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Paul Krugman’s Inadequate Apologetics

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I didn’t expect to agree with all, or even most, of Paul Krugman’s Rolling Stone article defending President Obama as “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.” What I did expect was something more ambitious than the case Krugman actually ended up making. His article really is the equivalent of the ‘everything leads to nuclear war‘ strategy practiced in competitive debating.

The entire argument more or less rests on the reader accepting that anything besides an Obama presidency would have been catastrophic. Obama might only have been marginally better than his political rivals and predecessors, but that slight difference made all the difference.

Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the piece is how Krugman disdains critics of the President too much to seriously engage with them. “In Defense of Obama” is not a rigorous take down of the political opposition so much as the indignant explaining of an exhausted, and by now disinterested, parent.

The just north of 4,000 word article sports only five data points, a rather disheartening ratio coming from a former winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Especially given that nearly every issue Krugman touches on has significant if not central portions which are all quantifiable.

From a report by The Commonwealth Fund (via Forbes)

From a report by The Commonwealth Fund (via Forbes)

Since The New York Times columnist insisted on making his defense of Obama a (not so elaborate) exercise in opportunity cost analysis, one would have thought a more precise form of accounting was in order. Instead, Krugman provides a shallow treatment of policy in every major area as it has developed under the oversight of an Obama administration. In each case, he addresses his arguments to centrist pundits and various other flavors of Very Serious People. Obama-bashing from the right is condemned as self-serving hackery, while criticism from the left is simply too difficult to take “seriously,” and thus completely ignored.

More importantly, Krugman’s lukewarm encomium is emblematic of a liberal attitude that has come to both define, and limit, a large swath of the political left. One that has so forcefully bought into the cult of the presidency, and feels so at home in the shallow binary struggles between Democrats and Republicans, that it spends more time circulating Jon Stewart bits and commenting on the most outrageous conservative moment of the day than actually pushing a positive agenda for progressive change.

This is why, on the eve of the midterm elections, the conscience of a liberal has devoted a Rolling Stone cover story to the defense of the country’s highest-ranking, non-legislating Democrat–you know, one of the few politicians who happens to not actually be up for re-election.

A further irony is Krugman’s Catch-22 characterization of the last six years. It was the best of times, it was the most disappointing of times. Things could have been a whole lot better, but they also could have been a whole lot worse. Important work was accomplished during that time, but much more remains to be done, mostly because not enough work was accomplished during that time.

From the Current Population Survey (via NPR)

From the Current Population Survey (via NPR)

From health care to banking to the economy, Krugman lauds policies either proposed or supported by the administration for being better than the status quo. The overwhelming improbability that President Obama, and the party he led, achieved everything that was politically feasible, that the stimulus, Dodd-Frank, and the ACA happened to each strike the perfect balance between what was beneficial for the country and what was realistically possible, seems lost on Krugman.

There were no ways in which Obamcare could have been improved without sinking it in the Senate. Any shortcomings in the ARRA pale in comparison to even weaker responses to the global recession by other countries at the time (none of which he actually cites).

In short, “We can argue about how much Obama could have altered this literally depressing turn of events…” but, “The bottom line on Obama’s economic policy should be that what he did helped the economy, and that while enormous economic and human damage has taken place on his watch, the United States coped with the financial crisis better than most countries facing comparable crises have managed.”

From the Energy Information Administration (via Vox)

From the Energy Information Administration (via Vox)

It’s hard to imagine a more defeatist brand of liberalism than this. How do you energize and mobilize a political base around more radical solutions to problems like stagnating wages and increasing economic inequality while praising political leaders for severely compromising on every one of them?

The more Krugman tries to stake out a defense of the Democrats’ idol, the more ground he sacrifices in a larger conversation about actual policies. There is something laughably vain and tribal, and arguably useless, in trying to vindicate a single political figure by seeking to arbitrarily score six years of complex political struggle.

Global carbon emissions (via Vox)

Global carbon emissions (via Vox)

The second to last section of the article is telling in this respect, since Krugman mostly keeps his mouth shut on issues of foreign policy, i.e. those issues the President has the most direct control over, precisely because of how complex they are. Krugman can find little to distinguish Obama from past U.S. presidents, and claims to lack the “expertise” required to weigh in on questions regarding war powers, privacy, or the continued bombing of other people in other countries.

In all of the categories the President should be held most accountable, for better or worse, Krugman defers judgment, despite spending so many earlier paragraphs lionizing Obama for policies he had far less of a role in crafting or making into law.

The result is tragically ineffectual. Left-leaning politicians in the upcoming election will continue to steer clear of Obama (much less admit to whether they ever voted for him). Much of the liberal chattering class will look to pin their hopes on 2016 presidential hopefuls. And should another Democrat be elected to the White House that year, liberals will have another totem to rally around for the ensuing political cycle, whose narrow victories and simple defeats will provide much catharsis long after the ice caps have all melted.

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112 thoughts on “Paul Krugman’s Inadequate Apologetics

  1. Perhaps the clearest take away from the piece is how Krugman disdains critics of the President too much to seriously engage with them.

    This is Krugman’s modus operendi, at least it has been since teaming up with Robin Wells and starting the Times column.

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  2. A pity. An economic analysis of Obama’s influence on world politics would be most enlightening, I’d wager.
    Oh, well, Krugman’s job isn’t forensic analysis.

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  3. So he failed to “energize and mobilize a political base around more radical solutions …”; he sacrificed ground “in a larger conversation about actual policies.” OK. So? Maybe his purpose in writing the piece was to assess the president’s performance, rather than to advance your favorite goals.

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    • But , the bully pulpit! It’s magical powers should’ve saved the House in 2010. Ya’ know, I mean, I’m totally ignoring that Obama was on the campaign trail for all sorts of things over the past six years, because for some reason, that didn’t work!

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      • “Its magical powers should’ve saved the House in 2010. ”

        It does seem odd that a party that was on a heck of roll from 2006 to 2009 due to war weariness and a shaky economy would, in 2010 – when both were in the rear view mirror (albeit close) – all of sudden see a complete reversal of fortune, at the state and federal level, and furthermore that reversal to happen *in a census year*, the stakes of which should have been apparent to the party leadership since at least 1930, and planned for since at least 2008.

        Maybe that was all just Martha Coakley’s fault? She’s the one that stopped the momentum, after all. (or maybe it was Creigh Deeds).

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      • Didn’t Bush spend like half his presidency on vacation? I don’t remember all that many Fox News viewers criticizing him for it. The “Obama’s golfing too much” thing is yet more evidence that people don’t care what they criticize the other side for, so long as they’re criticizing him for something. “Look, he’s wearing the wrong color suit!”

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      • Dude, I *LOVED* how much time Bush spent on vacation! Some of my (D) friends would complain about Bush being in Crawford or whatever and I never, ever understood it until I saw a particular someecards card: Once you hate someone, everything they do is offensive. “Look at this bitch eating those crackers like she owns the place.”

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      • If I’ve heard their respective critics correctly, every president in my lifetime has spent a shameful amount of time on the golf course. We’d have world peace and colonies on Mars if we could have just kept those guys on task over the past 30 years or so.

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      • Does anyone really want a president to not take vacation? All that is going to lead to is a burnt out president that’s less effective. This is especially true because they don’t really have real weekends.

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      • I’ll gladly agree that it was a dumb promise of Obama to make and it was a dumb criticism of Bush by liberals. But it’s also a dumb criticism of Obama now, and if the R nominee makes a similar promise in 2016, that’ll be a dumb response to a dumb criticism of Obama. As Mo points out, we want our presidents to get some level of rest to avoid burnout and exhaustion. Similarly, committee hearings are useful even if most of the members aren’t there because they get witnesses in the chamber and on record. If people successfully criticize incumbents for missing hearings, then they’ll schedule fewer hearings and we’ll get an even more dysfunctional congress.

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    • His stated goal was to argue that “Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”

      Ethan’s point is that Krugman doesn’t back that claim up; at best Krugman’s argument supports the notion that “Obama hasn’t been horrible and has been better than the alternatives.”

      Additionally, the snark about the power of the “bully pulpit” should be directed at Krugman rather than Ethan, since Ethan’s other point is that just about all of the achievements Krugman cites are legislative, and Obama is….not a legislator.

      The one area Krugman addresses in which Obama has direct authority and power – foreign policy and national security – is the one area where Krugman admits that Obama has let liberals down. And yet, remarkably, Krugman then immediately dismisses that concern and gives Obama a pass because, and I quote, “I have no special expertise here.”

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      • Ethan’s point is that Krugman doesn’t back that claim up

        No, that was not Ethan’s point at all; he explicitly denies that’s his point in the first sentence of the piece. His point, as stated in his second sentence, is that he wanted something more ambitious. My point was that Krugman is under no obligation to write the article Ethan wants to read.

        As for foreign policy, how can Krugman’s “admit[ting] that Obama has let liberals down” constitute “give[ing] Obama a pass?” So he didn’t focus on it. Should he pontificate at length on a subject on which he admits he lacks expertise?

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      • I don’t know that history will look back on Obama and say that Obama is one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.

        I don’t want to get bogged down in the whole “define success” problem so I’ll just run with “consequential” and look at the two biggies from the 20th Century and look at FDR and LBJ… arguably the two most consequential presidents after Lincoln.

        I’m pretty sure that we walked away from FDR knowing that, hey, he changed the game. We got a New Deal.

        How did we walk away from LBJ? (“Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”) It seems to me that he decided to not run for a second term and that tells me that he, at least, didn’t think that he had much more to offer… but did we leave 1968 thinking that he changed the game? Did we walk away from LBJ shaking our heads?

        I dunno. Do we have anyone old enough to say?

        All that to say, we probably don’t have the perspective necessary to say whether we’re going to start saying “FDR, LBJ, and BHO” at some point in the future.

        The fact that many will walk away from Obama’s 2nd term shaking their heads doesn’t really indicate much… we did that for LBJ, it seems to me. It really doesn’t strike me as likely that Obama is “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history” but… hey. I probably would have said that about LBJ in 1969.

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      • One can make the case that LBJs consequential-ness is overrated. Putting aside Medicare, which is a big fishin deal, and here to stay, a good chunk of the welfare state as envisioned and enacted during his administration has been cut and/or reformed due to political reaction or an assessment (from supporters) that it simply doesn’t work (an example of the latter: public housing projects).

        Contrast that with the welfare state as envisioned by FDR, who did change the game, both politically and economically, and saw his programs only fall by the wayside (after the Supreme Court become pliant) due to the transition to the total war economy. Contrast also LBJs record with both FDR and Nixon, each of whom’s regulatory state (as distinguished from the welfare state) mostly endures to the present day.

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      • We did walk (run) away from LBJ’s Police Action on Poverty. Sadly, though, it does appear to have actually worked well. His War over there crippled continuing his “war” over here to the point he didn’t seek reelection.

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      • Don’t forget, the New Deal had a lot of sub-optimal carveouts upon passage too. I think it’s pretty hard to imagine a world in which Obamacare doesn’t make the pantheon of major social programs (which, of course, isn’t to say that everyone will love it; lots of people hate the FDR and LBJ programs even today). Especially when you consider that Obamacare is much more likely to be expanded than contracted going forward, and BHO will wind up getting credit for the expanded version of his program just like FDR does (for example, red states are going to have to accept the medicare expansion one of these days).

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      • Ethan’s point is that Krugman doesn’t back that claim up; at best Krugman’s argument supports the notion that “Obama hasn’t been horrible and has been better than the alternatives.”

        I think this comes down to Krugman using terms like “consequential” and “successful” specifically in comparison to the alternatives (Hillary, McCain, Romney, other countries) and Ethan using them in comparison to a liberal ideal. That’s why Ethan doesn’t make any comparisons to other presidents or countries, but rather points to a bunch of charts showing that the US is still screwed up. Krugman’s point is fairly straightforward: If McCain or Romney had won, we would’ve had a depression, out-of-control health-care growth, and massive upward wealth-transfers. I don’t think Ethan disputes these points, so I’m confused as to what Ethan actually disagrees with.

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      • I have a really difficult time reading

        “What I did expect was something more ambitious than the case Krugman actually ended up making.

        …and concluding that it means something entirely separate from “Krugman’s support for his claim is incredibly weak sauce.” This is made even more difficult by the fact that the rest of Ethan’s post is dedicated to pointing out how wishy-washy all of Krugman’s supporting points are.

        As for foreign policy, how can Krugman’s “admit[ting] that Obama has let liberals down” constitute “give[ing] Obama a pass?” So he didn’t focus on it. Should he pontificate at length on a subject on which he admits he lacks expertise?

        He doesn’t need to pontificate at length, but in a piece arguing that Obama is – and I quote – “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history,” his response to the question of whether Obama could or should have been better on the one thing where Presidents have the greatest authority probably should be something other than “I have no special expertise,” while then excusing Obama’s foreign policy problems as him being “just an ordinary president” but somehow being expert enough to assume (without evidence) that Obama was better in this area than Romney or McCain would have been.

        Additionally, where is his “no special expertise” disclaimer to the environmental and social policy sections?

        This is doubly true when all of the items for which he praises Obama to high heaven are couched in terms of those “successes” ranging “from the pretty good to the not-so-bad to the ugly.”

        So to recap Krugman’s argument:

        “Not sucking completely” in the area in which Obama had the most control = disappointing, but not terribly important because presumably the GOP would have sucked even more completely. Also not worth getting too excited about because Krugman “has no special expertise.”

        “Not sucking completely” in the areas in which Obama had the least direct control = “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful Presidents in American history.”

        In what way is that a coherent argument for anything?

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      • I think this comes down to Krugman using terms like “consequential” and “successful” specifically in comparison to the alternatives (Hillary, McCain, Romney, other countries) and Ethan using them in comparison to a liberal ideal.

        I got tripped over his use of the terms “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”

        If all he meant by that was “better than Hillary, McCain, Romney, and the various leaders of the Mediterranean countries”, he probably should have chosen his wording a bit more carefully.

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  4. I dunno, I thought Krugman set out modest goals for his article and concretely achieved them. Since the worst criticism or opposition you seem to have mustered is “that’s not very inspirational” I’d take it you don’t have much to object to on that level either. Domestically Obama achieved a lot considering the highly calculated and cynical absolute opposition he faced from the GOP and the nature of the Democratic Party team he had to maintain near absolute lock step cooperation from to get anything done.

    I understand that from your domestic position significantly to the left of the party this is unsatisfactory but I’d submit you need to take that up with the electorate more than anything. The voters just aren’t where you are yet. I think that means some work needs to be done.
    That said my personal feelings towards Obama are far from rosy. His devotion to his own bipartisan bona fides, for instance, led to him literally offering the whole farm to the GOP- a catastrophic error that he was spared only because the GOP was so insanely overreaching at the time that they literally refused to take victory because they’d be taking it from Obama’s hands. I’d also submit that the ACA really belongs to Pelosi and Reid far more than Obama in the credit department; they were the ones who rescued it at zero hour.

    I’m sympathetic on foreign policy but of course more moderate than you. Excising the W administration civil rights/torture kudzu up root and branch would have been the moral and heroic thing to do. It would also have meant sacrificing everything else on Obama’s agenda and likely consuming his first (and potentially only term). I share your disappointment that he was unwilling to make that sacrifice even as I emphasize with him why he refused to do so.

    It looks like the Libyan intervention may have been an error. It sure isn’t an unambiguous win. The best one can say for it is that it was done on the cheap. Afghanistan, probably the best one can expect- no American candidates were willing to simply pull up and leave. Iraq, he left as quick as he could and thank goodness he did. I don’t lay Syria or ISIS at his feet personally.

    And global warming? That problem transcends Obama. The planetary populace is concerned about AGW, they’re interested in doing something about it. They are not, however, willing to spend much to do it and they won’t jump off the ledge unless everyone else does it with em. That’s a global electorate problem again, not an Obama problem.

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    • This. +1 North. Our electoral system and demography aren’t ideal for really liberal legislation on domestic issues. There are millions of Americans that think Obama is too liberal, the sixty million Romney voters come to mind, and even many staunch and loyal Democratic Obama supporters aren’t necessarily that progressive. The electoral system gives Republicans an edge on the house and there are lots of tools in the procedural book to gum up the works. Considering what Obama faced, he one a lot.

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  5. Please explain the problem with, for example, saying “I would prefer a different version of healthcare reform, but I recognize that version is politically impossible and that what we got is a huge step forward”.

    You seem, at times, to call this “the equivalent of the ‘everything leads to nuclear war‘ strategy practiced in competitive debating”, a “defeatist brand of liberalism”, proof that Krugman “has so forcefully bought into the cult of the presidency”, and “laughably vain and tribal, and arguably useless”. Each strikes me as bizarre, and several strike me as contradictory.

    I think it’s pretty clearly an honest evaluation of what happened. Obama passed HCR, and as a result millions of people are better off. Krugman (and, to be clear, I) would have liked stronger controls, like a public option. But that very clearly wasn’t going to happen. And I find it almost certain that a McCain presidency wouldn’t have passed any reform (no prior president had, and McCain sure hated this one).

    That isn’t the nuclear war negation argument. There is no extreme claim whatsoever.

    That isn’t defeatist, it’s realist to say “this is a good step, but not perfect”

    That is the opposite of the “cult of the presidency” in that it admits the president is constrained by legislative-branch realities.

    That is also the farthest thing from tribal. It’s looking at a problem, assessing the solution, and presenting pros and cons to lead to the conclusion that on balance it’s a “big [Bidenism] deal”. Isn’t that what we should all be doing, at least if we aren’t named Krugman?

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  6. Relevant footnote from the Commonwealth Fund survey: The Affordable Care Act is increasing the number of Americans with coverage and improving access to care, though the data in this report are from years prior to the full implementation of the law.

    It’s hard to imagine a more defeatist brand of liberalism than this. How do you energize and mobilize a political base around more radical solutions to problems like stagnating wages and increasing economic inequality while praising political leaders for severely compromising on every one of them?

    Krugman’s point is that compromise is how you get half a liberal program instead of none of it. What would you consider a less defeatist brand of liberalism: telling Obama voters that they guy they got elected is a no-goodnick and that they should kill their parents and vote Ron Paul? Krugman doesn’t waste time debating how Obamacare could have been improved because it is an unanswerable question. We have no idea how liberal a policy we could have gotten. We do know that Obama’s policies – both foreign and domestic – have been far more liberal than his Republican *and* Democratic opponents. Do you want more liberal policies? Elect more liberal candidates.

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  7. I do remember Krugman being pretty much for PPACA since its inception, but I remember Krugman being pretty strongly against ARRA at the time it passed (as being ineffective by a factor of 2 or 3). And on the latter placing the blame squarely on the administration *because* it tried to compromise too much (and that the administration’s view of the economic situation was better than it should have been).

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  8. Parts of the Oregon discussion are relevant here, I think. It really doesn’t matter what Krugman writes, or what one’s opinion of that is, in the context of building a more liberal progressive America. (if that is one’s aim).

    The Democrats have a highly visible front runner, and it’s up to the primary/caucus voters of the party to say yay, nay, or meh. I would right now bet against the progressive wing of the party to vote nay on that front runner.

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  9. 1. There is a slightly higher number of Americans that identifies as Democratic over Republican.

    2. 40 percent of Americans consider themselves conservative, somewhere between 23-30 percent consider themselves to be liberal. I am guessing that the number of Americans who identify as being Left or reading The Nation, Jacobin, and the New Inquiry is less than fifteen percent.

    3. This implies that there are a lot of Democratic types who do not identify as liberal. I’ve seen plenty of data that shows Democratic Party loyalists like compromise while Republican party loyalists like sticking to your guns in their politicians.

    4. Many liberals and further leftists have never quite learned how to process the facts above. I can sometimes be one of them but this piece feels like another venting about how we are a small contingent of American politics but large enough to make noise and be noticed. 30 percent is a large number. We have to think on how to grow that number.

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  10. It’s hard to rank presidents and administrations while we’re still in them. Things that seem important at the time turn out to be not so much, and things that don’t seem important turn out to be very big deals. Personally, my feeling is that the biggest success of the Obama administration stems from ACA, and I do not mean to suggest that it’s fixed our health care system by any way shape or form. But pre-ACA, we were discussing 50+ different insurance regulatory schemes. Now, we’re all on the same page, there’s a base line of what insurance should be, a base line of what basic care should be, and we can all begin discussing the same thing as we work toward fixing/improving health care.

    This is huge.

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  11. Have you seen this?

    http://jeff61b.hubpages.com/hub/14-Facts-About-The-Obama-Presidency-That-Most-People-Dont-Know

    1. 63 straight months of economic expansion;
    2. Longest period of private-sector job creation in US history;
    3. Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% to 5.4%;
    4. Stock market continues to set new records during the Obama administration;
    5. Federal budget deficit reduced 2/3 since 2009;
    6. Spending increased 1.4%, the lowest rate since Eisenhower;
    7. For 95% of taxpayers, income taxes are at their lowest rate of 50 years;
    8. Dependence on foreign oil shrunk;
    9. 7 million Americans have health insurance that didn’t previously have insurance;
    10. Medicare trust fund has been extended to 2030 (from 2016 pre-ACA);
    11. Slowest rate of increases in health-care costs since the 1960’s;
    12. Fewer people in war zones then any time in the last 10 years;
    13. Zero terrorist attacks on US soil;
    14. Deport more illegal immigrants then ever before.

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    • To play devil’s advocate from my post above, there is stuff here for liberals to be theoretically happy about and stuff to question.

      What kind of jobs and how do well do they pay? Do they offer benefits? There are also huge concerns that the rich and the stock markets are really eating up all the wealth. 90 percent of American people saw net worth decline:

      http://theweek.com/article/index/268765/speedreads-how-the-rich-devoured-the-american-economy-in-one-chart

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      • No, but he hasn’t used all of the power at his disposal to put a stop to it, as another president might have (in another time, anyway). Which is… something. He’s been less bad on energy issues than I had feared (and had seemed likely after the BP spill), and he’s been disappointing to a lot of liberals on that front.

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      • Fracking, , not just shale oil.

        It’s not my list, I know most of you would not bother to click through.

        And that whole “liberal invented” meme is stupid and snotty.

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      • do you really think the constant drumming and drubbing of all things Obama is representative, fair, or reflective of current conditions?

        Do you think, just maybe, that that constant pissing and moaning becomes self-fulfilling prophesy? It’s how Republicans will take the senate, if they do. Set up a president for failure by refusing to govern, and then blame him for that failure. And you reward that crap? Do you want Dems to do this, to refuse to cooperate, the next them there’s a Republican in the White House?

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      • And that whole “liberal invented” meme is stupid and snotty.

        I have no idea what that means.

        I read your link and I find the whole premise to be absurd. Personally, I’d like to get past the point of pretending that everything good/bad that happens in the country is dependent on who is in the White House.

        The sun came up this morning. Yayy!!! Obama really is a light worker.

        Then it started to rain. Boo!!! Thanks, Obama. :(

        The oil dependence this is the perfect example of why this is absurd. We import less oil now, because we produce more. And we produce more because of all the advancements in exploring and exploiting tight and unconventional oil. That has nothing to do with Obama.

        On a deeper point, the whole concept of energy independence is itself flawed. Energy independence is a price point. Oil is priced on a global market and you can only be independent to the point that you are willing to pay more than the market price or that you are willing to forego revenue by selling oil domestically at a lower price than you could on the global market.

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      • “No, but he hasn’t used all of the power at his disposal to put a stop to it, as another president might have (in another time, anyway).”

        Obama also has not cooked and eaten a baby on national TV. Maybe we should add that to the list of accomplishments?

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      • I could care less about partisanship, and yes, republicans have in the past produced lists just as obsurd as this one. The outlandish crap is comparing one set of propaganda against another and keeping a straight face about it.

        There is no reward in institutions that slant truth to such extremes. Maybe it should perish in gridlock if this is to be its path.

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      • do you really think that list represents the current conditions, or that half the list could have excluded parameters to make it sound good?

        Well, the 5.4% number in Point 3 is a future projected unemployment rate so I’d say that doesn’t represent current conditions at all (oops). Also, anytime unemployment numbers are kicked around without any references to labor force participation rates, especially when they’re used to sell their preferred political team, red or blue, ignore them.

        Personally, when I see a blatant attempt to put lipstick on a pig, I discredit the whole thing since all it tells me is that the author is going to play games anywhere and everywhere he/she can. That’s what partisan hacks do.

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      • Point 5 made me laugh my ass off for about 10 minutes not because it isn’t true but because someone would take a deficit that included ARRA as a baseline. That’s hilariously pathetic and borderline desperate if you ask me.

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      • There’s an interesting dynamic where the state of the economy seems to change, instantaneously, depending on whether we are (a) appraising Obama or (b) talking about what we should do, policy-wise, for those struggling in it.

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      • No, but he hasn’t used all of the power at his disposal to put a stop to [fracking], as another president might have

        Eh, yeah, but a Republican President would be pretty unlikely to do so, too, which would rather undermine Mr. Krugman’s point. Or in other words, to praise Obama here is to praise him for acting more Republicanish than Democratish.

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      • There’s an interesting dynamic where the state of the economy seems to change, instantaneously, depending on whether we are (a) appraising Obama or (b) talking about what we should do, policy-wise, for those struggling in it.

        No way. People are too honest for that!!!

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    • Most these are not particularly impressive and/or not attributable to Obama.

      1-3 are attributable to his taking office near the trough of a huge recession.
      4 is basically a gimme, since the long-term trend of the stock market is upwards.
      5 and 6 are attributable to the fact that he took office at a time when government spending had spiked dramatically due to temporary recession spending, and also to Republican “obstructionism.”
      7 and 9 are cool, I guess, if you’re into welfare.
      8, as Will pointed out, is largely a matter of Obama not getting in the way.
      The reasons for 10 and 11, as I understand it, are not entirely understood yet. It’s not clear how the ACA would have caused them.
      12 is, again, simply reversion to the mean. It’s not as though Obama has been working particularly hard to earn that Nobel retroactively.
      13 isn’t true. There was the Boston Marathon bombing, for one.
      14…yay?

      And that whole “liberal invented” meme is stupid and snotty.

      It’s not really the same as the Al Gore thing. The point is that it doesn’t make sense to credit him with something due pretty much entirely to the invention of a new technology unless he actually invented that technology. He didn’t stop it, so there’s that, but it’s not really any sort of accomplishment on his part.

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      • Brandon,
        ARRA was passed under Obama’s watch, so your commentary on 5&6 is a little wrong. You could try talking about the WARS that Obama made go away, and how much effect they had on the damn spending.

        Re: 7&9: Since when were you against efficiency? Are you really trying to say that you are against a 0% Capital Gains Tax Rate? (I am, but that’s no big surprise. Incentives guide behavior).

        Re:10&11 Not fully understood yet? Seems bullshit to me. We can point to the rates of reimbursement getting cut. We can point to increased efficiency through less graft and corruption. You should be in favor of this shit — re: less socialism.

        14: Yay. Corporations ought not to get rich by entirely avoiding American laws.

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      • Oh, I see. I forgot the part where j r actually referenced Gore. And I see that in the list you linked, 13 was about Al Qaeda attacks, not terrorism in general.

        Also, he kind of cheated on 6. The ACA includes huge amounts of mandated spending, much of it redistributionary in nature. This is functionally equivalent to a tax hike and spending increase—it just doesn’t show up as such in the budget.

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      • The two big contributions of the ACA to #10 are (a) elimination (over time) of the subsidies for Medicare Advantage and (b) significant cuts to hospital reimbursements, in particular the rate at which hospital charges can grow in the future. IIRC, the Medicare trustees say that (b) adds ten years to the trust fund and (a) adds another six or so, offset in part by the gradual elimination of the “donut hole” in Part D.

        The “unanticipated” consequences of these changes will probably be felt most in rural areas. The Advantage providers are already withdrawing from those areas. Rural hospitals’ finances tend to be shaky, and the various effects on charges will make them more so.

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      • I think the unanticipated outcome of this will not be rural/urban as much as uppercrust/lowercrust. The results will probably create two services. One that requires the lowrcrust to pay taxes (or be fined/jailed) for a service that continues to degrade in quality and quantity over time (ex. VA program).

        The other will be privately owned and service the uppercrust with improving or at least maintained service and quality.

        The ugly part is when a lowercrust finds neccessity in quality and quantity for a specific need and has to purchase the uppercrust service. Therefore the individual is paying twice for a service that should have been taken care of in the original purchase.

        The uppercrust opts out of the lowercrust service as they will pay directly for the uppercrust service and the law will be “arranged” to allow it.

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      • “You can keep your insurance” was one of the dumbest lines I’ve heard from a politician. Even completely absent any change in government policy, it’s going to be false every year for a large number of people. Even pre-ACA, my wife had to change her primary care doctor 3 times over 5 years without either of us changing employer.

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      • Baloney. 90% of us could keep our insurance. It shows how desperate the Obamaphobes are for talking points that the “great lie” of his administration is 90% true.

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      • Ken:

        Obama didn’t say 90%, he said everyone. I expect a Harvard trained lawyer would know the difference but maybe I expected too much. What is really pathetic is that you’d defend such a silly lie.

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      • Notme is right. Troublesome Frog is right, but it’s important to add that PPACA didn’t leave everything else the same. Obama upended health care plans (for better or worse) but tried to pretend that people wouldn’t lose their existing plans if they didn’t like them. This is not particularly ambiguous. It was untrue and the President almost certainly knew it was untrue when he said. (The alternative, that he honestly didn’t know, is actually even worse.)

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      • Even pre-ACA, my wife had to change her primary care doctor 3 times over 5 years without either of us changing employer.

        Which is why any adult knew that when Obama said “You can keep your insurance” it was short-hand for “This program will not directly force you to change insurance”. The idea that Obama was claiming to magically protect every currently existing insurance agency from ever going out of business or change their policies was absurd on it’s face. So absurd, in fact, that Obama’s opponents didn’t make much hay out of the statement at the time, but waited until years later when they could dredge up some yokels to claim that they had been promised insurance forever and ever and Obama was a liar.

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      • … except that it did directly force some people to change insurance plans. Not all of them were grandfathered, and the law put the grandfathered plans on the road to nowhere (how many insurers, realistically, are going to keep plans that they cannot sell to new people?). In some cases, the law may not have directly caused it, but was the cause all the same.

        What I mean by the latter point is that I’ll point to another promise… you’ll get to keep your doctor. Well, the law didn’t tell so-and-so insurance company that they would force people to change doctors. The law did, however, apply price pressures and competition where the narrowing of networks was a near-inevitable (or at least very likely) result.

        Likewise, the changes in the insurance laws here were going to push more employers to re-evaluate their health care plans than otherwise would. Seriously, how could it be otherwise? And insurance companies were going to re-evaluate the plans that they offered and more of them would change than otherwise would. How could it be otherwise?

        Obama tried to offer both significant change and the ability to not change if you don’t want to. It doesn’t work like that. It can’t. But Obama said it anyway. And that’s why he caught hell for it.

        This simply isn’t the case of the Republicans just whipping up a frenzy. I tend to think that I am an adult, and I remember at the time that Obama was making a promise that (he knew) wouldn’t be kept. Republicans said it at the time, too, it’s just that they weren’t believed until the notices started going out.

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      • I think Will is mostly correct here. O felt the need to calm the fears of those with insurance that they wouldn’t take a hit by helping to get 40 million or so fellow citizens health care and to try to adjust the steeply rising cost curve. He engaged in a Terminological Inexactitude to move things forward. He almost certainly knew better and most likely lied. Of course to anyone with a working brain stem knows that lies were flowing out of republican lie holes fast and furious at the time. That doesn’t make O right though.

        To anyone who understand even a bit about HCR we knew that you can’t change a big system like HC without causing some negative affects to some people. It is luxury of the critics that they only have to throw stones but never deal with having to actually put their money where they mouth is. Any HCR would create some negative affects on some people. That critics get to ignore that and often spew massive amounts of BS laden bile is part of what makes america what it is today.

        It is partially a measure of the actual success of the ACA that R critics are still spouting silly gotcha lines and, albeit correctly, slamming O for his lie. On the whole the ACA is working pretty well so far, so most conservative commenters are scrambling a bit to find new things to complain about. Finally it is good to knock pols for their lies. And any person deserving of being listened to and respected hits people on their side, not just their opponents, when they lie. I’m sure there are plenty of Repub’s who are slamming all the R lies along with O’s.

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      • >> In some cases, the law may not have directly caused it, but was the cause all the same.

        But that’s the point. When a law says “Companies X, Y, and Z must exit the market” that’s a direct cause, when a law says “New regulations may lead to X, Y, and Z choosing to exit the market” that’s an indirect cause. In any situation, lawmakers can guarantee the former but not the latter. At the time, the ACA was being accused of entirely socializing healthcare – a government takeover of the market! death panels! – and Obama was responding to that by saying the law will do no such thing. In some speeches he explicitly says “if you like your insurance, the law will not make you get rid of it”, in other speeches he shortened this to “you can keep your insurance”. And when he used this short-hand, no one in their right mind thought that he was promising to make sure that every currently existing would exist forever. That would be absurd! It would be so absurd that we would have seen hundreds of articles about how Obama’s insurance-protection racket was going to destroy the market; that there is nothing in the law whatsoever to guarantee existing plans; that guaranteeing existing plans would be illegal, impossible, and crazy. But we didn’t see these articles, because everyone knew what Obama was talking about. You knew it, and I knew it. And now we’re supposed to pretend that the things we knew at the time we actually did not know.

        This is like if the president responded to the death panels argument by saying that the law wasn’t going to kill your grandma. And then, years later, we find out that someone’s grandma died because she lost her job at an insurance agency that went out of business after the ACA. But didn’t Obama promise that no grandmas would die? Lie of the year!

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      • Talk about revisionist BS people are spouting here. Even the liberal fish wrapper Wash Po didn’t buy it.

        “President Obama has repeatedly said, since the health law passed, that if people like their insurance they could keep it. Which is a weird promise to make when one of the key goals of the health-care law is to change individual market insurance coverage.”

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/29/this-is-why-obamacare-is-cancelling-some-peoples-insurance-plans/

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      • But that’s the point. When a law says “Companies X, Y, and Z must exit the market” that’s a direct cause, when a law says “New regulations may lead to X, Y, and Z choosing to exit the market” that’s an indirect cause.

        There are indirect causes and there are indirect causes. Even if it wasn’t the government forcing it (though, again, in some cases it actually was), I don’t think “You won’t lose your plan as a consequence of this law” is a tortured, childish, or dishonest reading of “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

        If the dropping of plans due to the law was the likely and foreseeable consequence of the law, and you say that people will not lose their plans on account of the law, I don’t see how you can call that honest.

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      • But “You won’t lose your plan as a consequence of this law” would be an accurate interpretation of Obama’s statement. The ACA does not explicitly cancel any plans, and it grandfathers in any plans that were existing at the time. It is tortured and dishonest to assume that the market never changes and any existing plans will always be offered. Like I said, there are plenty of speeches where Obama said “nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have“, which is 100% accurate; other speeches had the shortened version, which is not materially different.

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      • the problem with the “the law didnp;t directly force people to change plans or doctors defense” (which I agree was, I think his meaning, and to me it’s a very interesting question to what extent he understood that was false and to what extent he thought it was formally true enought to knd-of say, but not really), is that he didn;t say that the law doesn;t force you tochange. he said you’ll get to keep it. Which, as many have pointed out, just wasn;t even true enough in the status quo to be supportable, to say noting of post-ACA.

        So he didn’t even formulate the correct statement. The reason for that is obvious: “The law won’t force you to change plans” isn’t as reassuring as “You’ll get to keep your plan.” But even what might have been a supportable statement in that vein wasn’t really defensible for the reasons Will points out.

        Weirdly, changing it from a direct statement about the mechanism of the law into a prediction about its effects to some degree inoculates him against the lying charge. Not totally, but there’s necessarily a pretty high bar to show that a statement about what will happen is a lie. Knowledge of the future is notoriously imperfect; there’s a lot of room to just be wrong. Not saying he didn’t flat-out know that prediction couldn’t turn out to be true, but the standard for knowledge about the future has to be higher than it would be for just saying, for example, that “the law doesn’t say that you have to have insurance unless you qualify for an exemption” or something like that.

        What I wonder about is the advising on that guarantee. Obviously, no president comes up with all of the pitches for his proposals, and certainly they are discussed with advisors who have feet in both the policy and political waters. Who was the heath-care policy genius/savvy political advisor who determined that making this guarantee was going to be a good idea in the long run? Or did no one think it was, but all that mattered was what needed to be said in the short run? Even if that was it, that’s still terrible advice.

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      • The fact that Obama used both types of language – eventually switching to the active statement – indicates to me that he had a good understanding of how things worked and was trying to dumb down the explanation. Do I think it would have been better if he always used the passive (“the law does not require”) language? In theory, I think it’s good for people to honestly talk about the downsides of their proposals, and I think it would have been good for Americans to talk about what downsides they are willing to suffer. In practice, with all the “death-panels” nonsense going on, I have no idea if the careful parsing would’ve made things any better or just confused the issue.

        But if we’re going to get technical, saying “you can keep your plan” when the ACA has a grandfather clause for current plans is not a lie. On the other hand, assuming that “you can keep your plan” means the grandfather clause applies to plans that change, or to any future plans, is tortured reading.

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      • But “You won’t lose your plan as a consequence of this law” would be an accurate interpretation of Obama’s statement. The ACA does not explicitly cancel any plans, and it grandfathers in any plans that were existing at the time.

        The grandfather clause were so narrow that insurers didn’t bother. That the law heavily incentivized the cancellation of these plans rather than terminating them directly does not mean that the cancellations were not a consequence of the law.

        I would cut the administration some slack (saying that it was wrong, but not dishonest) if the cancellations had not been foreseeable. But they were foreseeable. They knew that the cancellations would occur, but told people that they would be able to keep their plans.

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      • I think Will is mostly correct here. O felt the need to calm the fears of those with insurance that they wouldn’t take a hit by helping to get 40 million or so fellow citizens health care and to try to adjust the steeply rising cost curve.

        That’s the kind of spin that makes a guy like me smile.

        It is luxury of the critics that they only have to throw stones but never deal with having to actually put their money where they mouth is. Any HCR would create some negative affects on some people. That critics get to ignore that and often spew massive amounts of BS laden bile is part of what makes america what it is today.

        There are plenty of critics that don’t have that luxury because they exist in the C-suites of the hospitals and health systems, especially the not-for-profits. They’re the ones that have to deal with the potential negative fallout from “any HCR creates some negative effects”.

        They can’t afford to ignore it for obvious reasons, so much so I need not mention them. It would take a certain kind of political hack to dismiss them.

        Edit – by hack, I am not describing you…just to make that clear

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      • Shorter Dave – because I know a critic in a c-suite who does have to deal with the negative consequences of the law, then there were no irrational criticisms from those who don’t.

        Is that an uncharitable interpretation of what you wrote?

        More or less uncharitable than your interpretation of Greginak’s post?

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      • Dave,
        Love it or leave it, the Health Care Corps are going to bitch anyway. Even if they’re writing the bloody protocols they’re going to need to comply with! (which some ARE).
        Easy to blame the govt.

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      • @switters I actually don’t think Dave was reading in an uncharitable manner. The heads of big health care corps do have to deal with the negative consequences of the ACA or any HCR. That may be tough in some cases. However it is also important to remember the big health care orgs ( hospitals, insurance companies) had input into the ACA. Their concerns were listened to and very often addressed. Heck one of the biggest leftie complaints about the ACA is that insurance companies get more customers and we didn’t get single payer. Certainly many hospitals, especially in those states where medicare has been expanded, are benefiting from drops in un-reimbursed care.

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      • Well I won’t argue with you Greginak, and so I apologize to you, Dave.

        Greginak, what I took you to be saying when you said:
        “It is luxury of the critics that they only have to throw stones but never deal with having to actually put their money where they mouth is. Any HCR would create some negative affects on some people. That critics get to ignore that and often spew massive amounts of BS laden bile is part of what makes america what it is today.”

        Was the bulk of the criticism coming from the right, and directed at the people Obama was trying to mollify, was overboard, and that in defending against such claims, Obama stretched the truth, lied, whatever. I did not get from you comment that you thought there were no critics who would have to deal with actual consequences of the law, which is what Dave seemed to get and which is what i took offense to.

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      • Apology accepted. I was going to give you a F+ for your interpretation of my statement but since you passed the extra credit portion of the assignment with flying colors, you get a A+.

        All is good.

        , you can have the F+ I was going to give to switters before his change of heart and my change of mood. ;)

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      • @switters

        I did not get from you comment that you thought there were no critics who would have to deal with actual consequences of the law, which is what Dave seemed to get and which is what i took offense to.

        My intention was to point out that there were critics that have to put a lot of money where there mouths are because they have to run a hospital business in the face of declining revenues, deteriorating profit margins, and the need, in many cases, to drastically overhaul business practices in order to keep things in order.

        Please keep in mind I’m not talking about these hospitals doing this to turn profits (not for profits do have “profit” margins, but they’re extremely low) but to be able to generate cash that can be used for what will probably be significant capital expansion plans.

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      • I’d also say that while the hospitals were consulted, the law itself is far more favorable to the insurance companies than it is to the hospitals, but that would make sense because it’s the hospitals and health systems providing a lot of the services. If the goal is to get costs under control, they’re going to be the ones to feel the pinch.

        It’s one of the reasons that hospitals are aggressively moving towards outpatient facilities, ambulatory surgical centers and any services that can be provided away from the acute care facilities.

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    • I’m wondering how many of those people had better insurance before the ACA went into effect. The sum total of this article seems to be, “Low cost high deductible plans are low cost, but they have a high deductible.” That sounds about right.

      A $6K deductible is rough and it makes for a lot of suboptimal health care choices, but it’s still “only” $6K. Which sounds terrible, but it’s still a fart in the wind compared to what a catastrophic medical event will cost you. So basically, insurance.

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      • Depends on how you define “better.” The liberals pushing ACA felt their plans were “better” for people substituting their judgements for those folks that were forced into Obamacare becasue their plans weren’t good enough. Oh yes, and then lying to everyone that they could keep their plans.

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      • greg:

        yes and those liberals were willing to lie about their intentions to cancel people’s insurance in order to get them into this “better” insurance. Because liberals know better than you what you need.

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      • I’m not defending O’s lie. he was wrong. If i thought you were honest enough to actually care about lies among politicians and media types we might have a discussion. But i don’t see you caring or talking about the lies from the R’s and Fox about HCR. Are you furious about the dealt panel lies or any of the kijillion other bits of BS that were deployed to defeat HCR?

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      • greg:

        If you’d like to start a thread about alleged lies told to defeat the ACA, I’ll be happy to give you my opinion. This sub-thread was about ACA was in reaction to Zic’s silly list Obama accomplishments. As I said earlier, she forgot to list his lie about keeping your insurance as one of his accomplishments.

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      • Depends on how you define “better.”

        That’s kind of the point, though. If you want to dump on a policy, the correct question to ask is, “Compared to what?”

        I hear a lot of horror stories that have no baseline comparison. I’m sure there have to be plenty of cases where somebody had a really sweet situation that was made substantially worse by the healthcare reform. It absolutely must be true. But the examples that come up in the political rags are inevitably really thin–either no comparison to what they had before or the new horror show plans being claimed don’t appear to map properly to the plans on offer. Given the amount of opposition, I expected to have seen a lot more very real horror stories by now. Given the dearth of them, I’m inclined to think it went better than I expected.

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    • TF:

      The NYT article is about a whole class of folks who don’t want to use their fancy new liberal approved insurance because of the deductible issue. How is that “better”?

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      • No, that’s not what the article is about. It’s about people who bought insurance and wish they had a lower deductible. It says nothing about whether they wanted the coverage or not or whether they’re better or worse off, and I didn’t see any quotes to that effect. The takeaway is just that their deductibles are high and that imposes costs on them. I sympathize. I have a good employer plan and *I* wish I had a lower deductible, but that doesn’t mean that my current plan isn’t the best of all of my available options. I would be worse off if that option wasn’t there and I was stuck with the second best outcome, even if I do have very real complaints about my plan.

        I’m still noting a lack of actual before/after comparisons. What did these people have before? The examples in the article were likely uninsured, so if the worst case the opposition can come up with is that uninsured people now have catastrophic coverage that isn’t as good as a high quality employer provided plan, that seems like a pretty good outcome. “Lower income people buy low quality products that aren’t as good as the products wealthier people get,” is not a headline I’d expect you to have much sympathy for in most circumstances. If this reform was such a bloodbath, why the lack of checkable horror stories with numbers in them?

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  12. @EG:

    FWIW, I think this is one of your better pieces.
    I have to wonder if you have improved so much as a writer in the few months I’ve been away, or if it is simply that you work better as a critic than an advocate.
    Nicely done.

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