12.24.2007

The 527 controversy heats up, and Paul Krugman hits Obama... again

Hard to believe that something that has become as routine as 527sis becoming such a major campaign issue this close to Iowa, particularly considering that the groups in question are mostly labor unions or at least groups affiliated to unions -- hardly an "evil special interest" in the Democratic primary.

First, the AFSCME (which has endorsed Clinton) is now running a radio ad directly aimed at Barack Obama and his health care plan. The ad is running in both Iowa and in New Hampshire. Here's the script, via Time:

Woman’s Voice: Healthcare. It’s a confusing topic. Especially lately. Everyone’s got a plan. But who can make sense of it all? Universal health care where everyone is covered and costs are controlled is within our reach. With all these plans there is one fundamental difference, either everyone is covered or some are left behind. CBS News reports Obama’s plan, according to independent experts, leaves as many as 15 million uninsured. The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes: Obama’s plan would lead to higher premiums by rewarding the irresponsible who don’t get covered. The column goes on to say that there is a quote “uncomfortable sense among some health reformers that Mr. Obama just isn’t that serious about achieving universal care.” Call Senator Obama at 202-224-2854. Tell him we need universal care, not his plan that leaves 15 million behind...

The disclaimer follows. The anti-Obama forces clearly think that the Senator is most vulnerable on health care, which might be a way of saying that he is weakest on policy and substance. But notice that the ad does not mention mandates at all though the main point of contention over health care plans over the past month had been individual mandates. The Boston Globe poll yesterday found Democratic voters narrowly opposing mandates, so it's telling that the AFSCME is leaving that word out of its script.

And it is in this context that Paul Krugman intervened again, choosing to cover the Edwards-Obama fight in his latest column and... blast Obama again, a week or so after calling him the "anti-change candidate" in his previous column! That's right, Krugman is now going after Obama regularly in his columns -- and clearly the campaign made a huge blunder by attacking Krugman with a press release of their own a few weeks back.

Krugman's argument is simple: Just as Obama is giving the GOP talking points by blasting mandates and by saying that Social Security is in crisis, so he is helping them by lumping unions with corporate interest groups and saying that labor should not participate in the campaign -- given how important labor 527s are in the general election for the Democratic nominee. Some excerpts (full piece here):

Barack Obama, though he has a solid pro-labor voting record, has not [received strong union support]— in part, perhaps, because his message of “a new kind of politics” that will transcend bitter partisanship doesn’t make much sense to union leaders who know, from the experience of confronting corporations and their political allies head on, that partisanship isn’t going away anytime soon...

First, does it make sense, in the current political and economic environment, for Democrats to lump unions in with corporate groups as examples of the special interests we need to stand up to?...

Part of what happened here, I think, is that Mr. Obama, looking for a stick with which to beat an opponent who has lately acquired some momentum, either carelessly or cynically failed to think about how his rhetoric would affect the eventual ability of the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she is, to campaign effectively. In this sense, his latest gambit resembles his previous echoing of G.O.P. talking points on Social Security.

Given how Krugman's previous columns on health care were used widely in campaign literature in Iowa (as well as in the AFSCME ad I reported above), it is clear that Krugman has been thrown in the middle of the presidential race -- though it is unlikely this column will be used in the same way. But it should provide some cover for Edwards and, given that Obama was worried enough last month to respond to Krugman in a press release, his campaign clearly thinks that Krugman could represent a danger in the primary race.

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