Friday, October 24, 2014

Paul Krugman, contrarian

With President Obama's popularity at its lowest ebb according to all the opinion polls, the Inside-the-Beltway commentariat class loves to pile on, basically assigning him, somewhat prematurely, to the ranks of presidents who are considered inept and failures. Thus, many of these worthies were shocked and rather outraged recently when the latest edition of Rolling Stone featured a cover story by Paul Krugman praising the Obama presidency.

I seriously doubt that Krugman has lost any sleep over the shock and outrage expressed over the article. After all, he's used to it. He does not run with the herd and he never hesitates about expressing his opinion, whether or not anyone else agrees with him.

Some of the surprise, certainly, was due to the fact that Krugman has been a frequent critic of Obama. When he first ran for president in 2007-08, Krugman considered Hillary Clinton the more experienced candidate who was better prepared to lead. He was not wrong about that. He thought that Obama was naive and much too trusting of Republicans' willingness to compromise and work with him for the good of the country. It took the president years to begin to recognize the scorched-earth policies they were pursuing and the fact that they were not concerned about the good of the country but only in perpetuating themselves in power. Even now it is questionable whether he has completely accepted that fact of politics as presently practiced in Washington, D.C.

But in spite of all that, Krugman looks at his presidency and sees a clear record of accomplishment.
  • Health Care: The Affordable Care Act has been, in Krugman's words, a "perils-of-Pauline" experience. It is a jerry-rigged law that was crafted along conservative Republican guidelines for public health policy. In fact, it was lifted almost completely from a plan devised by a conservative think tank. It could have been much better but in the political climate of the time, it was probably the best that could be achieved, and it is working quite well, contrary to what you will hear from Republicans and their pundit supporters. Millions of people now have insurance who didn't have it before and millions more could if only the Supreme Court hadn't opened a giant loophole in the law and if only Republican governors were not such intransigent jerks. 
  • Financial Reform: The Dodd-Frank law is often derided as worthless. Krugman, the economist, doesn't agree. Again, it could have been much stronger, but still, it manages to do some important things. As Krugman writes, "It may not prevent the next financial crisis, but there's a good chance that it will at least make future crises less severe and easier to deal with." And that's nothing to sneeze at. Plus, it authorized the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already done some important work, in spite of Republican obstructionism.
  • The Economy: The economy was set to fall off a cliff in 2008. That it didn't and that it began a slow climb out of the abyss in 2009 is due to Obama and his team's leadership. But he gets practically no credit for that.
  • The Environment: Because the Congress is packed with science-denying troglodytes, it is virtually impossible to get any legislation passed that protects the environment or addresses climate change. Thus, Obama has begun to work through the agencies of the Executive branch and through powers available to him as president to do what he can, and he has been pretty effective in doing that. Once again, he gets no credit for it.
  • National Security: Bottom line is that he has kept the country safe, even though he has been a disappointment to the liberals who were so excited about his election because they thought that all the people who took us to war on false pretenses would be held accountable and that the reach of the national security state would be curbed. That hasn't happened, but there is still time for some achievements in this area. Guantanamo may yet be closed on his watch.
  • Social Issues: Issues of race and religion and income inequality still plague our country and yet enormous progress has been made in the last six years and it has become so commonplace that, to some extent, we take it for granted and do not pause to appreciate the enormity of it. One only has to think back ten years to the way homosexuals were thought of and treated in this country and compare it to the more open and accepting attitude of a majority of the country today to begin to see how far we have come. As for women's issues of equal treatment under the law, equal pay. equal access to health care, no, we're not there yet and we haven't made nearly the progress that we should have, but there is hope. And in many other areas of our society, incremental baby steps forward have been taken and much of that is due to the leadership and example of Barack and Michelle Obama.

  • That is a pretty impressive record, one that it is likely that history will view kindly. Or, again, in Krugman's words:
    This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don't care about the fact that Obama hasn't lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn't quite say, a big deal.
A very big deal, indeed.


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