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Krugman Misreads Obama

Paul Krugman has a column today saying that Barack Obama's campaign is disconnected from the problems of working people:

Yes, I know that there are lots of policy proposals on the Obama campaign’s Web site. But addressing the real concerns of working Americans isn’t the campaign’s central theme.

Tellingly, the Obama campaign has put far more energy into attacking Mrs. Clinton’s health care proposals than it has into promoting the idea of universal coverage. 

In a blog post, he adds that if Obama "runs this way in the general election — if it’s about the candidate’s awesomeness, not about why progressive policies make peoples’ lives better — it’s a formula for defeat."

I think Krugman is missing a huge factor here. Obama and Hillary Clinton agree on 95% of the policy issues. That's why their campaigns -- hers has done it, too -- have focused almost entirely on personal differences between them: who can change Washington, who can answer the phone at 3:00 AM, etc. It's also why their discussion of health care has focused mainly on the differences rather than their point of agreement. (On health care, both sides have demagogued, though Obama has demagogued worse.)

But of course Obama isn't going to campaign this way in the general election. Obama already has a (brief) riff on McCain in his stump speeches, and it centers on policy disagreements over Iraq and the Bush tax cuts. Obama isn't going to run a  primary campaign centered around opposition to the Bush economic program because that isn't a good reasn to vote for him over Clinton. It is a  good reason to vote for him over McCain.

--Jonathan Chait