Monday, June 30, 2008

Clinton or Reagan UPDATED

Cross-posted at MyDD.

Paul Krugman has another masterpiece in the New York Times. I really have to give him credit, because was one of the very few members of the "commentariat" that was able to cover the Democratic primary without demonizing Hillary Clinton and blindly praising Barack Obama.

He repeatedly criticized Obama's position on health care and criticized him for attacking Hillary Clinton's health care plan from the right, including print and radio ads that were strikingly familiar to the right-wing's "Harry and Louise" ads that helped defeat the 1993 Clinton health care plan.

He also defended Hillary Clinton when the media and Democrats were piling on her over her comments on LBJ's role in the civil rights movement. In Hate Spring Eternal, he reminded us that Democratic candidates had often been treated this way in the past and that Senator Obama could expect similar treatment should he become the party's nominee.

In today's The Obama Agenda, Krugman compares Obama's campaign to Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign. Obama has tried to distance himself from the Clinton years and sought to compare himself to the transformational Ronald Reagan:

In his piece, Krugman compares Obama's message to Clinton's and Reagan's and comes to an interesting conclusion:

So whom does Mr. Obama resemble more? At this point, he’s definitely looking Clintonesque.

His economic plan and his message of change are very Clintonian. The similarities, he observed, are "almost scary." While Reagan ran as unabashed ideological conservative, Obama, like Clinton in 1992, is running as a candidate who can transcend the traditional partisan differences.

And what about all that DNC-style triangulation and centrism that sends liberal activists through the roof? Obama has that one down, as well:

Progressive activists, in particular, overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama during the Democratic primary even though his policy positions, particularly on health care, were often to the right of his rivals’. In effect, they convinced themselves that he was a transformational figure behind a centrist facade.

They may have had it backward.

Mr. Obama looks even more centrist now than he did before wrapping up the nomination. Most notably, he has outraged many progressives by supporting a wiretapping bill that, among other things, grants immunity to telecom companies for any illegal acts they may have undertaken at the Bush administration’s behest.

In his analysis of Obama's new general election ad, Marc Ambinder touched on this as well. In this ad, among other things, Obama touts his efforts to reform welfare, citing a 1997 law he helped pass in the Illinois senate. First, the ad:

According to Marc Ambinder, that law merely brought Illinois in compliance with the new welfare reform law signed by President Clinton in August 1996, a law with Obama had apparently opposed.

So why is the Clinton-Reagan comparison so important? Obama seeks to be the transformational president that he perceives Reagan, but not Clinton, to have been. Yet, he is running a campaign that is very Clintonian in its message and policy. Well, according to Paul Krugman, historians agree with Obama's characterization of Clinton and Reagan. That his campaign is mimicking Clinton's is an ominous sign:

In any case, what about after the election? The Reagan-Clinton comparison suggests that a candidate who runs on a clear agenda is more likely to achieve fundamental change than a candidate who runs on the promise of change but isn’t too clear about what that change would involve.

Perhaps this really isn't so much about Clinton and Obama as it is about all Democrats and the progressive movement. The most ideologically liberal candidates never gets nominated by Democrats. Sometimes we flirt with them (Dean), sometimes we take them seriously (Edwards), sometimes we dismiss them (Kucinich). But we always end up nominating a candidate with an eye on the general election. Is this just the nature of our two parties? One demanding ideological perfection, the other more tolerant of straying to the center? Will we ever have a primary campaign in which our candidates argue over which is the most liberal? That might just be transformational.

[UPDATED at 11:30 pm (EST) by Psychodrew]

Marc Ambinder--and I--may have been wrong on Obama's stand on the 1996 welfare reform bill.

From the New York Times:

During the presidential campaign, she has faced little challenge on the issue, in large part because Mr. Obama has supported the 1996 law. “Before welfare reform, you had, in the minds of most Americans, a stark separation between the deserving working poor and the undeserving welfare poor,” Mr. Obama said in an interview. “What welfare reform did was desegregate those two groups. Now, everybody was poor, and everybody had to work.”

Mr. Obama called the resulting law “an imperfect reform.” Like Mrs. Clinton, he called for an expansion of government-provided health care, child care and job training to assist women making the transition from welfare to work — programs he says he helped expand in Illinois as a state senator.

Asked if he would have vetoed the 1996 law, Mr. Obama said, “I won’t second guess President Clinton for signing.”

Thanks to Lakrosse at MyDD for pointing this out.


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