Jonathan Alter Explains Why Krugman is Wrong

Writing in Newsweek, Jonathan Alter explains Why Krugman is Wrong and “Why Obama’s approach to health care isn’t naive.” I’ve previously discussed Krugman’s attacks on Obama here and here, and also note the response from Robert Stein which I quoted yesterday.

Alter notes that running for president as a populist is a losing proposition:

Krugman is a populist. He writes that if nominated, Obama would win, “but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform.” This is facile and ahistorical. How many 20th Century American presidents have been elected on a populist platform? That would be zero, Paul. You could even include Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000. Instead of exploiting the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, Gore ran on a “people vs. the powerful” message. It never ignited.

Krugman says that pundits like me who reject sharp anti-corporate rhetoric and prefer cooperation are “projecting their own desires onto the public.” We’ll see. But last time I checked, millions of Americans still work for corporations or aspire to do so and bashing them wholesale is a loser politically. It works sometimes in Democratic primaries with a heavy labor vote (though not for Dick Gephardt). But not in general elections. The last two Democrats elected president-Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992-also campaigned during recessions. Both were smart enough to reject populism in favor of a responsive but upbeat message.

Alter looks back at what worked for the Clintons, and why their attempts at health care reform did not:

Krugman is an economist and I trust his forecast that things are going to get even worse for working-class Americans in the months ahead. The middle-class squeeze is real. Predatory lenders and CEO greedheads should be called out. So should insurance and drug companies. But it needs to be done in a way that produces results, not just spleen-venting.

How? Just after Clinton was elected, he convened a meeting of economists, CEOs, labor leaders and many others in Little Rock. The purpose of the meeting was to argue out what should be done about the ailing economy, with many of the ideas expressed there later becoming part of Clinton’s successful 1993 economic recovery package. The whole thing was on television.

Sound familiar? This is essentially what Obama is proposing for health care after he’s elected. If Hillary Clinton had done this on health care in 1993—instead of convening a secret task force—she might have been able to build a stronger public case for reform.

Edwards and Krugman think that’s naïve. They want the evil drug and insurance industries excluded from any of these conversations. Edwards surely knows better than this. The drug industry that he seeks to bar from a seat at the table is the same industry working to save his wife Elizabeth’s life and that of anyone else with a serious disease, including me. The answer to price-gouging is to force these companies to negotiate drug prices with the government, a reform any Democratic president would quickly enact.

Ideally, health insurance companies should be eliminated altogether. But a single payer plan isn’t viable politically, as Edwards readily admits. The only option is to curb their power and expand coverage through more regulation.

Alter argues that Obama has the smarter approach to achieving change:

Obama’s idea is a better one: Get every special interest out in the open on television, where the new president can cross-examine them and expose their phony rationalizations for charging $100 a pill or denying coverage to sick people (and Edwards, the former trial attorney, would be especially good at this). Then, having triumphed over the drug and insurance companies in the court of public opinion, the legislative victories will follow. It is, indeed, a fantasy to think these interests will roll over entirely, but they will get a much worse deal.

The Edwards alternative-to simply overrun them-is unrealistic. Even a 1932-style mandate at the ballot box (highly unlikely) wouldn’t make them capitulate. Look what happened when New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, elected in 2006 with a huge mandate, tried to “steamroll” a bunch of hacks in Albany. He got his head handed to him.

To call Obama “anti-change,” as Paul Krugman does, is anti-common sense. Leadership requires a mixture of confrontation and compromise, with room for the losers to save face. “They have to feel the heat to see the light,” LBJ liked to say. That heat is best applied up close. In public. Across the big table.

Poor Choices In 2008 For Those Leaning Libertarian

The choice of presidential candidates for those of us who want to move the country in a more libertarian direction is pretty disappointing. After siding with the liberal blogosophere out of agreement with the opposition to the authoritarian tendencies developing on the right, I’m disappointed to see so many liberal bloggers fall for John Edwards, previously a major backer of both the war and the Patiot Act. There had been some hope that Bill Richardson might present a more libertarian alternative for Democrats, but he has failed to live up to the potential first seen in him, and the best thing that could be said about his appearance on Meet the Press is that few probably watched on a holiday weekend. There was a time in which I thought that Rudy Giuliani might present an alternative worth considering should the Democrats nominate Clinton or Edwards, but as is apparent in my posts on him, the more I see of him the less I like him.

There is some benefit in having a Republican support some liberal positions such as abortion rights and toleration towards gays, but this is hardly sufficient to make him acceptable as President. While faux libertarians like Eric Dondero push Giuliani as a libertarian alternative, there are many of reasons for both liberals and libertarians to oppose him. David Boaz of the Cato Institute has an op-ed in today’s New York Daily News warning, Libertarians, beware the rigid reign of Rudy (emphasis mine):

Behind Rudy Giuliani’s impressive lead in the polls is one fact that puzzles the pundits: Many cultural conservatives are backing a pro-choice, pro-gun control candidate. But what should be equally surprising is the strong support Giuliani is finding among libertarian-leaning Republicans, who also make up a big slice of the GOP base.

Here’s why: Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush.

As a U.S. attorney in the 1980s, Giuliani conducted what University of Chicago Law Prof. Daniel Fischel called a “reign of terror” against Wall Street. He pioneered the use of the midday, televised “perp walk” for white-collar defendants who posed no threat to the community – precisely the sort of power play for which conservatives reviled former state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. And Giuliani’s use of federal racketeering statutes was so disturbing that the Justice Department changed its guidelines on the law.

As mayor, Giuliani had many successes. Crime came down. He cut taxes and held down spending. But his prosecutorial personality sometimes threatened personal freedoms. He cracked down on jaywalkers and street vendors. His street crime unit used aggressive tactics to confiscate guns from city residents, resulting in wholesale searches and detentions of citizens, especially young minority males, and occasional tragedies like the shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo.

When a police officer fatally shot another unarmed black man, Patrick Dorismond, Giuliani had police release Dorismond’s sealed juvenile arrest record. The city later settled with Dorismond’s family for $2.25 million.

And it should distress many conservatives that Giuliani took umbrage at affronts to his dignity, perhaps most notoriously when he tried to stop city buses from carrying a New York magazine ad saying the publication was “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.” The First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes in his book, “Speaking Freely,” that “over 35 separate successful lawsuits were brought against the city under Giuliani’s stewardship arising out of his insistence on doing the one thing that the First Amendment most clearly forbids: using the power of government to restrict or punish speech critical of government itself.”

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani’s authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President’s power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has “the inherent authority to support the troops” even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani’s view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it “the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power.” George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.

While Giuliani is a poor candidate for those with libertarian leanings, he is gaining support among the right, where it appears Giuliani’s authoritarian views are outweighing his social views among many Republican voters.

Spitzer’s Vision

History Wire reviews Spoiling for a Fight — The Rise of Eliot Spitzer. Noting he is only 47 year old, and has many election cycles to possibly run for President, they consider the possibility of Spitzer as President:

So the question becomes, would such a development be good for America? Spitzer’s remarkable career has been marked by outsized ambition. But while biographer Brooke A. Masters hasn’t given her heart completely to her subject, she contends that Spitzer doesn’t forge his public campaigns against business and labor to become famous. “Rather,” she says, “he wants to implement his vision for improving the world — from the stock market to New York State government and beyond. It makes him extremely attractive to his staff and to potential voters because he burns with a palpable desire to reform the world. It also scares the heck out of people who don’t share his views because he won’t be easy to divert or defeat.”

Many crusading prosecutors and attorneys general have a king-of-the-mountain desire to topple the powerful from their thrones. Characteristically, Spitzer’s goes farther. Not only does he crusade against the excesses of big business and big labor, but the settlements he forges with such entities are often drawn to entirely recast the structure and operation of those industries, such as he did in 2003 when his $1.4 billion settlement with 10 investment banks revamped the way the banks provided stock research. In so doing, Spitzer realized that structure is key to operation — that to get an industry to pay a big fine for a transgression is only a temporary solution, that a deficient structure is likely to lead to repeat offenses.

No one can accurately predict the next two or three decades of Spitzer’s career. But it’s almost certain that during it, Spitzer will shake up the world or die trying.

Related Story: Spitzer’s Message

Spitzer’s Message

I’ve often been impressed with the way Elliot Spitzer gets out his message. For example, see his article Capitalism With A Democratic Face. (Also available in the Kerry Reference Library.) Spitzer takes on the sterotype of liberals spread by the right wing as opponents of capitalism, concluding with:

By taking up the mantle of efficient, forward-looking, and market-oriented government action, Democrats can move from being a party that simply opposes Bush’s tainted version of laissez-faire to one that advocates for the progress that comes with real market freedom. It is a powerful argument, a true argument, and it is ours for the making.

Now that he is running for Governor of New York, Spitzer is showing the same skill in getting out the right message. Check out these ads. Really, these are ads which are worth looking at. Kos didn’t believe a political ad firm could have made commercials this good, so he did some digging about who made them:

The ads are written by screenwriter, Madison Avenue maven, and political novice Jimmy Siegel and produced by Moxie Pictures. Siegel worked until recently at the legendary firm BBDO. He put together the Super Bowl Visa ad with Bob Dole and the “Yo, Yao” ads with Yao Ming.

Democrats have wondered how they can counter the right wing noise machine without copying their deceit and hatred. Eliot Spitzer may have found the way.