Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Krug bait

I sort of understand now how easy it is to hate Paul Krugman.

For the last eight years, Krugman was my hero. During the Bush administration he was the most partisan, vicious and intelligent voice in the media attacking Bush -- and he would back himself up with all of the factoids and data points that mere mortals like myself could never hope to come up with.

My Republican friends couldn't stand him. It was great!

But I have to say: He hasn't been a team player for the Obama Administration.

Of course, that's sort of an intellectually indefensible position. Obama is fair game for criticism. And why shouldn't Krug point this out? (It's in a long Jewish tradition, actually, of the "Two Jews, 12 opinions" category.) But Paul really needs to lighten up and give this guy a chance. I grant you that Paul Krugman is an extremely smart man who knows way more about economics than I do. But Larry Summers is also a smart dude. As is Tim Geithner. As is Christina Romer. I'm not sure that Krugman is right and all these people are wrong.

Newsweek offers its take this week, with a cover story about Krug as a thorn in Obama's side. (My favorite line in the article was this line: "Last Thursday morning, he was gleeful because he was able to thump a blogger who insisted, wrongly, that Keynes did not use much math in his work." Hopefully, Krug has some sort of crazy super-mega search function on his computer and he'll link to this post, debunking me. That would be so awesome.)

There are a couple of things wrong with this story, however.

For one thing, I wish it had focused a bit more on how Krugman behaved during the Democratic primary, when he was clearly in Hillary Clinton's corner and was regularly taking shots at Obama's healthcare plan. At some point, Krugman must have made a decision (consciously or not) that HRC is the better candidate (or has the better healthcare plan) and anyone who disagreed was a fool. (I also suspect that Krugman might have been influenced by Clinton groupie, Sean Wilentz, who was quoted in the article as his pal.)

There were, in fact, things about HRC's healthcare plan that I do think were superior to Obama's and worth saying. But one thing that I always kept in mind about HRC was that this was her second shot at healthcare. Her first shot missed.

And that's one of the important things to realize about our Republic; we often fail to do the exactly right thing. But sometimes a half a loaf is worth having anyway. Krugman hasn't seemed to have learned this simple truth. (Rahm Emanuel said as much in the New Yorker article about Rahm a few weeks ago.)

Obama's healthcare plan (whatever it turns out to be) doesn't have to get every single American coverage for it to be a success. If it puts 10 million people on the rolls who weren't there before, it'll be a moderate success. (It'll certainly be a success for those 10 million people.) If it puts 20 million on, it's a great success. If it puts all 46 million uninsured Americans in some kind of healthcare program it will be a complete success. But it's pretty unrealistic to expect complete 100 percent success every time.

And while I loved Krugman for his non-ending barrage of machine gun fire against the Republicans during the Bush years, I think that Obama's decision to take the high road and attempt to reach some sort of bipartisanship consesus wasn't naive. In fact, it was politically very shrewd. (It happened to also be the right thing to do.)

One of the things that was so unbearable about the Bush years was the fact that the administration went out of its way (during times of serious crisis) to alienate the opposition and leave them out of the fold. Since Obama took office, the GOP has made the decision to slap away Obama's hand (as is their perogative) but by making the offer, the GOP are the ones who look petty and obstructionist. If the economy gets back on track by 2010 (as everyone, save Rush Limbaugh, hopes) watch the Republicans get crushed yet again in the election.

The only thing that I think could stop this, quite frankly, is Democratic infighting, which already seems to be happening. (See Jonathan Chait's piece in the New Republic this week.)

Krugman, it seems, wishes that Obama were more like a Democratic version of George W. Bush. Frankly, I don't think Bush did the GOP any favors.

But the thought has occurred to me: I wonder if Paul Krugman is going to be the conservative's columnist of choice in the New York Times in the coming years.