The Washington blogosphere was alive Sunday with talk about New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's column accusing the media and the Obama administration of "Orwellian centrism" in what he calls a re-writing of the history surrounding health care reform.
Krugman criticizes Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank for an opinion piece praising President Obama for taking a tougher line with progressives in his party over the tax cut deal the administration struck with Republicans. Milbank wrote:
This is a hopeful sign that Obama has learned the lessons of the health-care debate, when he acceded too easily to the wishes of Hill Democrats, allowing them to slow the legislation and engage in a protracted debate on the public option. Months of delay gave Republicans time to make their case against "socialism" and prevented action on more pressing issues, such as job creation. Democrats paid for that with 63 seats.
"That’s not what happened," argues Krugman. "The debate over the public option wasn’t what slowed the legislation. What did it was the many months Obama waited while [Sen.] Max Baucus tried to get bipartisan support, only to see the Republicans keep moving the goalposts; only when the White House finally concluded that Republican 'moderates' weren’t negotiating in good faith did the thing finally get moving."
Krugman then moves to a harsh critique of the media and conventional wisdom in Washington, suggesting that they are re-writing history to make it appear that Obama's shift to the political center is necessary -- when, in fact, the opposite may be true.
So look at how the Village constructs its mythology. The real story, of pretend moderates stalling action by pretending to be persuadable, has been rewritten as a story of how those DF hippies got in the way, until the centrists saved the day.
The worst of it is that I suspect Obama’s memory has gone down the same hole.
A column from Nate Silver at the FiveThirtyEight polling-analysis blog appears to side with Krugman and against Milbank in the debate. While Milbank argues that Obama's deference to the left cost him 63 House seats, Silver suggests that ignoring the left costs Obama support.
As he endures criticism from his left over his handling of the tax policy debate with Republicans, his approval rating has declined among liberals, according to the poll: 69 percent of them now approve of his job performance as compared with 78 percent in November. Likewise, his approval rating has declined among Democrats: to 74 percent from 83 percent. However, there has been no comparable improvement in Mr. Obama’s standing among independents.
If he moves toward the center in light of November’s election results and the impending Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, he will annoy liberals without winning himself much more support among independents....
But Silver notes that "liberal dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama may not translate into a willingness to vote against him in 2012. In the Marist poll, Mr. Obama won the support of between 78 and 85 percent of both liberals and Democrats against a group of three potential Republican presidential nominees: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee."