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When all you’ve got are metaphors

Paul Krugman is wrong:

Dean Baker has exactly the right metaphor for journalists asking the really dumb “are you better off” question:

Suppose your house is on fire and the firefighters race to the scene. They set up their hoses and start spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible. After the fire is put out, the courageous news reporter on the scene asks the chief firefighter, “is the house in better shape than when you got here?”

Yes, that would be a really ridiculous question.

A serious reporter asks the fire chief if he had brought a large enough crew, if they enough hoses, if the water pressure was sufficient. That might require some minimal knowledge of how to put out fires.

Obama came to office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The question should be how well he dealt with that crisis — and in particular whether the man seeking to replace him would have done better.

I am by no means a Ronald Reagan fan. But, WOW — his question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is exactly the right question to ask whenever a president runs for reelection. I just wish Ted Kennedy had thought to ask it so plainly during his primary run.  It might have saved us all a lot of grief.  Or maybe not. So. Not “really dumb,” not even “dumb” — of course there are other questions to ask but I think we can handle that.

If you can’t run on your record then all you’ve got are metaphors

But, the “dumb” crack is only one weakness in Krugman’s argument. The real weakness is that he’s following what is obviously a Democratic Party Talking Point and discussing Obama’s history as president and his current campaign as if he exists in an alternate universe.

Let’s take a quick side trip to another alternate universe as an example in this post by Vast Left Wing Conspiracy:

Note that amid the various threads that split off from this, Aravosis says at one point: “perhaps it’s more accurate to say country is better off and people would be far worse right now if McCain had won.”

But the question at hand wasn’t “would an alt-reality term by the vanquished opponent have been worse?” It was the traditional query about how American citizens fared under the incumbent’s tenure

(I would encourage you to take a look at Vast Left’s post because — well, you’ll hate yourself later if you don’t)

Krugman blows right past the importance of Obama’s record as president and right into a question that is possibly weirder than than Aravosis’s (although Aravosis totally wins the bizarre metaphor competition.) I’ll repeat:

Obama came to office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The question should be how well he dealt with that crisis — and in particular whether the man seeking to replace him would have done better.

Does Krugman REALLY expect that voters are supposed to imagine that Romney ran in 2008 and compare that alt-administration against Obama’s? Because I think that’s dumb.

From my point of view (and granted, I’m not an economist) – I have to wonder why 4 years after my house burned down nothing has been done to rebuild it.

And – as Dan H asked, why haven’t the arsonists been prosecuted.

Obama isn’t running against McCain this year (or Romney in 2008!!) – that’s a done deal. He’s running against his own record and Mitt Romney. Which should have been a joke campaign considering Romney’s history of making a personal contribution to raising the unemployment rate.

That Obama is running neck and neck against the guy shows that Unemployment is likely a critical issue in this race. And many of Obama’s 2008 voters aren’t impressed with his record on the issue.

There is a reason that Team Obama is throwing around all these metaphors — it’s all he’s got to offer us.

17 Responses

  1. Krugman is using the Dem partisan Economist’s version of “If you don’t have the facts, argue the law.”

    Only he, Baker and the partisans are being much more juvenile and dishonest.

    Here’s another question for the Econapologists: Did Obama and the (Supermajority) Dems do all they could to help the poor and working classes?

    Given that nary a word, “Shout Out” or even a passing mention of the role “unions” played in the expansion of the working and middle classes over the years could be found among the mounds of literature dispersed by Convention organizers over the past two days is all the evidence one needs to answer that question in the negative.

  2. Exactly right. Voters don’t make weird what-if simulations when voting for a candidate. They make very simple calculations like: Has my economic condition improved since 2008? For most people, it hasn’t. If you’re a member of the 1 %, you’ve recovered completely. Most of us are either barely hanging on or now are part of the surplus population.

    Paul Krugman is doing what faithful Democrats and Obama apologists are doing which is, inventing alternative reasons to support him because the record is indefensible. I think Krugman genuinely fears what could happen if the Republicans regain power. The average voter applies a less convoluted standard. If the guy in charge stinks, replace him with another.

    • I think that sane people do fear what happens if Republicans gain power. That’s why the Democrats should have given us a candidate who could win.

      This isn’t a game. If the Kansas City Chiefs win or lose, my life doesn’t change in any appreciable way. But, this election year I’ll lose (I’m sure of it) if Romney wins …. and I’ll lose (I’m sure of it) if Obama wins.

      It’s a “game” regular people can’t win.

    • yup…..I think that we are probably marginally better off if Obama wins, but I am not sure. So I can’t vote for him because I can’t vote for people who cheat me out of my vote and call racist and bitter. So screw him I will write in Hillary. Then I will cross my fingers and hope we don’t go down in flames before he is replaced in 2016.

      • Under Romney we might at least gain some bracing polarization, rage, and bitterness.

        All Obama has to offer is four more years of psychic depression, dispiritude, and political demobilization.

  3. I will never vote for Obama for myriad reasons but I’m hoping that the Democratic Party retains the Senate and regains control of the House. These Tea Party people are whacked and I want someone around to fight for Social Security and Medicare and yhe economy. They’re probably more likely to fight if Romney’s in the White House than if Obama is there to offer “grand bargains”.

    I understand why Krugman is trying to make a case for Obama. He’s clearly going with what he views as the lesser of two evils. Voters in the 2010 elections went with “throw the bums out” and we ended up with a bunch of verifiable nutcases in Congress and the Senate who did nothing to help the economy or the jobs issue. In fact, they hurt it. If I hadn’t vowed not to vote for Obama EVER on May 31, 2008, I’d be tempted myself to vote for him even though he’s really a Republican. At least, he’s not on a “mission from God”.

  4. I live in the deep crimson Arkanshire, so my vote for Prez won’t matter anyway. I might as well pick a favorite 3rd party candidate.

  5. The NY Times wants Obama, so Krugman wants Obama..the rest is blah blah blah imo

  6. The poll numbers are striking. Nearly 70 % of the electorate thinks that the economy has either stagnated OR GOTTEN WORSE for them. That’s a terrible indictment of the incumbent’s economic performance. Yet, the President remains personally popular. That shows you how much time is spent cultivating his image ,versus how much time is spent trying to improve the lives of his constituency.

    Mitt Romney is a pretty lousy candidate, but the fact that he remains competitive is because Obama has been such a flop at his job.

    • See, that’s the problem with asking people what they “think”.
      The truth is something completely different. Your lying eyes are always wrong.

      • I’m surprised at Paul Krugman on this. He’s arguing that voters SHOULD apply his analysis: would a Republican have done any better? That works as an academic exercise, it’s not what people do in their lives.

    • Greg is correct about why Richie Retch remains competitive with Obummer, but OTOH, the only reason Richie Retch isn’t clobbering Obummer is that Richie’s party is now an asylum run by the inmates.

  7. The times never sent me a message but they DID publish my comment!

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