What annoys me about Krugman’s Bernie take is that he’s not even said, “Yeah, I’m a real supporter of single-payer health care, but Bernie is just going about it the wrong way. If he’d change x, y, and z, it would be a realistic plan.”
The positive approach to addressing Bernie would be to offer him constructive policy ideas. If Krugman felt like Democrats needed to be realist in their policy proposals, he’d try to work out realistic numbers for Bernie’s single-payer and college-education plans. But Krugman isn’t doing that. Instead he’s just pointing to every bit of anti-Bernie writing that comes his way, taking it as conclusive, and shutting down the debate there. Worse, Petulant Krugman is coming out, as when — in this latest column — he writes:
But never mind. As you know, I’m only saying these things because I’m a corporate whore and want a job with Hillary.
My problem with his anti-Bernie columns isn’t that I think he’s a corporate shill. My problems are twofold. First, his mind seems made up. And second, look through Krugman’s older blog posts for times when he’s mentioned single payer. Clearly he supports single payer. I assume he supports universal college education. Well then, why not push for those things? If he believes that Bernie is an unelectable, impractical candidate, and hence that he’s going to support Hillary, why not do what he can to bring Hillary more toward the left? Bernie has clearly pulled Hillary leftward; maybe now Bernie needs to be pulled in the direction of realism. Why isn’t Krugman acting as the agent of realism here? Instead he’s acted, since the beginning, as someone whose mind is made up against Bernie. I don’t get it.
(For the record: I voted for Hillary in the primary, but I’m still conflicted about that decision. I believe that any liberal who’s thought about this Democratic primary should also be conflicted. These are both strong candidates, both with obvious weaknesses, and I’d be happy with either of them in the White House.)
Krugman’s beef seems to be that Bernie’s campaign is irremediably flawed by the same sort of unreality that plagues the Republican candidates’ tax plans. (Krugman has also accused the Sanders campaign of having gone off the rails. I blame this on the ludicrous length of the election season, which eventually causes everyone to lose his mind. And again, I think Krugman is grasping at whatever straw he can find. Matt Taibbi responds appropriately.) But here’s a question: is reality in campaign proposals really all that important? The Obama campaign in 2008 advanced a health-insurance plan that lacked an individual mandate, which we know now — and which Hillary knew then — is unworkable because of adverse selection. What virtue does reality have here? The man got into office and fought for what he promised us he’d fight for. Does it matter that he couldn’t make the numbers work out during the campaign? I’m really not convinced by realism as a virtue during a campaign. When it comes time to produce an actual budget that gets scored by the CBO: yes, I want realism then. At that time, Bernie will have a staff whose full-time job is to put together a budget that makes sense. I hope he chooses appropriate staff. But during a campaign? What I want to know is that my guy is fighting for what I care about.
(To the extent that it’s unrealistic, people have criticized Bernie’s plans for costing more than he says. I am willing to pay a lot to get a Northern European social-insurance state here. That is, even if he were more realistic about what it costs, I’d still support him.)
And again: if realism in fact does matter, it seems to me that it’s Krugman’s job to point out what could make Bernie’s numbers more realistic. Does Krugman want single-payer in his lifetime? Does he want us to return to a world where we provide free world-class tax-financed college education? If not now, when? I’m not asking that question rhetorically; I assume that Krugman really believes that now is not the time for single-payer health care, that getting single-payer would require Congressional action, that Congressional action is not plausible, and that only a Clinton presidency which will achieve incremental reform through executive action will succeed in attaining anything. But clearly Krugman’s heart is with Bernie; so why doesn’t Krugman act that way?
And let’s address head-on that point about the need for Congressional action: yes, it’s true. But I think people have a static picture of U.S. government. They envision that Sanders will inherit a Republican majority in both houses of Congress and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. But things change. Maybe the Trump candidacy will bring liberals to the polls. Maybe we’ll replace Scalia with a more-liberal justice; maybe Kennedy will leave the Court and be replaced by someone liberal. There’s a not-implausible political theory by which Sanders stands some chance of passing real progressive legislation. And in either case, I think Krugman is obliged to lay out his political theory. Because it seems pretty clear that Krugman made up his mind about Bernie well before former CEA chiefs declared Bernie’s budget unrealistic. So it seems to me that Krugman needs to declare what his actual problem is.