Historic Obama critic Paul Krugman made an about-face in his opinion of the president’s performance in a much-discussed Rolling Stone essay on Oct. 8 that Salon columnist Thomas Frank, who believes Krugman’s “relentless, one-man war on austerity… should have earned him a second Nobel Prize,” finds incredible.

In the Rolling Stone essay, the economist and New York Times columnist declared Obama “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”

Frank begins his critique of the piece by affirming that his disappointment with the president and the disappointment of so many others occurred in significant part “because we paid such close attention to Paul Krugman.” From the Affordable Care Act to the stimulus and financial reform, Krugman wrote time and again, Obama didn’t go far enough. But now Krugman’s decided that “the glass is half full,” Frank states.

Frank makes the case for half empty. “On the really momentous economic issues of our time,” he writes, “all of them brought into sharp, awful focus by the financial crisis of 2008 — Obama’s response has ranged from merely competent to disastrous.”

For starters, “with the application of a little presidential muscle,” Obama could have completely restructured the financial industry that helped tank the U.S. economy. And his ongoing lukewarm effort to tax the rich “isn’t even close to enough to reverse the drift toward plutocracy.” Rather than push for a second New Deal, “Obama chose to deliver instead … a second round of ’90s-style bipartisanship. … The president looked out over a nation laid low by epic white-collar misbehavior and decided that what we needed was for politicians in Washington to get along with one another.”

All of the disappointments of Obama’s presidency can be summed up in his failure to push for policies that could have halted the rightward shift of the country, Frank writes. In 2007 the Republican Party was on its back. Public mistrust in government lingered into the Obama years however, and the president did very little to combat “the perception that the government cared only for the views of the rich.

“The Wall Street bailouts basically blasted the concept of accountability to dust,” Frank writes. “Obama’s Justice Department made sure the public got the message: some people are simply Too Big to Jail. Those people also seem to have been too smart to confront.” Rather than restore public faith in government the president achieved the opposite. His supporters say that’s because the right wouldn’t let him.

But Frank has an answer for that.

“[A]nyone who has followed the news for the last five years knows there is another factor to be taken into consideration here: Obama didn’t do these things because he or his advisors didn’t want to do them. Oh, there were ways to get many of them done, especially in 2009 and 2010, when the world was at Obama’s feet, begging for action. (The only possible obstacle in those days was the filibuster power of Senate Republicans, which should have been — and eventually partially was — taken away.) But the Democrats’ heart wasn’t in it. They didn’t even try.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly


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