Notes on the Atrocities
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Saturday, September 13, 2003  

Krugman Redux

So I've been spending some time pondering the question of whether Paul Krugman is a straight-talker or a spinmeister. I suppose I ought to begin by explaining why I like him (and, I think, many other liberals). Politics is a fairly subjective intellectual exercise, but our brains sometimes forget this. Synthesiziing data from fact, cultural beliefs, history (both mostly-accurate and misremembered), and morality, the brain arrives at conclusions that seem rooted firmly in fact. Thus, two reasonable people hearing exactly the same rhetoric may conclude exactly the opposite things.

With Krugman, liberals have a voice saying things they literally don't hear anywhere else on major media. Say what you will conservatives, but except for the political opportunism of a Dick Gephardt, not a single commentor is willing to label the President a failure. Conservatives may well regard as nuts those of us who think he is a failure (and a fraud and a danger to democracy), but I'll tell you something--there are currently a hell of a lot of us. Maybe only 5-10% of the population, but still, we're talking 15-30 million people. So when Krugman says "Meanwhile, the crudity of the administration's recent propaganda efforts, from dressing the president up in a flight suit to orchestrating the ludicrously glamorized TV movie about Mr. Bush on 9/11, have set even supporters' teeth on edge," we say, "Damn right!"

But I realize this doesn't mean he's not, as Tom described him, phony and hysterical.

So let's go back to the tape. Tom points to an interesting example of Krugman's rhetoric (actually from his article on Tuesday): "Mr. Bush tells us that he needs another $87 billion, right away. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I (like many others) told you so. Back in February I asked, "Is this administration ready for the long, difficult, quite possibly bloody business of rebuilding Iraq?" The example of Afghanistan (where warlords rule most of the country, and the Taliban — remember those guys? — is resurgent) led me to doubt it. And I was, alas, right."

He points out that Krugman sort of conflates a couple of things here. Asking for money and the commitment to rebuilding Iraq are two different things. It's more than a legitimate beef--it points to Krugman's ocassional sloppiness. But here's where reasonable people can differ: what Krugman's trying to say is that the President's politics are duplicitous and dishonest. He absolutely refused to own up to the price tag before the war, but now he uses his own failure to handle the post-war clean-up as an excuse to extort more money. Worse, he refused to own up to the price tag earlier this year, when it would have certainly cost him his precious tax cuts. All of which Krugman predicted.

The second "crime" Krugman commits is that he doesn't quote sources. Two defenses and an admission on this. The defenses I made in comments to the previous thread: he has limited space and, like all editorialists, doesn't have time to quote all his sources. Generally, though, when he doesn't quote sources, it's because the news is so ubiquitous. Now, the admission: he is an authority, a Ph.D. and a college professor. What he says carries a lot of weight, and when conservatives assert wildly and use their forum, I get steamed, too (of course, our team has almost no players, no owner, no league, and no ballparks, but that's another post).

Finally, the hysteria. This one I'll defend to the end. Lefties have to put up with being called traitors and immoral and anti-American and unpatriotic (and on and on) by a whole raft of newspeople and editorialists. Conservatives have networks, the entire radio dial, newspapers, and magazines. We got one stinkin guy. Hysterical? Yeah, he is. Ten thousand to one: advantage, conservatives.

So on balance, I'll say I think Krugman should and can be held to the highest standard. My favorite activity on Tuesday and Friday mornings is to boot up the Times and then see what Tom's rebuttal is. Usually it's a shot at Krugman's sloppiness, hysteria, or lack of citations. But every now and again, he'll find something amiss with Krugman's logic or facts. Hey, I'm happy to admit when he's wrong. As part of the delusion of my political convictions, I'm also convinced that liberalism is in line with democracy, science, and law. I figure we can afford to admit when we're wrong, because in almost every case, liberals, like Krugman, are right.

(Yes, that was a snarky neener neener. But a postmodern, ironic one.)

posted by Jeff | 7:04 PM |
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