Krugman: ‘Who Cares What Centrists Think,’ Obama’s Having A Great Year

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman attempted to puncture a prevailing media narrative on Monday, arguing that — contrary to what Beltway centrists would have you believe — President Obama has actually had a successful 2014.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist highlighted the progress of the Affordable Care Act, financial reform and Obama’s recent new regulations on power plants as evidence that the press and commentariat are wrong when they emphasize the negatives, such as “the contrast between the extravagant hopes of 2008 and the prosaic realities of political trench warfare, the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the mess in Iraq, and so on.”

Krugman was also dismissive of Obama’s relatively low approval rating, contending that it “mainly reflects political polarization” and shouldn’t be used to judge the President.

The columnist wrote that he suspects the narrative of Obama as a lame-duck stems from what he described as “Simpson-Bowles syndrome,” a belief held by many centrist pundits that a grand fiscal bargain is the “overriding issue of our times.”

“This syndrome persists among many self-proclaimed centrists even though it’s overwhelmingly clear to anyone who has been paying attention that (a) today’s Republicans simply will not compromise with a Democratic president, and (b) the alleged fiscal crisis was vastly overblown,” Krugman wrote, while suggesting that Obama’s pursuit for such a budget deal was “wasted” and “would have moved America in the wrong direction.”

The result of the syndrome’s continuing grip is that Mr. Obama’s big achievements don’t register with much of the Washington establishment: he was supposed to save the budget, not the planet, and somehow he was supposed to bring Republicans along.

But who cares what centrists think? Health reform is a very big deal; if you care about the future, action on climate is a lot more important than raising the retirement age. And if these achievements were made without Republican support, so what?

There are, I suppose, some people who are disappointed that Mr. Obama didn’t manage to make our politics less bitter and polarized. But that was never likely. The real question was whether he (with help from Nancy Pelosi and others) could make real progress on important issues. And the answer, I’m happy to say, is yes, he could.

Conservatives like Commentary editor John Podhoretz responded by mocking Krugman as a delusional Obama cheerleader.