Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman brings us, with his latest column, an assessment of Senator Barack Obama, considering the Democratic presidential candidate in the context of two other elections, those of 1980 and 1992:
It’s feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It’s also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country’s direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton? ….
…. Reagan, for better or worse — I’d say for worse, but that’s another discussion — brought a lot of change. He ran as an unabashed conservative, with a clear ideological agenda. And he had enormous success in getting that agenda implemented. He had his failures, most notably on Social Security, which he tried to dismantle but ended up strengthening. But America at the end of the Reagan years was not the same country it was when he took office.
Bill Clinton also ran as a candidate of change, but it was much less clear what kind of change he was offering. He portrayed himself as someone who transcended the traditional liberal-conservative divide, proposing “a government that offers more empowerment and less entitlement.” The economic plan he announced during the campaign was something of a hodgepodge: higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes for the middle class, public investment in things like high-speed rail, health care reform without specifics.
We all know what happened next. The Clinton administration achieved a number of significant successes, from the revitalization of veterans’ health care and federal emergency management to the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and health insurance for children. But the big picture is summed up by the title of a new book by the historian Sean Wilentz: “The Age of Reagan: A history, 1974-2008.”
While there are also fundamental differences in the context of the circumstances under which the Reagan and Clinton presidencies occurred, Krugman—who during the primary often criticized Obama—is not without a valid point. Having achieved the nomination, Obama has followed a trend disturbing to American liberals, one that suggests a transformation of the candidate into a different kind of political creature. His withdrawal from public financing, while understandable in a political context, is disappointing, to say the least, for liberals hopeful of a president of principles. And his support of the recent FISA “compromise” ranges into the realm of the frustrating.