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Posted by on Jan 22, 2013 in 2012 Elections, At TMV, Economy, Media, Politics, Society, USA Presidential Election 2012 | 16 comments

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.)

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  • slamfu

    Dead on Michael. The GOP has done a masterful job of defining the entire debate on just about every topic they hold dear. To the point where if they have to give ground on anything, even a little bit, its a massive victory that should satisfy the left for years. I think Obama’s tax raising should have stated we are undoing the taxes of the Reagan years, and going back to pre 1980 tax levels, and let THAT be the starting point for negotiations.

  • sheknows

    Absolutely correct Michael.
    The Republicans have control of the financial industry and therefore control everything. Not much has changed in this country since Rockefeller and Morgan.
    All americans should be disgusted by the few crumbs settled for in revenue by the Reps. And just wait til the spending cuts come. Obama may feel he has to atone for asking for that pittance of a tax increase. He will probably sacrifice the elderly and poor on the alter of “compromise” once again.
    There is no champion of the less fortunate. There are only enemies. Some actively trying to eliminate them, others passively allowing it, and still others ignoring it entirely.
    Obama is not doing the lower and middle classes any favors at this point, nor do I expect him to. Since he doesn’t need the votes of those economic groups anymore, I guess he is free now to concentrate on new energy source development, education and infrastructure.

  • Oh please. Democrats and Republicans serve the same masters, and have done so for decades. Conservatives are fighting with Republicans because Republicans are fighting for their party’s corporate interests. Why either liberals or conservatives cling to these parties is beyond me, but corporatism has never been part of either ideology.

  • sheknows

    ProfEl; with all due respect, you may want to go back in history to the days of Morgan and Rockefeller. ” Corporatism has never been part of either idealogy”??

  • dduck

    Excellent MS. I hope the liberals were listening since some may only hear the criticisms of the Reps. There is enough blame to go around for the economic mess we are in.
    BTW: Obama did use some stuff that would have been better placed in the State of the Union address, I wonder if he will mention revivifying Simpson-Bowles and/or Glass- Stegal. Just dreaming.
    P.S. it still is the economy stupid.

  • The_Ohioan

    Mr. Silverstein, meet Mr. Gray.

    How quickly we forget. The 60 votes necessary in the Senate part of the “Democratic House, Senate, and Presidency” depended on all the Democrats and two Independents. Including Democratic Senator (Nelson) and Independent Senator (Lieberman). Those two Senators’ votes would not have happened without the public option being dropped. “Maybe we should just forget about the whole thing if the public option isn’t included”; that’s what the “wimpy” House Progressives were saying then. But they didn’t just forget it, they passed it. Good on them.


    I am still hoping that the next economic catastrophe (it is already in the making and coming) will finally teach the country that the corporate agenda for the world is dangerous, stupid (for the majority of people), selfish (of the top 0.1%) and so far out of mainstream (in supporting growth and shared prosperity) that a true reformer like FDR will get to take the reigns.

    FDR’s take on taxes? “My only concern on taxes is that they are levied on those who can afford to pay them. That is the American way.”

  • KP

    “I guess he is free now to concentrate on new energy source development, education and infrastructure.”

    I would think these areas will greatly benefit the poor.

  • dduck

    Ohio, that damn 60 vote requirement is a real pain. Without it, maybe we would have gotten a Universal Single Pay bill (probably not a perfect one) instead of the Son of Frankenstein.
    KP, I hope he doesn’t shove economic recovery to the back burner if those are up front.

  • zephyr

    Silverstein and slamfu are both smack on the mark. Liberals and moderates have been so well conditioned they settle for damage control instead of anything like actual progress. There is a limit to how quickly problems caused by the political right can be solved, but we can’t afford to imagine victories are great when in fact they are meager.

  • The_Ohioan


    Too true. And much other legislation some of which we may actually agree on. 🙂 New Senator Warren was to address this, but I haven’t heard anything lately – I think Sen. Reid isn’t on board. Actually it worked just fine until things fell apart during the 1995-6 congressional session and Newt’s attempted blackmail. That’s when everything started flying apart.

    I think all 3 expenditures would help economic recovery, especially infrastructure. All we need is a congress to vote the money for them. !!??!!

  • The_Ohioan

    Today is the day:

    UPDATE: 3:11 p.m. — The Senate will reform the filibuster within the next day and a half — whether Republicans go along or not, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday afternoon.

    “I hope that within the next 24 to 36 hours we can get something we agree on. If not, we’re going to move forward on what I think needs to be done,” Reid told reporters. “The caucus will support me on that,” he added.

    He specified that he has the 51 votes he needs to proceed on a Democratic plan, indicating he’s willing to pursue the “constitutional option” of changing the rules without the usual two-thirds vote. Previously, a number of senior Democrats had professed reluctance to change the rules with a simple majority, saying they feared it would set a dangerous precedent. Opponents have called the tactic the “nuclear option.”

    We’ll see.

  • KP

    @dd “KP, I hope he doesn’t shove economic recovery to the back burner if those are up front.”

    I don’t think he has to shove economic recovery to the back burner. Isn’t that where it has been for the last four years? Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised by his SOTU address.

  • dduck


  • @sheknows
    Party is not the same as ideology. That was my point.

  • rudi

    While Obamamacare isn’t single payer, who did at least move towards national health care – Obama. POTUS since FDR tried to pass national health care, at least this is a start. Our system is similar to the Swiss health care, and they are happy with their system. In today’s partisan environment, I think ObamamaCare is a GREAT achievement…

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