Barack Obama was elected in large measure because when the financial crisis became public just before the first scheduled presidential debate, voters appreciated that rather than the normal fight or flight response expected in a crisis and exhibited by his rival, John McCain, Obama’s response was calm and reasonable. Right now much of the Washington political circles are in full fight or flight mode — or the political variant, the fight or blame response.
No one should be surprised that Paul Krugman is frustrated that President Barack Obama has not accomplished more in his first three weeks in office, Krugman was impatient even before Obama took the Oath of Office. Krugman was critical of Obama’s campaign statements, critical during the transition, critical of the Inaugural Speech, and continues to assert that Obama is too cautious and too accommodating.
It is hard to be too critical of Krugman. The Nobel Prize winning economist has looked at the numbers and he believes the sky really is falling. But after years of manufactured crises and leaders who were deaf to any advice, this new circumstance – a real crisis and leadership with something between the ears – will require all of us to learn new patterns of behavior.
Progressives are used to feeling that they have just one chance at a particular moment, that everything is stacked against them: the Republicans, Democrats who want to compromise with the center, and eight years of the George Bush Administration. Progressives have been in a mode to fight and fight hard. As Rahm Emanuel has been quoted recently saying, “Never let a serious crisis to go to waste,” but anyone who worries that this crisis will go to waste, is vastly underestimating how long this crisis will be with us.
With his press conference last night Obama is pushing hard enough for this bill to solidify his Democratic base, but his impatient critics on the left need to get their breathing under control. Every good proposal that comes out of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act gives the Democrats something to fight for another day. Obama is properly focused on what can be accomplished today and also on waking up tomorrow to do more. It is the first step in a long battle. Paul Krugman may stay frustrated for a while but the battle to turn the economy around is going to look a lot less like “shock and awe,” and a lot more like “a long hard slog.”