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.