Whenever I'm asked who my favorite columnist is, I always say Paul Krugman, and it's not just because of his positions on the issues, which I largely (but not always) agree with. It's because he has, in my view, a clear-eyed, no bullshit view of current American politics and understands how to wage the battle. So I've been thinking about this Krugman-Obama flap trying to sort out my emotional reaction to seeing a Democratic presidential candidate put out a misleading oppo research document on someone whom I see as so fundamentally valuable to the progressive movement.
Krugman has mildly criticized Obama for two things. First he took issue with the idea that his health care plan can work without mandates. He mentioned it early on when the plan was first announced, but didn't make a big thing of it until Obama started running explicitly against the idea of mandates, which means at the very least he was preemptively taking a negotiating point off the table --- and handing the Republicans a weapon to tank all the Democratic health care proposals. That was, in Krugman's view, a bad political move as well as a wrongheaded policy position. That had followed Obama's decision to put social security on the menu this cycle, when it wasn't necessary or desirable. I agree with Krugman that that was a mistake.
Running to the right on health care and social security combined with the anti-gay gospel singer, taking Robert Novak smears at face value, repeating Jeff Gerth lies and now going after Paul Krugman, leads me to the niggling awareness that this is a conscious, if subtle, strategy. Any one of those things could be an accident, and perhaps some of them are. But taken as a whole, conscious or not, liberal fighters in the partisan wars are being sistah soljahed. Unlike the big issue of Iraq where being on the right side is being on the left side, these little digs and policy positioning are all sweet spots for the Village --- and sore spots for the base.
Perhaps that's the smart move. It has long been known by just about everyone who matters that the rank and file activists of the Democratic party are a huge liability. And anyway, where are we going to go? Mike Huckabee? Ron Paul? We have no choice. So, no harm no foul. Running to the right of even Hillary Clinton on health care and social security and using GOP talking points and symbolism is probably all upside. It may be the best way to insure a win in the fall. But I can't say that it looks like either a transformative inspirational politics or a willingness to fight the conservatives and win on the merits.
I still don't know who I'm voting for. I've criticized all of them and I have defended all of them against the media's predictable demeaning coverage. But in the end, when I choose who to vote for, I'm going to take into account which candidates see the political culture and the quality of the opposition for what it is and what it isn't. Obama is a tremendously exciting and talented politician and I would vote for him against any Republican out there without blinking an eye. But as a certified DFH, I really wish he weren't running this way. Paul Krugman most certainly is not the enemy and neither am I.
Update: Ooops. I see that Chris Bowers has a similar view. What he said.