Krugman vs. Obama

Paul Krugman took another whack at Obama this morning:

From the beginning, I wondered what Mr. Obama’s soaring rhetoric, his talk of a new politics and declarations that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” (waiting for to do what, exactly?) would mean to families troubled by lagging wages, insecure jobs and fear of losing health coverage…the answer from Ohio and Pennsylvania, seems pretty clear: not much… .

Krugman thinks Democrats should put up a partisan fight like Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1930’s. In his book “Conscience of a Liberal” Krugman quotes Roosevelt’s 1936 speech in which he denounces Republicans as the party of “speculation, reckless banking, and war profiteering”. A party, he said, “united in their hatred of this candidate”. FDR’s answer to that challenge? “I welcome their hatred”.

These days, instead of that bring-it-on-bravado we have the leading Democrat calling for “a new politics”, a phrase, writes Krugman, that implicitly “places the blame for our current state equally on both parties”. Instead Krugman argues, Democrats should trumpet their history as the party of “economic security, the party that created Social Security and Medicare and defended those programs against Republican attacks…the party of prosperity”.

And unless Democrats can get past this self-inflicted state of confusion, there’s a very good chance that they’ll snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this fall.

I feel your pain, Paul. But here’s why I think it’s overstated. One, it’s the primary season, Democrat vs. Democrat. It’s hard to hold the party banner high when everyone is carrying the same banner; wait until the general election.

Two, Obama’s strategy of “new politics” is very smart—against Hillary, but also against all the candidates left standing: they represent the past. His main play is “change”.

Three (forgive me for this Machiavellian thought), it’s much smarter to begin the discussion with bring-us-together talk–even if you know the response to your policies will be a divided country and partisanship. Think Bush 2000. Announce that you are a uniter, then let the opposition appear divisive when they, inevitably, disagree with your proposals. Obama knows that he, or any president, will set the agenda. Let others disagree.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Obama really does think he will unite the country in a “new politics”. But I doubt it. He’s too smart.

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