Who do you want answering the phone in the White House at 3.00 am: What’s a ‘Republican talking point’?

Paul Krugman’s theory is that the Bush administration and the Replublican Party are so bad, so partisan, that the Democrats should be unafraid of a little populism of their own to knock them off.  No objections there.  They’re a very special breed, US Republicans.  But then they seem OK at winning the vote.  So as others have commented – though I’m sorry I no longer have the links – perhaps the point of Obama’s less partisan style, isn’t that he’s trying to woo Republican politicians with his rhetoric, but rather repubican voters, or at least enough of them to put together a workable majority coalition.  Certainly if you look at where Obama wins primaries, it’s in Republican strongholds suggesting, at least at this stage that he’s likely to be the better candidate at winning the vote for President in enough Red States to matter.

Krugman has criticised Obama’s health plan as inferior to Clinton’s.  I agree with him that if one had power to implement any policy one wanted, Hillary’s policy is better.  But Hillary’s been here before.  She’s managed to steer health reform onto the rocks once before.  So Obama’s refusal to have a mandate in his health plan – refusal to force people to take up health insurance – might not be because he’s dumb enough not to understand the adverse selection problems of not having a mandate. It might be because he wants to beat a Republican to the White House.  His judgement might be that, come the election, he doesn’t want the Republicans to be able to say that the Democrats are going to force poor people who are struggling to make ends meet to buy health insurance.

Noting Obama’s weakness in Democratic politics, Hillary has pilloried him mercilessly for this problem with his health plan.  Fair enough.  She’s arguing her case. Of course when Obama fights back he argues that Hillary is going to force people to take up health insurance – which she will.  He gets an ad agency to present this to the public on tele and guess what?  The ad agency says exactly what an ad agency said to the enemies of Hillary’s health reform in 1994 (if I’ve got the date right).  They make a TV ad showing an average mainstream couple feeling bad about being forced to take out insurance.  Now as I understand it, while Hillary’s campaign has said there will be heavy subsidies for such people, they can’t and haven’t guaranteed that ‘everyone’s better off’, especially if they don’t value health insurance – for whatever reason.  I actually think that, for whatever reason, Obama’s not gone in hard on that question in debates – perhaps out of deference to the feeling in his party that it’s not cricket to hammer these points.

But when Obama responds to Hillary, when he talks about health care reform on his own behalf, he attacks the mandate in Hillary’s promises.  Is that legitimate?  Seems so to me.  But not to lots of Democrats who argue that it’s putting out ‘Republican talking points’.  Well yes, but it’s an Obama talking point too.  And Hillary is going to have to put up with the Republican talking points for long enough in the Presidential campaign, so it seems to me sensible that she takes some heat on it now – to get it road tested.  Want to make sure you’ve got a battle hardened campaigner with battle hardened policies on your side going into the Big One now don’t you?  Here’s Krugman:

I was willing to cut Obama slack on the lack of mandates in his plan, even though the economics says theyre necessary; I figured that in practice, if elected, hed end up doing the right thing.

I started ramping up the criticism when he started attacking his opponents from the right, making the lack of mandates a principle rather than a compromise because that was poisoning the well, making it much harder for any future Democratic president to implement a plan that will work.

And whaddya know, now hes running an ad that bears a striking resemblance to the infamous Harry and Louise ads, run by the insurance industry, that helped block health care reform in 1993.

Call it the audacity of cynicism.

Problem is working out what’s what here. Maybe Obama knows the case for mandates, but doesn’t figure it can be sold against the inevitable “Harry and Louise” style attack ads.  So is he supposed to forswear those arguments in his favour because he’s really compromising?  Apparently.  But I don’t see why – certainly not if Hillary feels free to attack his lack of mandates.

But somehow I reckon what’s going on is really something else.  It’s this.  Krugman identifies more with Clinton than Obama – probably on the entirely ‘fair’ grounds that he prefers her policies.  But when she argues something he believes in, he sees her defending right.  And when he sees her arguing something that he doesn’t agree with – like canning NAFTA (though he does now have a sneaking suspicion that NAFTA may not be all beer and skittles) – he figures ‘that’s politics’. He identifies with her in her struggle and – as he says – cuts her some slack.

But in addition to being the prime mover on NAFTA backsliding to nail down Iowa, the Clinton camp has done some nasty things.  This article on the Obama camp’s deployment of racism in a highly tactical way makes some very interesting and persuasive points despite it’s obvious bias.  But Bill Clinton’s likening Obama to Jesse Jackson – the black candidate – after Hillary’s debacle in South Carolina – disgusted and outraged even black people like Debra Dickerson who are vigorously opposed to the politics of black victimhood.  But Krugman doesn’t mention the moment on his blog.

Now Hillary’s been clawing her way back into the game with attack ads – it’s 3.00 am and who do you want answering the phone in the White House, 60 odd year old Hillary (or 70 odd year old John McCain) or 47 year old Obama.  Now that’s fair enough in my book, but in exactly the way that Obama’s point against Hillary’s mandates in health care is fair enough.  But isn’t it a Republican talking point? It certainly will be come October and November.

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[…] also been some quality work from Australian bloggers as well: Troppo, Pollbludger, LP and Freedom to Differ, but there’s obviously more out there. What blogs are […]

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

? Do I take this to mean that you are starting to see why people of my ideological position can’t take Krugman seriously as an economist anymore because all we see is the partisan hack?

To elaborate, Andrew Leigh, Brad DeLong, Megan McCardle and Tyler Cowen are my favourite web economists. I know that left-wing orthodoxy has it that Megan in particular is stupid, but bear with me. With all of the above, I read them with the feeling that they are asking a question and applying an economist’s techniques to the question. I get the feeling that they manage to surprise themselves with the results sometimes.

With Krugman, and to a lesser extent with the local until recently even more hirsute version, I get the impression that they are asking themselves a question, answering it, and applying an economist techniques to the answer. Maybe it is only subconsciously and there is no conscious bad faith, but when was the last time either of them suprised themselves with the results of a question?

Quiggin to a lesser extent because I think the above only holds on ‘big’ questions – I do recall reading him profess to ‘be surprised’ by the results of some research. But on ‘big’ questions you know his answer in advance, same as with Krugman. Significantly more so, it appears to me, than with the first-mentioned group.

Maybe I’m just wrong. I expect you will tell my that I am! James Farrell will probably do the same.

NB: I haven’t included you, although I am obviously a bit of a fan. That is because I value your political writing, including the political element to your economics writing, than your economics. It is more what you actually do, as well. I hope that isn’t taken the wrong way. I haven’t included James Farrell either although I do like some of what he has written because I don’t really have a feel for which group to include him with. I suspect he would rather be included with Krugman and Quiggin, if not for the reasons I have given. There are lots of other Australian economists I like too but I read them quite a bit less reqularly.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

Andrew Leigh, Brad DeLong, Megan McCardle and Tyler Cowen are my favourite web economists. I know that left-wing orthodoxy has it that Megan in particular is stupid, but bear with me. With all of the above, I read them with the feeling that they are asking a question and applying an economists techniques to the question. I get the feeling that they manage to surprise themselves with the results sometimes.

Megan is different from the others in your list, in that she’s not an economist. I rarely read what she writes, except where it’s criticized by actual economists. That’s probably where this “left-wing orthodoxy” comes from, and if she applies “an economist’s techniques” and comes up with surprising answers, well, that’s not really all that surprising.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

Source for the above:

As an aside, I am afraid that Henry made a common mistake in referring to me as an economist. I am but a lowly MBA, and have never claimed otherwise, but for some reason a lot of my readers are confused.

That’d be you, Patrick, “confused”.

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

I second Nick’s views. Centralist, non-secular, capitalist and free market oriented social democracies as found across North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand and some bits of South East Asia and Latin America basically have been proven to deliver the best quality of life and opportunities so far in human history. Arguing over how left or right they are economically is like arguing over whether you should put in a rumpus room or a pool. The house has already been built.

What I look for now in a Government is basically managerial competence coupled with some ability to intelligently invest in the future. And the wit, nous, empathy and backbone to not overreact or underreact to black swans. Which is not easy, yes. But our Governments better start get prepped for such things ‘cos there’s gonna be more and more of them.

And yes, the Howard Government will be treated a lot less kindly by history than the Hawke one. Not for ideological reasons but because the first mob dealt with their big challenges very pragmatically while the second lot basically alternately coasted and panicked.

For example, over $100 billion in unanticipated resource boom revenue alone pissed up against the wall in middle class welfare vote buying.

With that kinda money properly spent, we could have completely renovated the whole house, put in both a rumpus room (broadband) and a pool (drought-proofed the place) and still have enough left over for a plasma TV and sending the kids through uni. But no, all they left us was the TV.

We all own shares in the national house now. Let’s make sure we get a decent, reasonably efficient and responsive Body Corporate provider that doesn’t overpromise or underdeliver. And who has some competent tradesmen on their books.

Also Patrick – Megan MaCardle!!!??!!. To quote that great Chicago School economist John MacEnroe “You cannot be serious!!”. She was basically hired by The Atlantic as a controversy magnet. And like Ann Coulter, I think she knows it. Either that or you have to entertain the notion she’s actually serious about her lego (“just click these shiny square bits together right and it’ll all work better”)libertarian economic musings.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

Nabakov:
This isn’t a leading question to put you in a spot as Im genuinely interested.

Would you mind explaining

With that kinda money properly spent, we could have completely renovated the whole house, put in both a rumpus room (broadband) and a pool (drought-proofed the place) and still have enough left over for a plasma TV and sending the kids through uni. But no, all they left us was the TV.

I presume you’re referring to infrastructure.

What’s so bad and what need to improve?

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

“Whats so bad and what need to improve?”

We’ve got crap broadband with higher prices and less competition than most other OECD countries, we should have been drought-proofed by now, the hoo-ha over dredging the Port of Melbourne is symptomatic of the fact there’s been no long term nationally coordinated planning for our nationwide TDL network, all our internationally exposed lower-skilled jobs (especially in manufacturing and ICT back office) are going to China and India, biosecurity for our food industry (once one of our main competitive edges internationally in this sector) is turning into a joke and presenting Sydney and Melbourne as prime global destinations for skilled migration, international education and regional HQs/R&D centres is gonna be harder and harder to sell as these cities’ infrastructure are allowed to crumble.

Also regardless of whether you believe in AGW or not, it makes a fuckpot of sense to lessen our dependence on dirty and readily geopolitically hacked carbon-based energy. Here I think the key is ivnting and delivering an open source energy grid that accepts any and all energy generation options from nuclear to bio-hacked moths beaming kinectic wing flutter power.

That’d be the great breakthrough for the 21st century. A global energy web. Sounds pretty damn unlikely doesn’t it?. Try explaining the internet to someone just one generation ago.

While the private sector could handle some of this, it will still take, in a vast country with only 20 million people mainly distributed around the fringes, some serious public sector funding and intelligent and flexible governance as well.

I do hope the Rudd Government is up to it. Not holding my breath though. The Howard Government squandered that.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

Weve got crap broadband with higher prices and less competition than most other OECD countries,

Yes true. But the government basically fucked up the original telstra privatisation by not breaking up the wires and to create different entities. Have you seen the media and communication laws? Seriously go take a look. They are a dogs breakfast. More intervention will only create more trouble in the end. It would be best to buy back the wires from Telstra at an agreed price that doesnt cause value destruction to Telstra , then refloat it and get out of the way.

we should have been drought-proofed by now

We cant be drought proofed, but we could allow private market pricing in the water market. There have been some studies to suggest that water is too cheap by a factor of 10 in some places. How do we actually know what the price of water should be when we have very little in the way of price signals to tell us.

the hoo-ha over dredging the Port of Melbourne is symptomatic of the fact theres been no long term nationally coordinated planning for our nationwide TDL network,

Dunno much about that.

all our internationally exposed lower-skilled jobs (especially in manufacturing and ICT back office) are going to China and India,

But thats okay, as that sort of thing has been happening for ages. You know it used to be Japan in the 60s etc. Our jobs base wont shrink.

biosecurity for our food industry (once one of our main competitive edges internationally in this sector) is turning into a joke

Dunno much about that.

and presenting Sydney and Melbourne as prime global destinations for skilled migration, international education and regional HQs/R&D centres is gonna be harder and harder to sell as these cities infrastructure are allowed to crumble.

Whats beginning to crumble though? The water situation? Privatise and let the market determine the price. Governments are loath to raise prices because of what it will do to them electorally so its best to sell them and gift the shares to all the people in the states.

Also regardless of whether you believe in AGW or not, it makes a fuckpot of sense to lessen our dependence on dirty and readily geopolitically hacked carbon-based energy.

Theres little choice as nuke is off the table and the other stuff like solar and wind can never achieve what we get out of coal for baseload.(other than nuke)

Here I think the key is ivnting and delivering an open source energy grid that accepts any and all energy generation options from nuclear to bio-hacked moths beaming kinectic wing flutter power.

Ok fine. No problem with that and hope it happens.

Thatd be the great breakthrough for the 21st century. A global energy web. Sounds pretty damn unlikely doesnt it?. Try explaining the internet to someone just one generation ago.

Could happen with big reflectors up in space, but I think thats probably 200 years away though as the cost is huge. Then theres the possibility of cold fusion etc. meantime

I do hope the Rudd Government is up to it. Not holding my breath though. The Howard Government squandered that.

Look, most of things youre asking for are going to be private sector initiatives, as the government wont have the capital to make it through.

Faster Internet could have been with us a lot sooner if Telstra wasnt forced to deal with people that wanted to control its pricing to other providores. Looks like Telstra will end up doing the deal anyway. I can promise you though that it wont be cheap simply because that industry sector will never be allowed to be unregulated and Telsra was broken up very badly.

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

Hmm, JC you seem to have filtered most of my points through your own rosy or otherwise tinted glasses. And perhaps too I didn’t go into as much qualifying and quantifying detail as I should.

“Have you seen the media and communication laws? Seriously go take a look. They are a dogs breakfast. More intervention will only create more trouble in the end. It would be best to buy back the wires from Telstra at an agreed price that doesnt cause value destruction to Telstra , then refloat it and get out of the way.”

My definition of intelligent and flexible governance includes appropriate and effective deregulation. Look at France, the place that invented dirigistism and yet they finally got their act together to deftly deregulate and unbundle their state telco’s internet provider services to point where ADSL is pretty much free (eg: a flat 15 euros or so a month) in their big cities.

“We cant be drought proofed, but we could allow private market pricing in the water market.”

Yes we can. The money and tech is there. All it takes is the political will to treat it like some Snowy Mountain River Project. It’s an absolute good. Worked for Dubai.

“”…presenting Sydney and Melbourne as prime global destinations for skilled migration, international education and regional HQs/R&D centres is gonna be harder and harder to sell as these cities infrastructure are allowed to crumble.”

“Whats beginning to crumble though?””

Transport infrastructure for starters.

“”Thatd be the great breakthrough for the 21st century. A global energy web. Sounds pretty damn unlikely doesnt it?. Try explaining the internet to someone just one generation ago.”

“Could happen with big reflectors up in space, but I think thats probably 200 years away though as the cost is huge. Then theres the possibility of cold fusion etc. meantime””

The operative word here is ‘web’. As in ‘grid’. It’s not about where the power comes from as about how you most efficiently distribute the surplus fed into the grid through co-generation and such like. Shame Enron was run by incompetent crooks because I think they were onto something with energy trading markets. Just need the tech to catch up with the money.

“Look, most of things youre asking for are going to be private sector initiatives, as the government wont have the capital to make it through.”

Whereas the private sector, forced and focused on short term profits, and often competing bitterly amongst itself, is not the right vehicle for some nation-building projects – like say the Snowy Mountain River Project, the Hoover Dam, the US highway system, the internet, cracking the DNA code, etc, etc.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

I’ll get back on this tomorrow, but:

the Snowy Mountain River Project, the Hoover Dam, the US highway system, the internet, cracking the DNA code, etc, etc.

But you see we look at projects like that and think the private sector couldn’t build such a thing. It’s probably true in terms of the Snowy, hoover Damn. It would have probably been done much differently and we coudn’t imagine what it would have been like. But consumer needs would still have been satisfied.

Take telstra … Telecom…. PMG . If the govenernment hadn’t entered that market the telco market here would have been unrecognoizable to what we have now. We couldn’t even imagine what it would have looked like. But i bet you this much, it would have been better.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Not disappointed, Nick, I expected as much!

But all I really meant was that I don’t see Krugman’s opinion as authority for anything, because I know his opinion will serve his political ends. And I am not inclined to look at his reasoning on a topic, for the same reason (as well as his ridiculously rude attitude to people who disagree with him, see eg your last post about him!).

I knew I was stirring a bit when I included Megan, so I richly deserve looking stupid in return :)

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

NG, you aren’t one of those progressives that have ‘lost their sanity‘, by any chance?

One measure of how crazy people on at least one side of the Democratic nomination struggle have become: Ive gotten a number of complaints that the end of my last entirely non-political column, hope is not a plan, was a swipe at Obama.

Um, guys, its a phrase military types use; I started using it a lot when Iraq went pear-shaped. In fact, if you Google it, the first entry that comes up is a book about the Iraq war.

Im sorry to say that a large part of the progressive movement seems to have lost its sanity.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
13 years ago

Patrick

Then again, one of the comments to the Krugman post you linked provides a fairly good rejoinder to your (and Krugman’s) suggestion that the Obamaniacs have lost their sanity:

Indeed, for only a crazy person could think the following strategy is good for the progressive movement (from Jonathan Chait):

Clintons path to the nomination, then, involves the following steps: kneecap an eloquent, inspiring, reform-minded young leader who happens to be the first serious African American presidential candidate (meanwhile cementing her own reputation for Nixonian ruthlessness) and then win a contested convention by persuading party elites to override the results at the polls. The plan may also involve trying to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations, after having explicitly agreed that the results would not count toward delegate totals. Oh, and her campaign has periodically hinted that some of Obamas elected delegates might break off and support her. I dont think shed be in a position to defeat Hitlers dog in November, let alone a popular war hero.

Posted by Kelly

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Ken – not my suggestion! I was merely taking the opportunity to make fun of Krugman’s ridiculous partisan bitterness in a context in which it is apparent to NG!!

I am quite happy with the idea that Krugman is crazy and, whilst an excellent and interesting economist, primarily now concerned with the answer and not the method. As further testified to by the comment I linked to.