In today’s NYTimes “Sunday Review,” there are several letters written in response to Paul Krugman’s
“Learning from Obama,” a (typically) effusive take on what this “hugely consequential” president has
done (column/letters are below).
Since it appeared on April 1, this column is not Krugman’s latest shot at Bernie Sanders. That would
be “Sanders Over the Edge,” a livid and deceptive piece that ran on April 8, and that has raised
some questions as to Krugman’s motives and—I’m sad to say—integrity. (I’ll be sending something
out about those questions in a moment.)
Bad as it is, that hatchet job is less disquieting than “Learning from Obama,” and the letters chosen
for today’s NYTimes. While Krugman’s take on Sanders is a propaganda shot that no one will remember
once the Democratic nomination has been settled (or, as Krugman sees it, rightly handed off to Hillary),
his rosy take on “the Obama years” is very likely to become the Standard Liberal Version of this period—
a likelihood apparent in those letters (or, to be more accurate, in the NYTimes’s selection of them).
While there is much to say against each one of Krugman’s boosterish assertions re: Obama’s record
(“very significant action on climate change”? “the real threat to financial stability … has been greatly
reduced”?), here I will note only one important aspect of Obama’s record that does not come up at all
in Krugman’s column or those letters: the hard fact that Obama is “probably the worst president we’ve
had” on civil liberties.
Those are the words of Robert Scheer, whose verdict has been variously reconfirmed by Glenn Greenwald,
Wendy Kaminer, Jonathan Turley, John Cusack, John Whitehead and many others on the left and right,
noting all the ways in which Obama has been even more repressive than Bush/Cheney—largely going
further than they did with government surveillance, official secrecy, targeted assassination, criminalization
of journalism and peaceful protest, denial of FOIA requests, and prosecution of whistleblowers, among
other lethal blows against the Bill of Rights.
There is no way to justify that catastrophic record—or the New York Times’s tacit willingness to white it
out, since our free press depends on the strict maintenance of the very freedoms that this president
has systemically attacked since taking office, while paying strenuous lip service to their preservation.
(The Times’ white-out is especially bizarre in light of Team Obama’s threat to jail James Risen, Times
reporter, for refusing to identify his confidential sources.)
Even if Obama were the Great Accomplisher that Krugman says he is, it couldn’t possibly make up for
his long drive against our civil liberties—unless, of course, you think a president who “gets things
done” should be allowed to trample on the Constitution if he wants to. If that’s the case, this president’s
apologists are just like those who overlooked Bush/Cheney’s crimes against democracy—and those
who’d do the same for Pres. Trump (or Pres. Clinton 2.0).
Learning From Obama
By Paul Krugman
Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.
At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.
What’s going on?
Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.
I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?
But the successes are there for all to see.
Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.