WILL do is insure that any plan that contains mandates will never pass congress in a million years.

    Obama's Lack of Ideology (none / 0) (#3)
    by BDB on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 01:34:59 PM EST
    At first I thought Obama's rhetoric was different from his ideology and that he was using his inclusive rhetoric to try to score points for liberal and progressive ideas.  I think Hillary Clinton often does this, her language on issues, especially domestic issues, is often - but not always - much more moderate than her voting record.  

    The longer the campaign has gone on, however, the more I've become convinced that Obama isn't just using rhetoric.  I think he's generally sympathetic to a lot of liberal causes, but I don't think he's an ideologue in the classic sense.  Whereas I think Clinton is sometimes frustrating because she's pragmatic in a political sense (the politics of the feasible), Obama is frustrating because he's pragmatic in a larger policy sense.  He really does believe that everyone just needs to sit down together and work out solutions to the problems.  I think Clinton(and Edwards) want that, too, but I think they both approach it from a much more ideological position.  Perhaps a benefit of having fought all those 1960s battles that Obama wants to leave in our past.

    There was a time in my life when Obama's approach would've been very appealing to me.  That time has past.  Maybe I've been reading too much Naomi Klein, but I want an ideological candidate.  We don't need to sit down with neoconservatives and hammer out soloutions.  They aren't about solutions, they are about weakening liberal positions and biding their time until they get back in power.  

    A Deaf Ear to Obama's Spews (none / 0) (#4)
    by koshembos on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 03:13:59 PM EST
    Whether you are a progressive or a centrist Democrat, you shouldn't turn a deaf ear to the content and style of the Obama Republican-like campaign and thinking. Krugman hit Obama for that in a previous artile; Jane Hamsher said similar things in Huffington's.

    There is absolutely nothing positive to gain from supporting a semi-Republican for a Democratic candidate. It's about time people from all walks of life, Hollywood in particular, realize that if you don't want Hillary (like myself), there is an excellent progressive candidate in Edwards.