Monday, August 18, 2008

Peddling Anti-Obamaism

We've largely ignored Paul Krugman's not so subtle and gratuitous anti-Obama jabs that seem to make their way into nearly every column. Speaking for myself, I've cut Krugman a lot of slack largely because he was one of the few voices of reason in the early Bush years. I've also chalked up some of his bizarre and counterproductive commentary to his admission that his current cynical take on Obama stems from some prior disappointment with the politics of idealism in 1968.

Today's column, however, just seemed to lay bare some of his prejudices. About a recent Obama speech he writes:

Worse yet, he seemed to go out of his way to avoid scoring political points. “Back in the 1990s,” he declared, “your incomes grew by $6,000, and over the last several years, they’ve actually fallen by nearly $1,000.” Um, not quite: real median household income didn’t rise $6,000 during “the 1990s,” it did so during the Clinton years, after falling under the first Bush administration. Income hasn’t fallen $1,000 in “recent years,” it’s fallen under George Bush, with all of the decline taking place before 2005.

Obama surrogates have shown a similar inclination to go for the capillaries rather than the jugular. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by two Obama advisers offered another blizzard of statistics almost burying the key point — that most Americans would pay lower taxes under the Obama tax plan than under the McCain plan.

I find this attack interesting because the opening of the Furman-Goolsbee piece is basically a defense of the Clinton years and a fairly forceful and clear argument that Obama is in favor of low taxes:

Even as Barack Obama proposes fiscally responsible tax reform to strengthen our economy and restore the balance that has been lost in recent years, we hear the familiar protests and distortions from the guardians of the broken status quo.

Many of these very same critics made many of these same overheated predictions in previous elections. They said President Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction plan would wreck the economy. Eight years and 23 million new jobs later, the economy proved them wrong. Now they are making the same claims about Sen. Obama's tax plan, which has even lower taxes than prevailed in the 1990s -- including lower taxes on middle-class families, lower taxes for capital gains, and lower taxes for dividends.

(emphasis mine)

Did I read the same piece that Krugman did?

The irony is that today's Krugman is oddly reminiscent of the 1993 Krugman who basically threw a tantrum after being passed over by Bill Clinton in favor of Laura Tyson, to head the CEA. As Nicholas Confessore wrote in the Washington Monthly:

Krugman didn't take the rejection well, and lashed out at Clinton's appointees. To Washingtonians, the key division on the Clinton economic team lay between the stimulators, such as Reich and Tyson, and the deficit hawks, notably Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and budget director Leon Panetta. But for Krugman, the key division was between real economists qualified to set national policy and policy entrepreneurs, who were not. In a Times article that January, he was quoted as saying Tyson lacked "analytical skills"--just a few weeks after giving a speech at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association lambasting Reich and Ira Magaziner as "pop internationalists" who "repeat silly clich├ęs but imagine themselves to be sophisticated."

Reich, Tyson, and a handful of other alleged policy entrepreneurs came in for further attack in Krugman's next book, Peddling Prosperity (1994). It wasn't just that they were wrong, Krugman declared. It was that they were all dangerous hacks, snake-oil salesman selling foolish remedies to credulous politicians (like Clinton).

Maybe we can look forward to Krugman praising the Obama years in 2016!


Anonymous said...

ahhh, Krugman, Clinton lost, get over it!

Also find a new song to sing: From his Aug. 4 blog (

Obama’s big economy speech, last week:

Back in the 1990s, your incomes grew by $6,000, and over the last several years, they’ve actually fallen by nearly $1,000.

“Back in the 90s?” Why not, “When a Democrat was president?” “Over the last several years?” Why not, “under Bush?”

Real Braveheart said...

I had a different reading of Krugman. I know he sometimes swoons a little too much about the Clintons, but I believe he genuinely thinks Obama's economic plan is right on target and McCain's would spell disaster for lower- and middle-class Americans.

Just because the Furman/Goolsbee piece is hard-hitting and visionary doesn't mean that the political folks in the Obama campaign have effectively gotten across his economic message. To me, Krugman is saying: "You guys are in the right! Time to start acting like it. Confidently and succinctly state your ideas on the trail, and don't be afraid to tear down McCain for his disastrous plan."

Jonah B. Gelbach said...

What DP said, on pretty much every count. Krugman built up some serious capital in my book by having the guts to take on the Bushies when everyone else rolled over for them. But many of his columns on this campaign have just been silly. He's entitled to have a preferred candidate, and even to lionize the Clinton presidency (which, as DP notes, he wouldn't do back when the Clinton presidency was actually happening). But his arguments in this campaign have frequently been anti-factual, used cherry-picked examples, or just out there. It's a shame.

Don Pedro said...

Jonah: Note this post is from Lerxst, not me!

Steve Roth said...

Krugman's pissed that Obama won't praise the Clinton admin.

I think he's right.

But he makes way too much of it, repeatedly banging his spoon on the highchair. (To quote Safire.)

Yes, Obama should be singing that tune. But Krugman shouldn't be talking about his failure in that regard. He should be talking about how good his economic plan is (Clinton admin as proof), and how bad McCain's is.


Real Braveheart said...

to support the idea that the obama folks have just not yet figured out how to capture his economic thoughts into a broader narrative, from today's NYT:

The new Democratic consensus isn’t complete, obviously. Labor unions, in particular, would prefer more trade barriers than many other Democrats. During the primaries Obama nodded, and at times pandered, in this direction. Since then, he has disavowed that rhetoric, to almost no one’s surprise. Yet his zig-zagging on the issue did highlight the biggest weak spot in his, and his party’s, economic agenda. He still hasn’t quite figured out how to sell it. For all his skills as a storyteller and a speaker, he has not settled on a compelling message about how to put the economy on the right path.

The lack of such a message has contributed to several of his worst moments over the last year. Most recently, the campaign has come out with a series of small-bore, populist energy plans — a windfall-profits tax on oil companies, a crackdown on speculators, a partial opening of the strategic oil reserve — that seem more political than economic. The most glaring misstep on this score was his comment this spring about bitter rural voters clinging to guns and religion. It was, in effect, an admission that his own message about the economy hadn’t yet broken through.