THE KRUGMAN-OBAMA CAGE MATCH CONTINUES….When Barack Obama’s campaign decided to post a bit of oppo trash talking against Paul Krugman on its website, they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Krugman hasn’t let up since, and Matt Yglesias comes to the rescue here. But after performing rhetorical CPR, he adds this:

That said, I’ll freely grant that I’m getting a bit tired of defending Obama and his campaign. Stuff like this from Krugman clearly hurts them, but the easiest way to deflect claims that Obama is the more conservative choice would be for Obama to say so himself in a clear and direct way. Given that Clinton is very much running as her husband’s wife, it should hardly be impossible to make the case that establishing continuity with the moderate Clinton administration is the moderate choice.

Believe me, I sympathize. But look: Obama has clearly chosen his course, and there’s really no way for him to give a wink and a nudge to folks like Matt and me to let us know that he’s just kidding about all this kumbaya stuff. After all, it’s part of his whole appeal to both independents and moderate conservatives, and his candidacy depends on that. So if you’re a liberal in Obama’s camp, you just have to cross your fingers and trust him.

Because in the end, this is what it all comes down to. Is Obama kidding or not? Does he really believe that he can enact a progressive agenda by reaching out to Republicans and bridging the red-blue divide, or is he just saying this as a way of shaping public opinion and winning an election? And if he does believe it, is he right?

As a lot of us point out endlessly, both Obama and Hillary Clinton have very similar views on both domestic and foreign policy. Not identical, but pretty close. So really, the key question for progressives ought to be this: Which political style is most likely to advance the cause of progressivism? The soothing, post-partisan Obama style, or the more directly political Clinton style? Can Obama move public opinion in a progressive direction via stealth? Or will the public need something more? I suspect the latter, and it’s the reason I continue to have more of a skeptical Krugmanesque attitude toward Obama than an upbeat Yglesias-esque one.

On a related subject, Matt also brings up the electability argument again, suggesting that Obama is more electable than Hillary against an opponent like John McCain because he appeals more to independent voters. And you know what? My gut agrees. But my gut is a well educated, middle class, politically active blogger gut, and that’s a pretty small constituency. I’m the classic “wine track” voter of the kind Obama attracts, and I’m also a strong believer that, recent elections to the contrary, the middle is more important than the base in presidential elections.

So this argument appeals to me. Hillary will draw fewer independents than Obama. She’ll probably also draw fewer men. And the fever swamp will go absolutely nuts. (Though whether, in the end, that helps or hurts, is hard to say.)

But in the real world, there are lots of other demographic and constituency issues than that. Hillary’s strengths are considerable: She’ll draw more women than Obama would. She’ll draw more Hispanics. Unless things go way off the rails in the next few weeks, she’ll draw 90% of the black vote, the same as Obama. She’ll appeal more to blue collar workers and union members. She’ll draw more of the white vote. She’ll appeal more to moderate hawks. She’ll be more immune to attacks based on experience.

The electability question — or, more accurately, the coattails question, since I think either candidate can win in November — is worth thinking about. And independents are an important part of it. But they aren’t the end of the story, and us white, middle-class, well-educated, wine track technocrats should probably keep that in mind.