A Tale Of Two Styles

Over the past couple of days, two people I highly respect, Barack Obama and Paul Krugman,  have succinctly and accurately laid out some rather simple solutions to our long-term debt problems. 

First the President:

When it comes to getting a sustainable debt level, if we went back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was President and we made some modest adjustments to Medicare that preserved the integrity of the system, our long-term debt and deficit problems would go away. And most people here wouldn’t notice those changes.

Here’s Krugman:

The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America’s long-run fiscal problems shouldn’t be all that hard to fix. It’s true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

Very similar, no?

But let’s look at how both men explain why those solutions won’t immediately be forthcoming.  First the President:

But we’ve become so dug in when it comes to sort of ideological purity that we’re not willing to make modest adjustments like that.

Get it? “We’ve become so dug in…” We. We. The implication is that both sides are dug in and thus equally to blame. And keep in mind that Mr. Obama’s remarks came at a DNC event!  If he can’t clearly name names there, where can he?

Now, Krugman’s view:

So why can’t we do that? Because we have a powerful political movement in this country that screamed “death panels” in the face of modest efforts to use Medicare funds more effectively, and preferred to risk financial catastrophe rather than agree to even a penny in additional revenues.

The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn’t whether we’ll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized.

There is no doubt who Mr. Krugman believes is responsible for the failure to solve the long-term problem.  There isn’t any “we” to blame.

As I said, I respect both men a great deal.  But until Mr. Obama starts talking like Paul Krugman—no matter what the pundits may say—a majority of the American people may take the “we” seriously in Mr. Obama’s analysis and conclude he is part of the problem.


  1. At some point our president is going to realize that sitting in the middle is how you get run over. I don’t know how many tire treads he needs up his back to get that. The debt debate was his chance to shine and he let the narrative turn against him.
    Most of those us who support him understand the issues he is facing and we do sympathize with the difficulty of dealing with an opponent who gives nothing. That doesn’t mean you let them define you, you define yourself and your argument.


    • Dave,

      I couldn’t agree more. It is frustrating. I can only say that the President sees himself as president of all the people, not just of his party. He genuinely tries to appeal to the other side to get things done, which is the pragmatist in him. As you say, though, the problem is that by constantly reaching out to the other side he is allowing himself to be defined by his failures to get the other side to compromise. He has seriously, and I mean seriously, underestimated how much the other side hates him and wants to see him fail. He should have listened and taken to heart what Rush Limbaugh, who is the de facto leader of conservatism-in-exile, said about wanting to see Barack Hussein Obama fail.



  2. ansonburlingame

     /  August 9, 2011


    Obama defined himself and made his arguments and with a huge Dem majority in both houses rammed them home fairly forcefully. His argument of course was to SMM and we did so and a lot more is headed our way in Obamacare and continued growth in all sorts of entitlements.

    Now the Tea Party has defined its argument to SSMM. But they have yet to shove it down America’s throats ( or up….). But they have forced the debate to the right subject, spending money on what?

    And when both side “define themselves” on principles and government shutdowns loom, well it takes to two tango to cause a shutdown or default which we did narrowly missed this time (twice).

    We’ll see what happens next time around, say during the holidays.

    By the way if you want to know my views on “What won” go to my blog at ansonburlingame.wordpress.com. Looks like Dems won at least 2 out of 3.



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