Jonathan Alter on Krugman vs. Obama

This is probably the single best retort to Krugman’s column from yesterday. Alter, who might know his Roosevelt just a bit better than Krugman, points out that while populism might sound good in the ear, it doesn’t win the White House:

Krugman is a populist. He writes that if nominated, Obama would win, “but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform.” This is facile and ahistorical. How many 20th Century American presidents have been elected on a populist platform? That would be zero, Paul. You could even include Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000. Instead of exploiting the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, Gore ran on a “people vs. the powerful” message. It never ignited.

Krugman says that pundits like me who reject sharp anti-corporate rhetoric and prefer cooperation are “projecting their own desires onto the public.” We’ll see. But last time I checked, millions of Americans still work for corporations or aspire to do so and bashing them wholesale is a loser politically. It works sometimes in Democratic primaries with a heavy labor vote (though not for Dick Gephardt). But not in general elections. The last two Democrats elected president-Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992-also campaigned during recessions. Both were smart enough to reject populism in favor of a responsive but upbeat message.

Alter goes on to make a pretty obvious point that Krugman continues to blithely dismiss, and that is you simply can’t steamroll interests as entrenched and as powerful as the health care and pharmaceutical industries:

The Edwards alternative-to simply overrun them-is unrealistic. Even a 1932-style mandate at the ballot box (highly unlikely) wouldn’t make them capitulate. Look what happened when New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, elected in 2006 with a huge mandate, tried to “steamroll” a bunch of hacks in Albany. He got his head handed to him.

To call Obama “anti-change,” as Paul Krugman does, is anti-common sense. Leadership requires a mixture of confrontation and compromise, with room for the losers to save face. “They have to feel the heat to see the light,” LBJ liked to say. That heat is best applied up close. In public. Across the big table.

Well worth the time to read.

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~ by uvasig on December 20, 2007.

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