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The Krugman-obama Grudge Match Continues

Paul Krugman lays into Barack Obama this morning for Obama's criticisms of some labor 527s  supporting John Edwards:

Mr. Obama has lashed out at Mr. Edwards because two 527s — independent groups that are allowed to support candidates, but are legally forbidden from coordinating directly with their campaigns — are running ads on his rival’s behalf. They are, Mr. Obama says, representative of the kind of “special interests” that “have too much influence in Washington.”

The thing, though, is that both of these 527s represent union groups — in the case of the larger group, local branches of the S.E.I.U. who consider Mr. Edwards the strongest candidate on health reform. So Mr. Obama’s attack raises a couple of questions.

First, does it make sense, in the current political and economic environment, for Democrats to lump unions in with corporate groups as examples of the special interests we need to stand up to?

Second, is Mr. Obama saying that if nominated, he’d be willing to run without support from labor 527s, which might be crucial to the Democrats? If not, how does he avoid having his own current words used against him by the Republican nominee?

Part of what happened here, I think, is that Mr. Obama, looking for a stick with which to beat an opponent who has lately acquired some momentum, either carelessly or cynically failed to think about how his rhetoric would affect the eventual ability of the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she is, to campaign effectively. In this sense, his latest gambit resembles his previous echoing of G.O.P. talking points on Social Security.

Beyond that, the episode illustrates what’s wrong with campaigning on generalities about political transformation and trying to avoid sounding partisan.

It may be partisan to say that a 527 run by labor unions supporting health care reform isn’t the same thing as a 527 run by insurance companies opposing it. But it’s also the simple truth.

But here are a couple of other simple truths that Krugman doesn't mention in his column. Number one, the larger of the two 527s helping Edwards is run by a longtime (though not current) Edwards advisor, Nick Baldick--which isn't an unimportant detail and makes Obama's criticisms look more justified.

Number two, Edwards himself has called on the 527s to stop running the ads on his behalf. (A representative press release from the Edwards campaign: EDWARDS: STOP THESE ADS.) Now, my hunch is that Edwards's demand that the 527s stopping run these ads is totally disingenuous and is the sort of thing he has to say, since he's running on a platform of campaign finance purity. But if Krugman is going to suggest that Obama's criticism of these 527s means that he would refuse the support of labor 527s in a general election campaign, Krugman should probably note that Edwards is in fact refusing the support of labor 527s--and is still receiving it. That's the way the game is played--and there's no reason to think Obama wouldn't play it that way should he win the nomination.

I realize Krugman has reason to be angry with Obama, but I think he's stretching on this one.

--Jason Zengerle