Monday, February 11, 2008

Paul Krugman vs. Obama: Brilliance, Unhinged

UPDATE, FEB. 19: This is a big deal: as it turns out, Krugman's "cult" smear is actually a meme that's been helped along by the Clinton campaign itself. I had been second-guessing the severity of my criticism of Krugman in this post, because I believed that Krugman was at least sincere, if misled. But if he's one of the "select reporters" that the Clinton camp fed the whole "Obama's hopefulness is really just brainwashing" line -- and he parroted it to his readers without disclosing the campaign's connection -- then he should not only recant, but retire, because it would be as disingenuous as the things Robert Novak does. At a minimum, Krugman owes his readers a full disclosure of any communications with the Clinton camp on this issue -- and, if there is a connection, a sincere apology.

The man who in ordinary times is the best, most honest, most lucid columnist out there, Paul Krugman, seems to have come (I hope temporarily) unhinged in his zeal to promote Hillary Clinton and attack (not too strong a word) Barack Obama. Honest debate is fair, I understand that politics is a contact sport, and while I prefer Obama to Clinton I've never pretended he's perfect -- but Krugman's going over the line, calling Obama supporters a "cult", among other things claiming (contrary to the evidence) that Obama isn't any more electable than Clinton, and (citing only one study by one economist) inaccurately asserting as fact that Obama's health care plan would only cover 50% of Americans (Obama himself, who learned from John Kerry's "Swiftboat" mistake and isn't taking any attacks lying down, dismantles Krugman's analysis on this one). It's sad to see one of the people on my "ideal dinner party" list develop symptoms of what looks like 'roid rage, but he has.

In addition to his regular newspaper columns, Krugman has a blog over at the NY Times. If the moderators allow it, you should find a lengthy comment from me over there soon responding to his recent post claiming Obama isn't any more electable than Clinton. I put enough time into that comment that I thought I'd post the same material here: *****

Paul, I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you before on any significant issue – you’re by far my favorite columnist and political author – but in several recent articles you seem to have lost all perspective in your inexplicable campaign to see Obama fall and Hillary nominated (which I’m not the first to observe: when you call half your readers cultists for supporting Obama, folks are gonna point it out). A Google search for the words ‘krugman attacks obama’ yields 195,000 results, and just the first page of results from a similar search on Google blogs yields examples of how you’re embarrassing yourself here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (great quote in the last one: “A few weeks ago I wondered aloud if Barack Obama had stolen Paul Krugman's girlfriend or maybe accidentally run over his dog. At the time, I was joking, but after reading his piece in today's New York Times, I'm really beginning to wonder”). This post, on electability, is just another example.

Until Super Tuesday (Feb. 5), McCain was just a hypothetical nominee among half a dozen Republicans, while it was fairly clear by mid-January that the Democratic nominee would be either Clinton or Obama. (In your own list of polls, only one before Jan. 10-11 even lists McCain; that’s how unlikely his nomination was thought at the time.) So you’re right to look at the more recent polls, when it was clearer who the likely nominees were. And contrary to your post, those recent polls – as well as older polls with weaker relevance – consistently show that Obama has a big edge over Hillary in a race against McCain. Time puts it at SEVEN POINTS – well outside the margin of error.

In your update adding the two latest polls, both of which show Obama pulling far ahead of Clinton in electability, you dismiss both those polls AND your entire post (which relies on recent polling) by claiming that polls are irrelevant this far before the election, nearly a year away. OK, then, let’s look at long-term trends: for over a year now, in a total of 62 polls, Obama has outperformed Clinton in hypothetical matchups against McCain. The graphic at the bottom of this post shows it clearly: Obama ALWAYS has polled better against McCain than Hillary. If you average the polls each quarter for the past year, Obama NEVER LOSES to McCain, while Clinton spent half the year losing to McCain, even when he wasn’t considered a serious competitor!

Even looking at the pre-Super Tuesday polls you cite in your original article, I see Obama having a significant edge in electability. Let's break it down:

Time, Feb. 1-4: McCain and Clinton tie, Obama wins by 7 points. Spread: 7 points.

CNN/Opinion Research, Feb. 1-3: Obama wins by eight points, Clinton wins by only three. Spread: 5 points.

Cook Political Report, 1/31-2/2: Clinton loses by 4 points, Obama wins by 2. Spread: 6 points.

ABC/WaPo, 1/30-2/1: Clinton loses by 5 points, Obama loses by 1. Spread: 4 points.

Fox/Opinion Dynamics, 1/30-31: Clinton and McCain tie, Obama wins by 1. Spread: 1 point.

NPR, 1/29-31: Clinton loses by 3, Obama loses by 1. Spread: 2 points.

NBC/WSJ, 1/20-22: Obama ties McCain, Clinton loses by 2. Spread: 2 points.

LA Times/Bloomberg, 1/18-22: Hillary Clinton beats McCain by 4, Barack Obama loses by 1. Spread: -3

USA Today/Gallup, 1/10-13: Clinton loses by 3, Obama loses by 5. Spread: -2

Diageo/Hotline, 1/10-12: Obama wins by 1, Hillary loses by 3. Spread: 2

Reuters/Zogby, 1/10-11: Clinton loses by 5, Obama loses by 2. Spread: 3.

(None of the other polls contains relevant matchups.)

Let’s crunch the numbers, shall we?

- Obama outperforms Clinton in 9 of the 11 polls listed. She outperforms him in only 2.

- The “point spread” between Clinton and Obama – ie, how much better Obama does against McCain than Clinton does – increases over time, showing that as Obama gets better known, he pulls ahead of Clinton in electability. By the last four polls, Obama is better than Clinton by margins of 4, 6, 5, and 7 points – a statistically significant advantage and far more than the "they both lose by 1.2%" (i.e., no spread) figure you cite.

- Over the 11 polls you listed, including the earliest ones, Obama runs neck-and-neck with McCain with 5 wins, 1 tie, 5 losses, while Hillary notches on 2 wins, 2 ties – and 7 losses.

So Obama, unquestionably, is not just more electable – he might be the only one of the two candidates who CAN beat John McCain. Given that reality, my two questions are:

(1) Do you really detest Obama so much that you’re willing to lose the election and have a Republican appoint John Paul Stevens’ replacement to the Supreme Court, and possibly Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s as well, making all nine justices Republican for the next 40 years?

(2) Why, oh why, are you jeopardizing your excellent reputation by turning into a disingenuous attack dog for the Clintons?

UPDATE, FEB. 11: BECAUSE WHEN YOU'RE RIGHT, YOU'RE RIGHT: An Associated Press-Ipsos poll just released (more analysis here) shows Senator Obama's continuing strength, both against Senator McCain and as compared to Senator Clinton. In that newest poll, the first major one conducted AFTER Super Tuesday (specifically, Feb. 7-10), Hillary Clinton arguably beats McCain by one point (within the 3+ point margin of error) -- while Barack Obama cleanly beats McCain, 48% - 42%. Which, of course, is where the Democratic candidate should be after seven years of Bush's mismanagement of the country. And the specifics are significant, too. Some are worried that a hidden, racist "Bradley effect" will sink Obama in the general election -- but Obama keeps winning in solidly white states throughout the midwest and north, and this poll indicates that white voters like Obama and Clinton exactly equally. Women? In a matchup against McCain, Obama does BETTER than Clinton with women voters! Minorities? In a McCain matchup, Obama will get 74% of minority votes. Young men? Obama beats McCain by 9 points; McCain beats Clinton by 7 -- a 16 point advantage to Obama. And on and on. Krugman says that both Clinton and Obama will lose by 1.2%? He's just flat-ass wrong. Sorry, Paul. The wish may be father to the thought, but it's time for you to rethink.

Most tellingly about the most recent polls: Obama is winning the votes of moderates and independents, even though his Senate voting record is more liberal than Clinton's. He's winning those voters back to the Democratic Party the same way Ronald Reagan stole them from us: not by running to the center, calculating and triangulating all the way, but by standing on his principles while not being afraid to look for common ground when it truly exists. One is Machiavellian; the other is statesmanlike. And voters, who know a lot more than we give them credit for, will go for the statesman every time they're offered on -- which is about once a generation. Barack Obama is this generation's unique statesman, and none of Hillary's inside-the- Beltway tricks can cancel that out. Or at least, we shouldn't let them cancel that out.



Anonymous said...

Very nice. Thanks for that. And I couldn't agree more about the disappointment in Mr. Krugman.

What really hurts is that his line so directly parrots the official Hillary line. On healthcare, for sure, but also more subtly in the "cult" remark. Hillary's new branding as the candidate of solutions (I've taken to joking that she's actually "in the slogans business") as opposed to the mere rhetoric of Obama is very much meant to imply that Hillary's supporters are active and rational (and therefore stoke them up on that score) fellow "solutions-seekers." Obama's supporters are meant to be passive and irrational - cultist, if you will. How convenient that it also has a racial surplus meaning, i.e., blacks are portrayed as passive and easily fooled. But, since it's so neatly embedded, the messengers can hardly expect to get called on it. How ironic also that you have such allegedly rational and independent-minded peoples flooding the internet with the "solutions" mantra.
Anyways, it's clear that Krugman is supporting this line directly.


Anonymous said...

Pretty good piece on this in a TNR case you missed it.

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