You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Why Is The Obama Campaign Attacking Paul Krugman?

I'm a little confused by the attack on Paul Krugman over at the Obama campaign's "Fact Check" page, which Mike linked to yesterday. Beyond the dubious tactical benefit of attacking a columnist who has a lot of credibility with Democratic voters, and who has probably the biggest platform in print journalism, I'm not quite sure I understand the basis for the attack. The headline on the page is, "Krugman Didn't Always Think So Poorly Of Obama's Plan,'' and the rest of the piece provides  evidence for that point. But so what? It's the kind of attack that might work against a political opponent, because you can say they're changing their position out of political expedience, or because they're suddenly falling in the polls. But a columnist isn't running for anything. He has every right to change his mind.

In any case, Krugman hasn't changed his mind. As far as I can tell from re-reading the columns, his initial reaction to Obama's health care plan was that it was respectable but flawed--flawed because it didn't mandate that people buy insurance. His more recent take? That Obama's plan is respectable but flawed because it doesn't include an individual mandate. Now, it's true that Krugman's tone has gotten harsher of late, and that he's spent a lot more time emphasizing the plan's drawbacks than its merits. But there's a perfectly good reason for that, which Krugman repeatedly explains: Obama has begun touting the lack of an individual mandate as an advantage of his plan, and attacking his rivals for proposing one, which Krugman thinks is either dishonest or misinformed.

To wit, from his November 30 column: "But now Mr. Obama, who just two weeks ago was telling audiences that his plan was essentially identical to the Edwards and Clinton plans, is attacking his rivals and claiming that his plan is superior. It isn’t--and his attacks amount to cheap shots." Or take this from Friday's column: "But lately Mr. Obama has been stressing his differences with his rivals by attacking their plans from the right--which means that he has been giving credence to false talking points that will be used against any Democratic health care plan a couple of years from now."

If you're someone like Krugman, who believes the status quo is a disaster but also that an individual mandate is a critical feature of any health-care plan, it makes perfect sense that you'd have been initially sympathetic to the Obama plan (it's a significant improvement over the status quo, as Krugman notes), and that you'd have gotten frustrated when Obama started criticizing the one feature you thought he really needed to add. From Krugman's perspective, it's Obama who turned on him, not vice versa.

P.S. Here's Krugman himself on this controversy, making essentially the same point. And Ezra Klein, whom Krugman cites in his own response.

--Noam Scheiber