In this story by Amanda Terkel in the Huffington Post, President Obama’s campaign staff is seen launching a new round of strident criticism at the economist, Paul Krugman, and others that it refers to as leftists. They have done so by linking to this post written by blogger, Spandan Chakrabarti, which makes the plausible case that the final debt-ceiling deal was not a particularly bad one for liberals or progressives under the circumstances, a point I agree with. Mr. Chakrabarti describes himself as a “proud liberal and proud American who believes in pragmatic solutions,” and there is no basis from the evidence to disbelieve it. What’s strange is the use to which the Obama campaign has put his post.
In early August, New Mexico State Director Ray Sandoval sent an email to supporters trumpeting Mr. Chakrabarti’s insight with the subject line, “Please take 5 minutes to read this, Please.” They seemed to be endorsing Mr. Chakrabarti’s sharp criticisms of Krugman and three other groups that he refers to, variously, as (i) the professional left, (ii) the “Firebagger Lefty blogosphere,” and (iii) hippies. The campaign email did not include a Venn diagram, which would have been helpful. But the “professional left” is, I gather, those who make their livings promoting leftist causes. Hippies — a mushy word — may refer to those born in the 1950s who decide things more with their hearts than than their minds. And “Firebagger Lefty blogosphere,” I learned from Greg Sargent’s column, is a reference to a progressive website called Firedog Lake that I do not follow.
I can understand why the White House might find it politically advantageous to distance the President from those it considers to be to the far left of the mainstream. No problem there. And I’ve been reading Krugman for long enough to know that his politics are to the left of most and to the left of mine. His economic analysis, however, is something else entirely. It has been careful, detailed, specifically predictive, and — in my view, at least — fully confirmed by subsequent events. (I’ve made this case repeatedly here.) So when I and others whose current politics are driven less by ideology than by the belief that the country is in urgent need of getting its macroeconomic policy right ASAP — get wind that the President is launching ad hominem attacks against the guy who’s had the policy right from the very beginning, and whose views are being more concretely confirmed as each new day passes, I think to myself: The President has no clue. He is no longer trying to effect — and is in fact attacking — the policies that are needed now to prevent the “Great Recession of 2008” from morphing into something altogether worse and more intractable.
I’m still willing to believe that this problem is confined to the President’s political team. I’m willing to believe that Mr. Sandoval’s email was either an ultra vires act or a trial balloon that quickly lost elevation. But it is well nigh inexcusable in my opinion for the President to turn a deaf ear to Paul Krugman’s economic advice because it seems in the current moment to be politically expedient to call him a hippie. If the White House has substantive criticisms of Krugman’s carefully defended view that additional fiscal stimulus is sorely needed now, then let’s hear ’em. If the White House believes that Krugman is correct, but it is unwilling to make that case in the campaign (thereby giving up on the possibility of a post-election mandate to get it done), then please say so. But the launching of what are principally ad hominem attacks against the one of the few economists who’s been right repeatedly has got to stop. It’s worse than unkind. It’s bad politics, in that it alienates those independents who, because they happen to know something about economics, are in a position to influence other voters.