Monday, December 17, 2007

Krugman on the Obama Fantasy

Krugman is having none of the Kumbayah nonsense surrounding little Mr. Barry Obama. He keeps pounding away at the central fallacy of the Obama campaign, indeed, of Obama's entire political career - that the problem is partisan division and he is the one to heal it. The key 'graphs:
Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that “us” includes the insurance and drug lobbies?

O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.

As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.

Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.


So what happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?

He will probably win — but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform. Let’s be blunt: pundits who say that what voters really want is a candidate who makes them feel good, that they want an end to harsh partisanship, are projecting their own desires onto the public.

And nothing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done.

I don't know if Edwards' angry ranting is truely the alternative Krugman believes it to be (refer to my immediately previous post on using the levers of government), but he is surely on to something about the nature of partisanship in the current political environment. I'm also not as sanguine as Paul about Obama's win should he gain the nomination, especially if Mitt Romney is the eventual Republican nominee.

The movement conservatives categorically reject any middle ground. It's their way or no way, as the record number of filibusters and other obstructionist shenanigans prove. There are a few, very few, Republicans left who might be willing to be be moderate, though most of them are at risk of losing their seats just as Lincoln Chaffee did, should they fraternize with the enemy. If there is division in the nation, it is due to the movement conservatives' refusal to live within the basic principles of law and civility.

The real point that Krugman fails to articulate here, though, in great part because of his over emphasis on populism, is that having a bully pulpit is no good if you don't have the knowledge and power to use the structure of the government to reshape both the process and public opinion. Obama seems to think that stirring appeals will do the hard work of governing for him. FDR not only stuck it to the fat cats, he did so by crafting a magnificent system that the conservatives still haven't undone. Neither Edwards nor Obama can speak about expanding the house that FDR built.


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