Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another unheeded warning from Cassandra Krugman

Those who find Paul Krugman unduly strident, or unduly...self confident must confront an inconvenient truth: the man has been right about the big stuff.

He was right about the Euro [update added 4/5/13 - more at bottom]. He was right about the Bush tax cuts. He was right about the Iraq war [update added 3/13/13]. He was right about the housing bubble. He was right about the size of the stimulus.  And, I just accidentally reminded myself, he was right about Obama's dreams of postpartisanship.

On Jan. 28, 2008, with the country in full flush of Obama fever, Krugman posted a warning that Obama ignored for the first 32-odd months of his presidency:
It’s starting to feel a bit like 1992 again. A Bush is in the White House, the economy is a mess, and there’s a candidate who, in the view of a number of observers, is running on a message of hope, of moving past partisan differences, that resembles Bill Clinton’s campaign 16 years ago....to the extent that Barack Obama 2008 does sound like Bill Clinton 1992, here’s my question: Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?

Let’s review the sad tale, starting with the politics.

Whatever hopes people might have had that Mr. Clinton would usher in a new era of national unity were quickly dashed. Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.

This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president.

For those who are reaching for their smelling salts because Democratic candidates are saying slightly critical things about each other, it’s worth revisiting those years, simply to get a sense of what dirty politics really looks like.

No accusation was considered too outlandish: a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler.
If we were waist-deep back then, now we're neck deep in "a sense of what dirty politics really looks like."  Birth certificate, anyone?  Secret Muslim?   Muslim secular humanist socialist?  Danger on a par with Naziism?

Actually, though, not even Krugman was fully clairvoyant. The vulnerabilities arising from Obama's character are different from those left exposed by Clinton's.  Looking to the recent past, Krugman anticipated scandal-mongering:
those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).
The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.
In one important sense, Obama has been the anti-Clinton: Bill handed the scandal-hungry GOP a sword named Lewinsky to gore him. Obama learned, as he commented in 2008, that he couldn't pick his nose without opening himself to attack.  Scandal-hunting has therefore proven pretty much a dry well for those out to destroy him.  One "valid reason" to support Obama over Hillary was the likelihood that he would guard the scandal flank -- though to be fair, Hillary's personal discipline might not have proved lacking either.

On the other hand, no one deluded himself more on the possibility of postpartisan cooperation than Obama himself.  His "desire to avoid unpleasantness" -- direct partisan conflict, that is -- at times hamstrung his presidency.

UPDATE 4/5/13: Neil Irwin adds to my collection of good Krugman calls:
American economists were awfully prescient about the problems that would eventually crush the euro. Here is Paul Krugman, writing in Fortune in 1998: “a recession develops in part—but only part—of Europe. This creates a conflict of interest between countries with weak economies and populist governments—read Italy, or Spain, or anyway someone from Europe’s slovenly south—and those with strong economies and a steely-eyed commitment to disciplined economic policy—read Germany. The weak economies want low interest rates, and wouldn’t mind a bit of inflation; but Germany is dead set on maintaining price stability at all cost . . . The result is a ferocious political argument, and perhaps a financial crisis, as markets start to discount the bonds of weaker European governments.”

1 comment:

  1. Lewinsky doesn't explain Clinton's first five or six years. All of that stuff--Whitewater, Troopergate, the Arkansas drug smuggling ring, the murder lists, Vince Foster--was phony. And it was on Hardball and in the New York Times.

    The difference between Clinton and Obama is that Clinton was disliked by the elite, including the press corps. He was viewed as alien to DC, hickish, standoffish. The press corps genuinely seems to like Obama. Read (or re-read) The Hunting of the President for a good description of the elite's attitudes towards Clinton.

    Also, as difficult as it is to contemplate, Obama may yet be caught picking his nose. Perhaps relatively earlier than Clinton. The Lewinsky stuff wasn't a problem until after Clinton started his gentle glide towards lameduckiness.

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