Krugman Goes After Obama

20 12 2007

Paul Krugman has sounded off yet again on Barack Obama for his perceived conciliatory rhetoric and posture on Social Security and Medicare in a recent interview at TPM. Apparently, Obama gives Krugman the impression that he is too much of an appeaser and not ready for the partisan nastiness that will be required to get universal health care coverage passed.

It should be no surprise that Sen. John Edwards remains the darling populist that Krugman wishes to be president. But considering that the most of the labor world has given up on Edwards ever since he decided to take matching funds, Krugman’s is willing to settle for Hillary Clinton. This has led some to suggest that Krugman’s criticism of Obama a just 2 weeks away from the Iowa caucuses is really a ploy for bolstering Clinton’s chances. I have a lot of respect for Krugman and would like to believe that that is not true.

At any rate, lets examine what Krugman has said, about Obama’s plan and see if it really holds up. In a fairly recent column Krugman claimed, “In fact, the Edwards and Clinton plans contain more money for such subsidies than the Obama plan. If low-income families find insurance unaffordable under these plans, they’ll find it even less affordable under the Obama plan.” This accusation has been repeatedly by those claiming that because Obama’s plan does not include a mandate, 15 million people will be uninsured. But the extent to which it even might be true that Clinton’s plan covers more people than Obama’s is overstated.

In fact, after conducting their own vetting of the plans and consulting several health care experts concluded:

It’s true that Clinton’s plan would likely lead to somewhat higher levels of coverage than Obama’s, according to the research we’ve seen. But the difference in outcomes may not amount to much. The main distinction: Clinton calls for a mandate that would require all individuals to have health insurance; Obama requires only that children have coverage and that dependents be covered under their parents’ insurance up to age 25. Of the estimated 46.5 million uninsured in the U.S., 9.4 million are children and 37 million are adults, according to an analysis of Census data by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured and the Urban Institute. But neither candidate has provided enough detail for analysts to predict confidently how many might be left uninsured under either plan.

I suppose that means Obama is not the only one who wants wiggle room to allow for changing circumstances. Politics kinda necessitates that. Now if that fails Krugman’s liberal litmus test, so be it. But at least the experts agree there is not much daylight between the Obama’s and Clinton’s plans. In my mind, and maybe for most voters, that counts for something.

Krugman’s criticism of Obama with regard to Social Security, on the other hand, is not without merit. The Princeton economist contends Obama has allowed himself to be influenced by the fear mongering Republicans who want nothing more than to privatize social security. On this point, I actually do sympathize with Krugman and believe that Obama should not provide the pro-privateers any ammunition as they try to take over social security.

Using such phrases as the “social security crisis” is misleading and inappropriate. Plus, as Senator Chris Dodd said “It is, frankly, irresponsible to say there is a ‘Social Security crisis’ when there are those who are looking to pounce on such characterizations as a justification for privatization.”

But to be fair, its not clear whether or not Obama was indeed referring to the fiscal health of the social security trust fund or the politics surrounding it. Its entirely possible that Obama was really talking about the lack of bi-partisian agreement on the actual long term sustainability of social security as opposed to its actual finances. I suppose even if that were the case Obama should have made it abundantly clear where the so-called crisis lied. The real experts agree that there is no real fiscal crisis at hand.

When examining Obama’s, however, privatization is nowhere in sight. In fact, he wants to raise taxes to fund it, by 6.5 percent. Senator Clinton alleges that this will result in a trillion dollar tax cut, but she was wrong. Admittedly, Obama is arguably a stretching the truth in saying only on the upper class will be affected by his tax hike. His fact sheet says:

Obama believes that the first place to look for ways to strengthen Social Security is the payroll tax system. Currently, the Social Security payroll tax applies to only the first $97,500 a worker makes. Obama supports increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security and he will work with Congress and the American people to choose a payroll tax reform package that will keep Social Security completely solvent for at least the next half century.

Of course, some people may argue that this is not a meaty enough plan to reassure anyone, but as notes “he has been more specific than Clinton, who will say only that she’ll ask a bipartisan commission to come up with solutions after she’s elected.”

Now lets move on the Krugman’s real beef, which is Obama’s temperament. He told TPM yesterday:

…on health care Obama is behaving as kind of, “Let’s make a deal.” The idea that he would be talking even in the primary campaign about the big table is suggesting that he is not all that committed to taking on special interests.

On the big problems there’s a fundamental, deep-seated difference between the parties. I’ve always just felt that his tone was one suggesting that his inclination is to believe that we can somehow resolve these thing through a kind of outbreak of good feeling…

Among the Dems he seems to be the least attuned to what progressives think.

Glad that you got that off your chest Professor. So Krugman does not like the fact that Obama is not nasty enough, which is why he wants either the populist Edwards or the street fighter Clinton. But lets be clear here you could have partisan rhetoric and no results. Edwards has famously said on numerous occasions that if elected President, and Congress refused to pass a health care reform plan, he would strip Members of Congress of their coverage.

That’s nice all, but umm…there’s this little thing called the 27th Amendment that prevents Presidents from interfering with how Congress is compensated. Plus, Edwards role in the Senate have not been one of a fervent health care advocate either, though its certainly great that he got religion on the issue on the campaign trail. At any rate, it does call into question his fitness to be the New Deal liberal that Krugman so desperately wants.

As for Clinton, Capital Eye has had this to say:

Only 14 lobbyists who gave to Clinton reported representing health professionals, compared to 76 who represented the pharmaceutical industry. Nine lobbyists who gave to the New York senator represent clients from both groups. Of contributions listed on campaign finance reports, Clinton has not received a single donation from lobbyists working for the two largest trade groups representing the working-class Americans she cited in August, the American Nurses Association and the National Association of Social Workers.

So Hillary takes money from fat cats lobbyist, but not from the public interest ones, despite implying otherwise. Its entirely possible that lobbyist contributions do not significantly influence the way Clinton will vote, but at the very least it does suggest its bit naive on Krugman’s part to believe that she will be less likely than Obama to strike a deal on these New Deal programs.

This also begs the question of whether or not there is more to liberalism than domestic policy. But Krugman shot that down right away in the TPM interview.

I guess I’ve been going on the view that no Democrat is not going to end this war, and no Democrat is going to start another war. I have not felt that foreign policy is the defining issue in the race to the nomination. Whether we’re going to get universal health care is much more of a question.

That’s a rather naive and myopic view of world affairs. By that logic, I guess its not so important that North Korea is just beginning to complying with UN inspections, Afghanistan is being torn apart, climate change continues to be neglected, Pakistan barely hanging on by a thread, and that there’s a genocide in Sudan, and of course the Iraq war. In case Krugman, has not notice so much of modern day progressive liberalism has been galvanized by an anti-war stance. The liberal blogosphere has been anti-war for quite some time now. It bears repeating that both Edwards and Hillary voted for the Iraq War resolution. Krugman himself should appreciate this point considering how much heat he took for opposing the Bush’s war from the outset.

Krugman may suggest this is a moot point because he believes all the leading Dems will try to pull out as soon as possible. But even if that were true it does suggest that Obama’s anti-war posture is more in tuned with how liberals and progressives think than Hillary or Edwards? Maybe that just my imagination blogging away with me.

Oh how I miss Krugman the big brain economist and astute political observer.

Update: Interested in Obama’s record on health care and poverty while served in the Illinois state house? Click here for a short and accessible graphic.

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