Paul Krugman on Why We Need to Give Obama a Break

In his most recent column, Paul Krugman wonders why liberals continue to express such colossal disappointment with Obama. Then he proceeds to answer his own question by saying that it must be because liberals are buying into the prevailing media narrative of the Obama administration as floundering and troubled, a narrative that has not quite caught up with reality. Krugman suggests that judging leaders by their media and approval ratings is all wrong. "You should judge leaders by their achievements, not their press, and in terms of policy substance Mr. Obama is having a seriously good year," he writes. "In fact, there’s a very good chance that 2014 will go down in the record books as one of those years when America took a major turn in the right direction."

Pretty bold statement, and a hopeful one. The reasons the esteemed economist gives? Health reform is looking like a big success story, despite its rough start. The doomsday predictions did not come true, and states that signed up for the Medicaid expansion have drastically lowered their numbers of uninsured residents. Another indication that Obamacare is a success? According to Krugman: "Notably, additional insurance companies are entering the exchanges, which is both an indication that insurers believe things are going well and a reason to expect more competition and outreach next year."

And the second big area where Obama has taken decisive action? All together now: Climate policy. "The Obama administration’s new rules on power plants won’t be enough in themselves to save the planet, but they’re a real start," Krugman writes, "and are by far the most important environmental initiative since the Clean Air Act. I’d add that this is an issue on which Mr. Obama is showing some real passion."

These are the two major areas where Obama has shown significant leadership, but Krugman also gives some quarter to the President on financial reform. It is "weaker than it should" be, but still "real," Krugman says. "Just ask all those Wall Street types who, enraged by the new limits on their wheeling and dealing, have turned their backs on the Democrats.

The column is not a complete paean to the president. Krugman regrets the "missed opportunities" early on, which in his estimation included  "inadequate stimulus [and] the failure to offer significant relief to distressed homeowners. Also, he wasted years in pursuit of a Grand Bargain on the budget that, aside from turning out to be impossible, would have moved America in the wrong direction."

But in the second term, Obama seems to be making good on his promise for change. So why, Krugman wonders, does the press keep bashing him?

Some might be blaming Obama for the extreme polarization between the two parties, hardly the president's fault, we'd have to agree. More Krugman:

The result of the syndrome’s continuing grip is that Mr. Obama’s big achievements don’t register with much of the Washington establishment: he was supposed to save the budget, not the planet, and somehow he was supposed to bring Republicans along.

But who cares what centrists think? Health reform is a very big deal; if you care about the future, action on climate is a lot more important than raising the retirement age. And if these achievements were made without Republican support, so what?

A simple case for giving credit where due.


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