Paul Krugman does great work, but he’s still capable of bullshit. Exhibit Today is his gloss on a remark by Cornel West about the president:
There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.
This is some tired anti-progressive treacle. PK debunks criticism by exaggerating it. The main line of criticism of Obama is not that he has declined to employ his magical rhetorical powers to get everything the left wants, nor is the left ignorant of the constraints Obama has faced. You can’t very well celebrate the president for great accomplishments — and I agree with a lot of the substance of PK’s subsequent discussion — at the same time you insist he has been constantly blocked. My responses to these memes are here, in assorted pearls of wisdom.
It is true that Obama posed as a progressive. He still does! As for Wall Street not being punished, is that not the case? Who has been punished? When it comes to big-time financial and war criminals, the president has said “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” When it comes to small fry, it’s terminate with extreme prejudice. PK acknowledges this himself later in this very article. Even when the left is right, it’s wrong.
I interpret this as the fatal, common affliction of all bigfoot pundits. You have to throw some obligatory brick at the left to guard against the suspicion that you are too far Out There. Actually, the fact that PK puts neo-liberalism in quotes proves that well enough.
On the big fucking deal of health care, PK tries to get the best of both sides of the argument. He acknowledges the left criticism of relying on health inscos to fill the coverage gap, then implies that the stupid left doesn’t understand a single-payer plan would not have gotten enough votes to pass. What the not-actually-stupid left really wanted and had a right to expect was the inclusion of some kind of public option, which was arguably not a manifestly disabling feature from a political standpoint. And even if it proved to be so, there is no reason to make a rhetorical virtue in the form of bogus celebrations of “the market” out of a political necessity.
On the wonderfulness of Dodd-Frank, opinions differ. I don’t know much about it so for now I’ll accept PK’s ringing endorsement: “[I]t’s a lot better than nothing.” Look for that as the next presidential campaign slogan — “We don’t suck as bad as they do!”
This problem of turning a practical limitation into a rhetorical virtue afflicted the inadequate stimulus plan as well. Instead of taking what could be gotten but acknowledging the level was insufficient, the Administration acted as if it was all good. It wasn’t. PK again agrees. He can say it but you can’t.
On climate change, I could accept for the sake of argument everything that PK says (though the omission of the letters “B” and “P” in justaposition is conspicuous). But, and this is not a criticism of Obama or PK, “almost” in climate change isn’t going to be good enough. It cannot be helpful for the Administration to be celebrating the greatly expanded exploitation of fossil fuel reserves in the U.S.
Progress never happens all at once. Everyone should understand that. If it happens at all, it is usually incremental. I’d admit that health care is a pretty big increment, and credit is due. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t do better, or that we can’t still do better.
All elected officials deserve unyielding, unending criticism. Anybody who complains about it is in the wrong game. Intelligent criticism notes where progress has been made, the better to ascertain where it can advance further.
In this context, trolling the left is little short of absurd. The left is where policy solutions reside, because the left is the transmission belt for the more humane social-democratic institutions of Western Europe. Neo-liberal reliance on “the market” here to provide social services is not a feature, it’s a bug. We have to be the RAID.