Obama versus "Progressives"

 Obama could've changed everything. So says the left (including Krugman). If Obama had just started his presidency with strong speeches attacking Wall Street (like Roosevelt) and explaining the need for Keynesian economics, middle America would've rallied around the left agenda; the Democrats would've won a landslide in the midterms, and Congress would've passed enough job stimulus to pull us right out of the recession. The right would have been knocked on their collective asses. But ...

  • [#Krugman] himself couldn't convince the econ community to go Keynesian.
  • In three weeks, Obama passed, with far greater opposition, a [#stimulus] package 5 times larger (relative to GDP) than Roosevelt's.
  • [#Roosevelt] ran on an [#austerity] platform in 1932.
  • When elected, Roosevelt passed an austerity budget.
  • In his 1st [#fireside chat], Roosevelt [#rehabilitated the bankers].
  • He [#drastically weakened] Social Security to gain huge Republican support.
  • By executive order, he sent 110,000 Japanese to concentration camps.
  • He failed in his strongest persuasive attempt—to pack the supreme court.

But, pay no attention to these random facts, and instead, read Ezra Klein's brilliant and thoroughly-researched article on presidential attempts to use the bully pulpit.

Conclusion: Perhaps, if Obama had followed the left's Monday-morning quarterback strategy, everything would've come up roses. But debating whether it would've or wouldn't have is itself the problem. What is obvious is that we don't know, and Obama didn't know. He thought hard; he tried his best. He might've gotten it wrong, or the left, even with hindsight, may have it wrong—and there's plenty of evidence for that. Or we may all be wrong. The point is, we really don't know.

And, idle counter-factual speculation is no excuse for turning on your friends. And this, according to Jonathan Chait, is the difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives "assail the compromise but continue to praise the man." This is not just good strategy, it morally commendable. Progressives, on the other hand, convict their friends on the basis of unchecked hindsight or theories of how the world should work. I think these are an honest mistake, but they are deadly sins nonetheless. Progressives are simply positive that the one true path (e.g., the right speech) is completely obvious. And since it is, everyone can see it. Hence, anyone who chooses not to follow the true path must be from the dark side. (See Monte Python.)




[=Krugman]Krugman has his economics right, but for the first couple of years he was extremely naive about his ability to persuade. This is understandable. But, note that Obama did not adopt this naive view, and Krugman has been upset with him ever since for not joining in Krugman's attempt  to sell Keynes. Nonetheless, I think Krugman, as an op-ed writer, was right to take on this challenge.
[=austerity]"I accuse the present Administration of being the greatest spending Administration in peacetime in all American history."
[=stimulus]This stimulus was on top of equally large automatic stimulus—such as unemployment insurance—not present in the 30s.
[=Roosevelt]My point is <b>not</b> to criticize Roosevelt. He was a great president. But he was not Jesus Christ. He had heart, but he did not have a particularly progressive agenda. He wanted to save capitalism and he did — somewhat accidentally. His economic policies were weak. It was the deficit spending of World War II that saved the economy.
[=rehabilitated the bankers]The chat concerned only the banking crisis, and he mentions the bankers only once, near the end — "Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people's funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government's job to straighten out this situation..."
[=drastically weakened]Roosevelt had 335 votes to spare in the House and 70 in the Senate, and he gave away the store—just to win his huge bipartisan consensus. If you have any doubt about Obama, here's the comparison.
[=fireside chat]There were only 8 in his first 4 years.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.