Krugman has clearly gotten to the Barack Obama campaign, to the point where they have released an attack on him to try to defend their (indefensible) position on health care mandates. This is based upon misinterpreting what Krugman said, then acting like there's a contradiction in his statements.
If this is how they are going to proceed, the name of this web page on the Obama campaign site should not be "Fact Check", "Fact Distortion" is more like it:
Fact Check: ''Krugman Didn't Always Think So Poorly Of Obama's Plan'' December 07, 2007
"Krugman Didn't Always Think So Poorly Of Obama's Plan." First Read reported, "No Democratic-leaning pundit, it seems, has been more passionate or serious on the need for health-care reform than the New York Times' Paul Krugman. As a result, people took notice when his column today blasted Obama's health-care plan, as well as the candidate's recent statements on it...But, channeling the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, Krugman didn't always think so poorly of Obama's plan. Almost six months ago, in a June 4 column, he mostly praised it -- although he did criticize its lack of a mandate. The substance of Krugman's two columns is essentially the same. The tone, however, is not." [First Read, 11/30/07]
And why might the tone have changed? Could it be that the campaign has adopted right-wing talking points on health care and Social Security in between the two statements?
KRUGMAN THEN: Obama's Health Care Plan "Is Smart And Serious, Put Together By People Who Know What They're Doing." Paul Krugman wrote, "The Obama plan is smart and serious, put together by people who know what they're doing...So there's a lot to commend the Obama plan." [New York Times, 6/4/07]
KRUGMAN NOW: "The Fundamental Weakness Of The Obama Plan Was Apparent From The Beginning." Paul Krugman wrote, "The fundamental weakness of the Obama plan was apparent from the beginning." [New York Times, 11/30/07]
This is misleading - Krugman noted the lack of a mandate in the plan from the very start as is noted in the quote above this one: "although he did criticize its lack of a mandate."
COURAGE AND TOUGHNESS VS. WEAKNESS AND CAUTION
KRUGMAN THEN: Obama's Plan Passes A "Basic Test of Courage" And Gets "Points For Toughness." Paul Krugman wrote, "It also passes one basic test of courage. You can't be serious about health care without proposing an injection of federal funds to help lower-income families pay for insurance, and that means advocating some kind of tax increase. Well, Mr. Obama is now on record calling for a partial rollback of the Bush tax cuts. Also, in the Obama plan, insurance companies won't be allowed to deny people coverage or charge them higher premiums based on their medical history. Again, points for toughness. Best of all, the Obama plan contains the same feature that makes the Edwards plan superior to, say, the Schwarzenegger proposal in California: it lets people choose between private plans and buying into a Medicare-type plan offered by the government." [New York Times, 6/4/07]
KRUGMAN NOW: "Obama's Caution...Led Him To Propose A Relatively Weak, Incomplete Health Care Plan." Paul Krugman wrote, "What seems to have happened is that Mr. Obama's caution, his reluctance to stake out a clearly partisan position, led him to propose a relatively weak, incomplete health care plan." [New York Times, 11/30/07]
Yes, once Obama decided to raise mandates as a campaign issue, and to criticize the Clinton and Edwards' plans on this basis, the tone changed and it became necessary to focus on the weakness of Obama's plan rather than the strength. But there's nothing new in Krugman's position, he has criticized this part of the plan from the start.
MANDATES AND ENFORCEMENT
KRUGMAN THEN: Krugman Talked To An Architect Of Obama's Plan Who Said "Obama Is Reluctant To Impose A Mandate That Might Not Be Enforceable." Paul Krugman wrote, "I asked David Cutler, a Harvard economist who helped put together the Obama plan, about this omission. His answer was that Mr. Obama is reluctant to impose a mandate that might not be enforceable, and that he hopes -- based, to be fair, on some estimates by Mr. Cutler and others -- that a combination of subsidies and outreach can get all but a tiny fraction of the population insured without a mandate." [New York Times, 6/4/07]
KRUGMAN NOW: "Most Troubling, Mr. Obama Accuses His Rivals Of Not Explaining How They Would Enforce Mandates" And Said He Was Implying That The Plans Would Require "Nasty, Punitive Enforcement." Paul Krugman wrote, "Third, and most troubling, Mr. Obama accuses his rivals of not explaining how they would enforce mandates, and suggests that the mandate would require some kind of nasty, punitive enforcement." [New York Times, 11/30/07]
KRUGMAN NOW: "Obama Is Storing Up Trouble For Health Reformers" By Criticizing Mandates. Paul Krugman wrote, "Finally, Mr. Obama is storing up trouble for health reformers by suggesting that there is something nasty about plans that 'force every American to buy health care.'" [New York Times, 12/7/07]
I don't see any contradiction in the last set of statements.
Here's what happened. When Obama's plan came out, it was praised by Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Jonathan Cohn, and others - it is a big step forward - but they all noted the lack of mandates. Many believed that he would eventually realize mandates were necessary, but in any case, they chose to praise the good parts of the plan while noting the bad parts such as the lack of mandates, and assumed much of that could be fixed later.
However, when Obama decided to go after the other candidates for imposing mandates, and claimed his plan was superior on this basis (and coming on top of his misguided position on Social Security), the rhetoric changed and the focus turned to this part of the plan. With the focus on mandates and his attack on other candidates, of course the tone changed - this is a weakness of his plan whether he sees it or not, at least that's the view of most experts - and to compare statements after his attack on other candidates to statements that came before doesn't tell us a whole lot about the "facts." I can't figure out what Obama's camp thinks they are accomplishing. [Update: Ezra Klein comments.]