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Never Adopt The Rhetoric Of Your Enemies

Krugman is onto something. Obama’s problem isn’t focus, it is bad kung fu. He allowed the attacks of his enemies to structure his dialogue with the nation about the economy, and he was too timid, as well.

Paul Krugman, The Focus Hocus-Pocus

Mr. Obama’s problem wasn’t lack of focus; it was lack of audacity. At the start of his administration he settled for an economic plan that was far too weak. He compounded this original sin both by pretending that everything was on track and by adopting the rhetoric of his enemies.

The aftermath of major financial crises is almost always terrible: severe crises are typically followed by multiple years of very high unemployment. And when Mr. Obama took office, America had just suffered its worst financial crisis since the 1930s. What the nation needed, given this grim prospect, was a really ambitious recovery plan.

Could Mr. Obama actually have offered such a plan? He might not have been able to get a big plan through Congress, or at least not without using extraordinary political tactics. Still, he could have chosen to be bold — to make Plan A the passage of a truly adequate economic plan, with Plan B being to place blame for the economy’s troubles on Republicans if they succeeded in blocking such a plan.

But he chose a seemingly safer course: a medium-size stimulus package that was clearly not up to the task. And that’s not 20/20 hindsight. In early 2009, many economists, yours truly included, were more or less frantically warning that the administration’s proposals were nowhere near bold enough.

And Obama didn’t listen, and pushed ahead with seventy seven other legislative projects — which he recently was complaining about on Jon Stewart, saying the American people were overlooking all the stuff he’d done — while, meanwhile, his half-hearted efforts on the economy has become his bête noire, and may hold back this country a decade.

Krugman goes on to say that Obama shouldn’t spend the next two years warding off the GOP: he should go on the attack:

There is an alternative: Mr. Obama can take a stand.

For one thing, he still has the ability to engineer significant relief to homeowners, one area where his administration completely dropped the ball during its first two years. Beyond that, Plan B is still available. He can propose real measures to create jobs and aid the unemployed and put Republicans on the spot for standing in the way of the help Americans need.

I agree. This is exactly what I suggested in Proof For The Stupidity Of The Human Race, in the context of climate change and energy policy. He can’t just roll over just because the GOP have a majority in the House. He has to take a principled stand, and convince the people that action needs to be taken. The same is true on a Plan B for increased stimulus.

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