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.)