Russ Roberts and Will Wilkinson are baffled by Krugman’s understanding of how the U.S. government works.  I think Krugman might actually be right.  Yes, there is division of powers.  But leadership, rhetoric, agenda setting, and commitment all work to some extent – especially during political honeymoons and economic crises.  If I were Obama and believed in socialized medicine, here’s the speech I would have given ten months ago.

My proposal
is simple: Medicare for all who want it, paid for with higher taxes on
the wealthiest Americans.  I think it’s the right thing to do.  I hope
Congress feels the same way.

I reject politics as usual.  Here is my offer to our Representatives
and Senators: If you think this is better than what we have, if you recognize Medicare as the great success that almost all Americans do, vote for

I’m not going to bribe anyone in Congress to support my bill.  It should pass on its merits, or not at all.  If Congress passes another
health care bill that contains bribes, I will veto it.  Why?  Because I want the American public to know that if I sign a bill, they can be as proud of it as they are of Medicare.

We have before us a great opportunity to fulfill the promise of this
great nation.  But we won’t get there by dishonesty and backroom
dealing.  I think that many members of Congress are as sick of this
hypocrisy as I am.  In fact, I am willing to stake my presidency on it.
 Let’s show the American people that we deserve their trust and act now.

I admit this would have been a high-risk strategy.  But look at how easily Bush pushed through TARP!  In the midst of recession hysteria and Obama worship, I say there’s a 40% a more polished version of my speech could have worked.   Am I crazy to think so?

P.S. Whenever I write things like this, I slightly worry that it will fall into the wrong hands and be misused.  But on net, better understanding political manipulation probably makes it less likely to happen in practice.