The Net Roots vs. Barack Obama

At this point I remain undecided as to who to support, and at times looking at the candidates offered by both parties I’m not sure that it is even worth the wear and tear on my shoes to go out to vote for any of them. There is an excellent possibility that I’ll vote more against one candidate as opposed to for any. That said, I must say that instead of dissuading me, every time I see the left blogosphere attacking Barack Obama I count it as another point in his favor.

There’s another round of attacks on Obama today, including from Chris Bowers and Digby. The attack is centered around what is being mischaracterized as Obama attacking Paul Krugman, which apparently to many liberal bloggers would be a major sin. In reality what occurred was that Krugman has criticized some of Obama’s statements. Obama responded by defending his position and showing that Krugman had previously written favorably about the same policies he now attacks. Considering that Krugman is influential among potential Democratic voters it seems entirely reasonable to expect Obama to respond to criticism from Krugman. Liberal bloggers complain that Obama is attacking Krugman, someone from the left, as opposed to attacking Republicans. As Obama is fighting for the Democratic nomination it  makes more sense that he respond to criticism from Krugman at this time as opposed to attacking Republican critics who have no influence on the Democratic primary race.

The attacks on Obama make me sympathetic towards Obama because, while I do have some disagreements with him, he is actually right in these areas. As someone who actually works in health care I find Obama’s arguments to be far more reality-based than those coming from his critics from the world of journalism. I’ve already discussed mandates in far greater detail in several posts, such as here and here.  As a defender of the great liberal tradition of supporting individual liberty I cannot agree with Krugman’s argument that considering matters of choice versus government mandates constitutes adopting right wing talking points. Obama’s health plan, even without mandates, remains to the left of any of those proposed by the Democratic candidates in 2003, including John Edwards. It is also not necessarily right wing to consider the long term stability of Social Security and it is certainly not “reality based” to ignore the long term demographic trends the program must contend with.

These attacks make me more sympathetic to Obama for reasons even beyond the fact that Obama is right on these two issues. One of the reasons Obama is appealing is that he shows signs of looking beyond the orthodoxy which has developed on both the left and right which has led to increased polarization with neither side necessarily having all the right answers. While I am happy to see prospects for the Republicans to be thrown out of office, I also see danger in the Democrats again having complete control over the government. The liberal blogosphere, while right on so many issues, is developing an unhealthy uniformity of opinion in which differing views are too easily dismissed as Republican-lite. Obama’s greatest strength may be in understanding the views of other political groups far better than those who attack him. Seeing Obama pursue a liberal agenda while still managing to differ from the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party, including being the target of attacks from Krugman and a number of liberal bloggers, is a positive sign in my book. This view might not be popular in the net roots, but it is why Obama is doing so well among the more independently thinking Democratic voters.

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  1. 1
    Kevin Sullivan says:

    Hey Ron,

    I am somewhat sympathetic here as well, but Taylor Marsh actually did a good job of showing how selective the Obama campaign was with those snips:

    I do agree however that Krugman is fair game. Since when is it ok to call out the media, unless it’s media that 99% of the time supports you? If anything, Krugman readers are the very people Obama needs to keep on board regarding his health plan.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Obama doesn’t have to be 100% correct for my argument to hold. The main point is that disagreeing with Paul Krugman and the orthodoxy developing in the net roots is fair game, and it is especially fair to respond to criticism.

    If we want to use selective quotes there’s an interesting reply to this topic posted at First Read where someone commenting quotes Hillary Clinton on mandates:

    The Individual Mandate Hillary Clinton Opposed in 1993 Is the Same Individual Mandate She Supports Now. “Hillary Clinton has now introduced Health Care 2.0, and – lo and behold! – it is a direct descendant of the plan she chose not to support in 1993…[In an interview] Clinton said the models for her current proposal were the 1993 Republican plan and the individual-mandate plan passed in Massachusetts by former Governor Mitt Romney. She said one of her top health care advisers, Laurie Rubiner, worked on both the Chafee and Massachusetts plans.” The article noted that supporting an individual mandate is “a big change for the Clintonistas,” since in 1993, Clinton “railed” against individual mandates. [Time, 9/20/07]

    FLASHBACK: 1993
    Hillary Clinton Said That An Individual Mandate For Health Insurance Coverage Would “Create Additional Problems,” Lead to Arbitrary Cut-Offs for Eligibility, And Require the IRS to Oversee Our Health Care System. In a speech to the Group Health Association of America, Clinton said that “The individual mandate…create[s] some additional problems, at least as we analyze them. It makes it very difficult to determine and monitor who is in the system and who is out. It would require tracking individuals as they move in and out of jobs, as they move in and out of the insurance market. And it would mean, if you provided a subsidy scheme to support low-wage individuals, a determination as to when their income reached some arbitrary level as to what kind of subsidy they would still be entitled to. It would require, in our view, the IRS to engage in an enormous administrative oversight of our health care system.” [Speech to the Group Health Association of America, 2/15/94]

    Clinton Said An Individual Mandate Might Not Work; Pointed to Example of Mandatory Auto Insurance. In her speech to the Group Health Association of America, Clinton pointed to mandatory auto insurance requirements as a reason why the individual mandate might not work. She said, “[T]he only examples we have of individual mandates are those like auto insurance requirements in many states where, in spite of the fact that the state has access to all drivers through the licensing process, literally thousands and even hundreds of thousands of drivers remain uninsured in states with such an individual mandate.” [Speech to the Group Health Association of America, 2/15/94]

    Hillary Clinton Said She Opposed an Individual Mandate Because It Would Disrupt Employment Patterns. Clinton said, “We concluded that amongst the alternatives that are available, which include either a very large tax that would replace private sector investment, or an individual mandate which would put the entire responsibility on the individual, and we are concerned disrupt employment patterns now, particularly those that provide insurance, that therefore the best way is to take what we know, what Americans are familiar with, and make it better, make it fairer and make everyone within it responsible.” [CNN, 9/29/93]

    Hillary Clinton Said She Opposed an Individual Mandate Because Employers Would Stop Insuring, Knowing That People Would Fall Into the Subsidy Pool. Clinton said, “Although we very much applaud the Senate Republican approach of making sure we reach universal coverage and choosing an individual mandate as the route to get there, we have several worries that we will be working with the Senate Republicans on to make sure we fully understand their approach over the next several weeks. Among those worries are that if we have a legislatively required individual mandate, we worry that the numbers of people who currently are insured through their employment will decrease, because there will no longer be any reason for many employers who have struggled to ensure their workers, particularly those whose incomes are not significant, to feel that responsibility, because by failing to insure, the individuals will be mandated to have insurance, and individuals below a certain level of income will become the government’s responsibility. They will fall into the subsidy pool. It’s very to predict how many or at what rate that would possibly increase the number of uninsured, but we worry that that would be one of the unintended consequences.” [Hearing Of The Senate Finance Committee, 9/30/93]

    Hillary Clinton Said She Opposed an Individual Mandate Because It would be Difficult to Administer the Bureaucratic System. Clinton said, “Unlike the existing employer-employee system, we have great concerns about how the administrative structure to track the individual contribution, to collect it, and to then connect it with health insurance would be set up. In our efforts to try to work with Treasury, and OMB and others to create that individual subsidy system, it struck us as extremely complicated and bureaucratic, and also maybe more intrusive, because instead of the employer-employee transaction, with the money coming in, individuals would have to perhaps show their income tax returns, they’d have to have their income tracked because they would either be up or below the subsidy level at certain periods or certain years. So we believe it would be much more difficult to administer the individual mandate system.” [Hearing Of The Senate Finance Committee, 9/30/93]

    NPR: Clinton White House Opposed Individual Mandate Because of “Overwhelming Public Distaste.” Mara Liasson reported, “The White House is betting that if universal coverage can be established as non-negotiable by all parties, then the debate becomes which mandate- individual or employer, can best achieve it. Then the White House figures the overwhelming public distaste for an individual mandate will help it win the argument. To that end, the first lady has declared another plan, the one proposed by conservative Democrat Jim Cooper, unacceptable. As Cooper explains, his plan doesn’t require individuals or employers to buy health care and it sees universal coverage as something that will have to wait.” [NPR, 11/20/93]

  3. 3
    beachmom says:

    I agree, Ron. I think there is also winning in the General to consider. Red meat for the base isn’t necessarily what is always right OR is good politics to win AND unite people. I guess I think we need to do more than win; we need to get people, even those who vote R, to not be so devastated if the Dem wins. I think if Obama wins, you won’t get as much of those sour grapes, but I also think he honors the progressive agenda, but may get to the goal in a slightly different way than traditional partisans may imagine.

  4. 4
    gracie taylor says:


    I agree totally with your analysis of the new vastleftwingconspiracy within the blogosphere. I beleive Obama knows how to get things done politically and that is part of his greatness.

    Krugman is obviously a shill for Clinton and his analysis on economics while good does not mean he understands politics in terms of successfully passing legislation. Barack does. Hillary does not which is why her attempt to pass healthcare legislation was a colossal failure. Moreover, she does not learn from her mistakes as we witnessed with her affirmative vote for Kyl-Lieberman.

    Obama is an individual with not just a brilliant mind but he is also a gifted politician who knows how to meld consensus and achieve outcomes. Ergo, he has a plan which not only provides universal health care for all Americans but which makes it affordable. Americans will be able to purchase healthcare if they choose to and that is extremely important.
    As far as the recommendation to read Taylor Marsh’s commentary goes, I find it valueless. Her site is the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh on the left, dissent is not respected, thoughtful opposing analysis is derided in favore of incestous amplification on that site.

    Jay has a much better discriminating mind..check out his analysis:


    and here:

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    There are several different issues here. Jay’s posts, as do my own previous posts which I linked to in this post, concentrate on the health care policies, showing reasons why Obama is right not to include a mandate.

    Another issue is Obama’s response to Krugman. Some on the left feel that even for Obama to criticize Krugman is wrong, but that is totally justified if Krugman is making fallacious attacks on Obama such as that Obama’s differences of opinion represent right wing talking points. Kevin links to Taylor Marsh, who has often twisted things towards Clinton. In this case they might have a point that Obama did overstate his case regarding Krugman’s change in view towards Obama’s plan. However, that is a rather trivial part of this, and it isn’t surprising that in a political battle we can find some things to disagree with on both sides.

    What remains important is that Obama does have the better health care plan, and that it is Krugman who I find at fault in raising the specious charge that Obama is using right wing talking points. Once Krugman, followed by some liberal bloggers, raised this charge against Obama it is unfair to then attack Obama again for defending himself and his health care plan.

  6. 6
    gracie taylor says:

    Yes, Ron

    I agree with you that Obama has every reason and right to express his differences in writing with Krugman. Particularly, when Krugman engages in character attacks.

    What I am observing is that many on the left have decided to now be the torch bearers for the derisive labeling of issues to avoid having to actually present a cogent analysis of differing views. Many on the left now spit out ‘right wing talking points’ as the right did in making the word liberal such a caustic label that folks who were liberal now claim they are progressive just to avoid the box that goes with being called liberal. Liberal being a dirty word and all. All of this idealogue language constricts and cheapens discourse and more importantly prevents the resolution of problems as folks stake out turf to defend rather than engage in good faith to solve problems. Taylor Marsh is exceptionally good at that and I believe she was a protege of Limbaugh’s in that regard.

    While Marsh’s point may be valid it is trivial in the overall scheme of what the core policy issues are and the unnecessary inflamatory ‘dog whistle’ language Krugman engages in while making his points. I personally do not think Obama overstated anything anymoreso than Krugman with his allegations of rightwingtalking points. Obama took Krugman’s ‘benefit of the doubt’ to it’s most extreme and Krugman took Obama’s ‘no mandates’ to the extreme by alleging it was ‘antisocialist medicine’ to construe it as a rightwingtalkingpoint. So if anything on balance it is a lose-lose on that while both fail to address the larger core issue of how mandates are NOT politically viable. Krugman just uses a dog whistle ‘rightwingtalkignpoints’ to rile up the so called ‘progressives’ aka liberals against Obama’s plan in favor of Clintons’. That is the bigger issue. To score points on the basis of pro-mandates for Hillary vs. anti-mandates for Obama. Anyone paying attention knows that Obama has a higher liberal rating than Hillary to begin with. And that it is she who espouses rightwingtalkingpoints with her ‘lobbyists are Americans too’ remarks while she is second highest recipient in Congress of healthcare idustry lobbyists dollars…yet Obama is the one whose plan is ‘antisocialist medicine’ despite making it afforable for most Americans?

    In short, I agree with your conclusion it was a specious (as well as spurious charge) by Krugman and Obama was right and acted like a statesman in defending himself from Krugman’s deliberate slander. I beleive that Krugman is just in a snit about Obama raising the issue of Social Security having a shortfall and simply used the healthcare plan to unleash his attacks.

  7. 7
    V says:

    I guess some progressives have forgotten that the Civil Rights movement was achieved through peaceful Civil disobedience, with an accent on the “civil”, not the “disobedience”. Disobedience was treated seriously, as a necessary evil to draw attention, not a production to win media attention and achieve little else. It seems Obama figured out long ago that civility inspires what laws can only mandate: an appreciation of another as a fellow human being. Then, when those who oppose equal, just laws act savagely, the contrast is plain, too stark to defend. No wonder Obama’s achieved so much legislatively in such a short time (relative to other Senators): no time wasted on fiery rhetoric, all time given to finding points to agree on.

    Ron, you should really like Obama today: Newsday reports Hillary accused him of being too-far-left! Once again her campaign blew it and used unapproved [by Obama] staff-generated questionnaire responses from his IL Senate run, not statements that can be attributed to Obama himself. But, Obama has totally befuddled the entire confrontation-addicted machine, and he won’t be pegged into categories that only seem to benefit the DC beltway and their leeches – er, buddies – left or right.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:


    I was in a conference all morning and haven’t caught much news yet, but I assume the Clinton attack is based upon the questionnaire which I believe The Politco reported on yesterday. I didn’t see this as much of an issue, regardless of whether Obama or his staff completed this.

    First of all I can see some change in position over time. I’m skeptical of someone like Edwards who appears to change multiple positions when politically expedient, but I can except some changes over time. It is reasonable that a community organizer and state legislator from the Chicago area will be further left on gun control, and that they might moderate this when looking at the entire country. We’ve seen the same with Giuliani.

    There’s also a difference between a politician’s ideal and what they will pursue based upon political realities and the consideration of opposing viewpoints. I can accept that Obama might both support single payer as his ideal plan but also see that a more modest proposal is more practical to propose, especially if he sees why some oppose single payer (as well as opposing mandates).

    Health care provides a good contrast between Obama and Clinton, even if we assume for the sake of discussion that Obama is further to the left of Clinton in terms of personal philosophy. Clinton insisted that it was basically her plan or nothing when she was First Lady. We got nothing. Obama looks more willing to take into consideration what is acceptable to different groups and then propose a liberal plan which still has a realistic chance of being accepted.

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