“I’ve never won a tough election,” concedes Paul Krugman, “but neither has Obama!”
The Nobel Prize–winning economist is fuming about the White House’s “ludicrous” view of what independents want—a president, apparently, who embraces anti-spending conservatism.
That’s the core thesis in a new article by Elizabeth Drew, which Krugman flagged Sunday and is now roiling the liberal blogosphere. Drew, 76, is one of the good ones—she spent nineteen years as The New Yorker’s Washington correspondent, authored thirteen books, and has an intimate yet relentlessly independent outlook on Washington. In The New York Review of Books, her political essays are originally reported and exhaustive; this one runs 4,800 words and features some telling anonymous quotes from Democrats in high places.
Taking the economic malpractice in Washington as a given, Drew focuses on figuring out “what were they thinking?” For Republicans, the answer is simple and well known: by primarying and defeating even stalwart conservatives, the Tea Party has turned positions once on the outer edge of conservative politics, like dismantling Medicare, into a minimum litmus test for GOP candidates. It has been considerably harder, however, to figure out what Obama is thinking.
This president is not responsible for most of the actual deficit—two-thirds of it is from Bush administration policies and the business cycle. Nor is he to blame for the accompanying political crisis manufactured by Republicans, who, like gauche dining companions, are complaining about a bill for food they’ve already eaten. All that, you might think, would leave Obama with very little patience for obstinate BS. Instead, the president has shown the opposite instincts on both temperament and policy. Why? Drew reports damning allegations from “someone familiar” with Obama’s internal deliberations—almost certainly a White House official or senior, trusted Democrat—who argues that Obama has now traded unpopular but necessary Keynesianism for swing voter posturing.
“If the political advisers had told [Obama] in 2009 that the median voter didn’t like the stimulus, he’d have told them to get lost,” says the source. But by January 2011, the State of the Union address didn’t even propose spending to address unemployment, and the other shoe dropped in April, when Obama first outlined his plan to cut $4 trillion from the deficit.
“It was all about reelection politics, designed to appeal to this same group of independents,” Drew reports, and the same politics drove Obama to put Social Security on the table. “[It’s] consistent with that slice of the electorate they’re trying to reach,” the source explained, although “there’s a bit of bass-ackwardness to this; the deficit spending you’d want to focus on right now is the jobs issue.”