Paul Krugman’s Cloying Tribute To Timidity, Mediocrity And Failure

In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman looked over the Obama presidency to date and found it praiseworthy. And to those progressives who might be profoundly disappointed in this President (and his party) Krugman opined: “…maybe progressives — an ever-worried group — might want to take a brief break from anxiety and savor their real, if limited, victories.”

My, my. How little it takes to impress Mr. Krugman. How willing he is to label the adoption of a traditional conservative Republican Party agenda, promoted and enabled by a Democratic president and the Democratic Party, as a “victory” for progressives simply because the ideas of a nutcake wing of the conservative Republican Party were not fully realized.

What are the things that Mr. Krugman said progressives should savor as real, if limited, victories? First there was Obamacare, which you may recall (though he prefers not to in this commentary) was first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and found its first actual incarnation as Romneycare in Massachusetts.

Should progressives have expected the Democratic President, Democratic House of Representatives, and Democratic Senate that existed after the 2008 election to start the fight for health care reform proposing a single-payer system or Medicare for all? Tsk, tsk. Couldn’t have that.

There was a determined opposition, after all, and if this opposition wanted a fight, Democrats must back down. And of course in this health care negotiation Democrats should never, could never, have started fighting for single-payer or Medicare for all so they would end up with something less than either but more progressive than Obamacare. How could ever-worried progressives dare think otherwise?

And what does Mr. Krugman see as a real, if limited, victory addressing the issue of income inequality? He points to the outcome of the recent fiscal cliff negotiations, of course.

Such a victory! Mr. Krugman’s own newspaper, The New York Times, described this outcome in a headline as “A Republican Fiscal Dream.” Which of course it was. It raised only half the new tax revenue from the rich ($600 million versus the $1.2 trillion over 10 years President Obama originally demanded), made generous (for the rich) dividend and capital gains rates permanent, but allowed Payroll Taxes paid only by the poor and middle class to rise significantly.

But in return, Republicans allowed some tax to rise. Wow! Some piddling tax increases were allowed by Republicans for the very rich! What a victory for progressives! How could those haughty lefties possibly expect more?

And what does Mr. Krugman see as a real, if limited, victory addressing the issue of markets so warped and rigged that Wall Street’s misbehavior almost destroyed the entire world economy a few years back? Why the Dodd-Frank law, of course, opined Mr. Krugman.

Financial markets are today far more concentrated, more too-big-to-fail, more riddled with wacko financial products and vast amounts of funny money from national banks than 2007. Dodd-Frank won’t change this ever a’building horror show in any meaningful way.

Ah. But it’s a law. It has a name. So in Krugmanland, though not perfect, it’s a success, limited, but nonetheless deserving of progressive praise.

Hasn’t it occurred to Mr. Krugman (and indeed the Washington Democratic establishment) that the Republicans are playing Bad-Cop, Good-Cop in all the negotiations that led to all these lousy results? That the Bad-Cops are the crazy Tea Party people and the Good-Cops are traditional Republican defenders of the rich and shafters of everyone else? And that going along with these Good-Cops isn’t a progressive victory. It’s capitulation to the right?

Apparently that hasn’t occurred to either Mr. Krugman or the Democratic establishment he is at such pains to defend. Strange. Because it’s obvious to every real progressive in the country who isn’t physically, intellectually, or spiritually sited inside the Beltway.

The Democratic Party of Clinton, Obama and Charlie Schumer has forgotten its progressive roots and lost its progressive soul. Yes, on social issues and in foreign affairs it retains some of its old principles — which is the reason that so many commentators called President Obama’s inaugural address a clarion of liberalism. But the economic vision and fire that for decades after the Second World War made the Democratic Party an unyielding supporter of a prosperous middle class and the poor man’s friend is gone.

Today’s Wall Street friendly, rich accommodating, give-it-all-away-in-negotiations, Obama/Clinton/Schumer Democratic Party can’t do what it should be doing because it no longer has the will to do so nor the interest in trying. It’s Republican-Light. It’s only apparent reason for continued existence is that it’s not quite as bad as the other choice. And commentators who are again determined to see in yet another Obama well-crafted-for-the-occasion speech a different set of future actions at the economic negotiating table are just in for another round of deep disappointments.

Let us hope the ongoing erosion of the middle class and the swelling ranks of the poor under such governance continues to be only slow and steady, and that there’s still time for a better political instrument to emerge that truly turns the tide. Because if Wall Street brings the world economy to the brink again before Americans see such an effective instrument in our politics, an alternative will emerge here from the far, far right that will be most frightening to behold.

(Two fast paced, five star novels by Michael Silverstein, Fifteen feet Beneath Manhattan and The Bellman’s Revenge, are now available from Amazon.)