News & Politics

Paul Krugman: Why Obama (and Clinton) Are Like F.D.R.

When does idealism meet the cold hard realities of governing?

Photo Credit: via YouTube

Paul Krugman came down even more clearly on the side of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in Friday's column. His argument, in a nutshell: Sanders is too idealistic. Clinton is more practical, and that's the way you get things done.

Although Krugman is not one to espouse much similarity between the two major parties, one way he finds them roughly similar is "the persistent delusion that a hidden majority of American voters either supports or can be persuaded to support radical policies, if only the right person were to make the case with sufficient fervor." He continues:

You see this on the right among hard-line conservatives, who insist that only the cowardice of Republican leaders has prevented the rollback of every progressive program instituted in the past couple of generations. Actually, you also see a version of this tendency among genteel, country-club-type Republicans, who continue to imagine that they represent the party’s mainstream even as polls show that almost two-thirds of likely primary voters support Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz or Ben Carson.

Meanwhile, on the left there is always a contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions. In 2008 that contingent rallied behind Mr. Obama; now they’re backing Mr. Sanders, who has adopted such a purist stance that the other day he dismissed Planned Parenthood (which has endorsed Hillary Clinton) as part of the “establishment.”

But as Mr. Obama himself found out as soon as he took office, transformational rhetoric isn’t how change happens. That’s not to say that he’s a failure. On the contrary, he’s been an extremely consequential president, doing more to advance the progressive agenda than anyone since L.B.J.

It's not difficult to see where Krugman is going with this. He's making a case for Clinton's incrementalism over Sanders' sweeping change. Obama achieved what he did, Krugman says, by accepting compromises on healthcare, financial reform and by raising taxes on the rich while not making a dent in inequality. Sanders, Krugman suggests, may resemble candidate Obama; but Clinton is heir to Obama as president. And for Krugman, that's a good thing.

Krugman devotes the remainder of his column to a discussion of how and when big changes have occurred in American politics. Even F.D.R., he suggests had to make compromises with Southern racists to get things done. "Remember, too, that the institutions F.D.R. created were add-ons, not replacements," Krugman writes. "Social Security didn’t replace private pensions, unlike the Sanders proposal to replace private health insurance with single-payer. Oh, and Social Security originally covered only half the work force, and as a result largely excluded African-Americans."

So, have your idealism, Krugman concludes, but the reality is that the next president will still have to deal with a likely Republican and recalcitrant Congress, and good luck with that.



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