December 11, 2007

TalkLeft has a useful summary up on the reaction to Barack Obama's apostacy on the High Priest of the Progressive Sanhedrin, Paul Krugman. He's a good columnist, and one of our most effective cheerleaders, and I'm certainly not going to quibble about his specific critiques of the Senator's health care plan; as a supporter of single payer, I think all of the prospective nominees' plans are crappy, but are redeemed only by the fact that they are potentially less crappy than the status quo.

But one of the things I used to love about Bill Clinton was his ring savvy. He could punch like Marciano when necessary, but also play use the four corners of the ring like Ali. After a generation of weak liberals going back to 1968, having a ruthless and cunning S.O.B. as the party's nominee was refreshing. And it wasn't just the "Sista Souljah" moment, either; turning the Gennifer Flowers story back on the accuser (thanks, Stuttering John) and executing Rickey Ray Rector let voters know that this wasn't Mike Dukakis. Clinton had a sense of what the public wanted, and he knew that it was more important that Rector was a cold-blooded cop killer before he became a drooling idiot, and that most voters secretly admire lotharios, particularly those who get away with it.

I have the impression that Obama may have those same qualities. He is now, for all intents and purposes, the Democratic frontrunner, which in this political climate makes him the person most likely to be our next President. He has quite ably turned aside the first counterattacks from the Clinton campaign, and in particular a whispering campaign by her minions about an alleged scandal. The lefty blogosphere is full of potential Sista Souljahs; the unmediated nature of this type of journalism all but invites wackjobs, and those will be easy pickin's for a liberal politician to disassociate himself from the crazies.

And in this instance, he's taken advantage of one of the big weaknesses of Paul Krugman, Big Foot Columnist: his academic need to nuance his arguments about political issues. Ezra Klein and Digby are right, at least to this extent: the Senator is basically demagoguing Mr. Krugman's disagreement on the issue of mandates. But as Clinton showed in 1992 and 1996, and again during the Starr-Lewinsky Affair, a politician who effectively triangulates against his own party can be especially ruthless when it comes to battling the other side. Mastering the rhetorical feints of the other side is a devastating tactic when it comes to the general election. So Mr. Krugman (and the lefty blogosphere) have to suck it up on this one and take one for the team.

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