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Paul Krugman, Thomas Frank discuss Obama’s legacy at Brooklyn College

April 3, 2015 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shown are Paul Krugman and Thomas Frank at Brooklyn College’s annual Robert L. Hess lecture. Photo credit: Brooklyn College/David Rozenblyum
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Were Barack Obama’s attempts to tackle partisanship wise or did they only further contribute to the current political dysfunction in Washington? Did he do enough to push the economy along or would we be further ahead in the recovery had he pushed a big stimulus package? Is the president inadvertently responsible for the rise of the Tea Party? What about his record on the environment?

Thomas Frank, political analyst, historian and journalist, and this year’s Robert L. Hess scholar-in-residence, and Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times journalist, debated these and other issues for the annual Robert L. Hess lecture at Brooklyn College, which was dedicated to exploring the legacy of Obama’s presidency. During a nearly two-hour debate that was mostly friendly banter, the two men deliberated the issues that have swirled around the president’s six years in office.

While sharing some views, Frank and Krugman disagreed on the president’s economic policies, the rise of the conservative movement and what will be the lasting importance of the Affordable Care Act. 

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Krugman, a liberal, said he was initially worried when the president took office because he felt he was the most right-leaning of all the Democratic candidates and he was unprepared for some of the challenges that faced him, namely the forcefulness of his conservative foes and how to sell his ideas to the American people. Krugman’s concerns waned over time.

“I think Obama has learned a lot,” he said. 

For his money, Krugman said he felt Obama’s biggest misstep has been in not pushing harder on measures to save the environment.

“Future historians will see his failure to do anything about climate change as a big one,” he said before adding: “If there are any future historians.” Krugman is the author of more than 20 books and more than 200 professional journal articles. A professor of economics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, he will join the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center as a professor in the Ph.D. program in economics this year, and was also named a distinguished scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Luxembourg Income Study Center last year. 

Frank, on the other hand, said he started out with high hopes for the president and was quickly disappointed. While he gave Obama credit for ending the Iraq War and for the health care law he was able to get enacted, he felt the president naively wasted his time trying to take on partisanship in Washington, and that he should have reacted to the financial crisis that began in 2008 in a more aggressive manner.

“The way you have to judge a president’s legacy is in relation to the challenges of the time,” said Frank, adding that he would have also liked to see Obama tackle inequality in a bigger way. “In my opinion, what the times called for when he came to office was a second New Deal.” 

Frank is the author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” (Holt Paperbacks, 2005), and most recently, “Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right” (Metropolitan Books, 2012). A former columnist at Harper’s Magazine, Frank has also contributed to Salon, Le Monde Diplomatique, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Nation and The Washington Post

The Hess lecture series is sponsored by The Wolfe Institute for the Humanities, which sponsors a varied series of lectures, seminars, colloquia, conferences and study groups with the aim of keeping public conversation at Brooklyn College in touch with advances in the humanities and social sciences. The lecture series is named after Robert L. Hess, a former president of the college.

 


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