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DEAR KRUGGERS: YOU HAVE TO NAME NAMES! Krugman tells it like it has been—and fails to name prominent names: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2011

A place which feels like it is/Inside the bubble: Yesterday, we stood inside a top-secret federal facility on the outskirts of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Having gained access with a top-secret four-digit code, we surveyed a large TV-style screen reporting the local weather.

Here’s what it said yesterday morning:

Shepherdstown, West Virginia: 79 degrees
Feels like: 79 degrees

A place which feels like it is! We didn’t know such places still existed! But every time we checked that screen in the past two days, Shepherdstown felt like it was!

With an impressive group of federal managers, we reviewed the way the debt ceiling fight has been reported in our major newspapers. We’ll probably discuss that topic more next week. For today, let’s just say this:

What will happen on August 3 if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling? Do you feel you know how to answer that question? Yesterday morning, the Washington Post actually offered a detailed, front-page news report which began to examine that question. (This should have started long ago.) As best we can tell, the New York Times still hasn’t bothered.

Second point: In the past few days, conservative voters have heard about a new proposal which would allegedly avoid a “default.” (We’d pay the troops and our debt service first.) Have you seen that proposal examined with care? Yesterday afternoon, we and the federal managers watched Chris Matthews as he discussed that proposal on Wednesday night (click here).

How well did Christopher handle that task? Our judgment: Epic fail. Unprepared!

(“Authorities don’t agree with you” is not a strong “analysis.”)

This is not a slow news period. Major questions are all around, begging for illumination and clarification. But so what? On Wednesday, Maureen Dowd discussed Hitler’s ideas about talking dogs. This followed her column from Sunday, a piece about Liz and Dick.

Yesterday, Frank Bruni, the Times’ new op-ed star, discussed his views about Harry Potter. For a good time, just click here.

What, them worry? As best we can tell, many places—Shepherdstown included—will start to feel quite different if we have a debt ceiling fail. But in the news pages of the New York Times, no one seems inclined to explain how this might shake out. Do you feel you understand what would happen? Simply put, we do not.

On its op-ed pages, some of the New York Times’ biggest stars continue to show you how things feel inside a very exclusive bubble. What’s the code to gain entrance there? It seems like a safe, well-lighted place in a world which remains quite serene.

Those federal managers seemed quite alert. Mo, Frank and Chris: Not so much.

DEAR KRUGGERS—YOU HAVE TO NAME NAMES (permalink): Paul Krugman’s new column is immensely accurate, even though as a general matter we’d avoid calling people “crazy.”

(We know whereof we speak. When we were kids, Frankie Fontaine—Jackie Gleason’s “Crazy Guggenheim”—lived right up the hill behind our own back yard!)

That said, has the Republican Party (slowly) gone crazy? That’s the premise of Krugman’s column. The piece is headlined, “Getting To Crazy.” Krugman starts like this:

KRUGMAN (7/15/11): There aren’t many positive aspects to the looming possibility of a U.S. debt default. But there has been, I have to admit, an element of comic relief—of the black-humor variety—in the spectacle of so many people who have been in denial suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.

Krugman says the GOP has been “getting to crazy” for decades. In today’s column, he focuses on the many people who have been “in denial” about this. According to Krugman, these people have refused to notice what has been happening. Now, they’re “suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.”

As we said, we’d be slow to throw around sweeping claims about people being crazy. And we don’t agree with some of the claims Krugman makes as he proceeds. At one point, for example, he cites Mitt Romney’s flip-flop on health care as an example of the way “Republicans are automatically against anything the president wants, even if they have supported similar proposals in the past.”

That’s essentially true of Republican leaders. But in the case of the Romney health plan, large numbers of Republican voters are sour on Romney because of that plan. They didn’t support his proposal in Massachusetts; they don’t support Obama’s plan now. Yes, there’s a whole lot of crazy out there. But as someone who lived down the hill from Fontaine, we think that’s the type of claim which ought to be made with some care.

That said, Krugman reaches the heart of modern American politics midway through his column. He cites a set of familiar ideas which lay at the heart of our budget debate. These ideas truly are intellectually crazy. But these ideas have increasingly driven our politics over the past thirty years.

He uses a famous phrase, “voodoo economics.” Everything here is quite accurate:

KRUGMAN: Beyond that, voodoo economics has taken over the G.O.P.

Supply-side voodoo—which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse—has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts.

And even the administration of former President George W. Bush refrained from making extravagant claims about tax-cut magic, at least in part for fear that making such claims would raise questions about the administration’s seriousness.

It we lower tax rates, we get higher revenue! Truly, this claim is intellectually crazy. But the claim has been advanced for decades, with powerful elements of our society “deliberately turning a blind eye” to its craziness—and to its widespread promulgation.

Krugman mentions President Bush the younger, who “refrained from making extravagant claims about tax-cut magic.” But it was President Bush the elder who invented the phrase “voodoo economics” when he was a candidate for the White House in 1980. (Eight years later, he refused to take the “no new taxes” pledge—until he was advised that he simply had to, at which point he flipped.) And in 1996, Candidate Dole explicitly rejected the claim that lower tax rates produce higher revenues. When he made his tax cut proposals, he specifically said that his tax cuts wouldn’t “pay for themselves.” He said they wouldn’t come close. (In that campaign, Dole proposed a 15 percent cut in all income tax rates. He said his proposal would earn back 27 percent of the lost revenue through increased economic activity.)

Everyone has always known it: The claim that tax cuts “pay for themselves” is intellectually crazy. But for three decades, American voters have heard this claim emerge from their radio sets, broadcast into their homes and cars by highly-paid talk-show con men. And they’ve rarely heard anyone challenge the claim. Krugman continues from there, noting that things are now worse:

KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Recently, however, all restraint has vanished—indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue—a claim completely at odds with the evidence—and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.” And it’s true: even Mr. Romney, widely regarded as the most sensible of the contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination, has endorsed the view that tax cuts can actually reduce the deficit.

Do tax cuts somehow “pay for themselves?” Bush, Dole and Bush all rejected the claim. But by now, this genuinely crazy claim has gained stronger purchase among GOP leaders, just as Krugman says.

Tax cuts really don’t “pay for themselves.” It’s amazing to see major figures say different. But this is where Krugman’s column gets interesting. As he continues, he speaks about those who have stood around for decades, saying nothing as this crazy idea was pimped all through the land.

We agree with the things Krugman says in this passage. That said, there’s a basic problem here:

KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Which brings me to the culpability of those who are only now facing up to the G.O.P.’s craziness.

Here’s the point: those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.

But there has been no such price. Mr. Bush squandered the surplus of the late Clinton years, yet prominent pundits pretend that the two parties share equal blame for our debt problems. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a supposed deficit-reduction plan that included huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, then received an award for fiscal responsibility.

Here’s the problem:

Krugman’s whole column concerns “the culpability of those who are only now facing up to the G.O.P.’s craziness.” But as he continues, he doesn’t name the names of those who bear this culpability.

He says The Crazy might not have spread if “outsiders” had only spoken up more. But “outsiders” is a very vague term.

In his next paragraph, he correctly challenges “prominent pundits.” But no names are mentioned there.

Outsiders failed to speak! Prominent pundits failed too! But at no point does Krugman name the names of these prominent people, explain who these prominent people are. In part, this may be the tyranny of his format; Krugman gets 800 words for a column. But the absence of names is a major problem, especially when Krugman ends his column with a gigantic blame-shift:

KRUGMAN (continuing directly): So there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality—and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.

Krugman doesn’t name the prominent people who failed to speak as The Crazy spread through the land. And then, alas! The eternal blame-shift! As he closes, he blames the problem on “you!”

Who failed to speak as The Crazy spread? Over and over, year after year, major liberals have failed to speak as intellectually crazy claims were advanced. For years, we have listed those crazy claims—and we’ve named the names of the mainstream and liberal “journalists” who have failed to challenge them.

We’ve named the names of major liberal columnists. We’ve named the names of our big “liberal journals.”

Yes, our big “mainstream” hacks have failed to speak too—people like Gergen and Borger. But our biggest “liberal” stars have also created this ludicrous problem. Our biggest stars have failed to say boo as intellectually crazy claims have spread all through the land.

Intellectually crazy claims have come to dominate our political culture. That is true regarding taxation. (If we lower our tax rates, we get extra revenue!) It’s true regarding Social Security. (The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it!) It’s true regarding health care. (European-style health care has failed everywhere it’s ever been tried!) All those statements are intellectually crazy, although they’re crazy in different ways. But “prominent pundits” and mainstream news orgs have let these crazy claims go unchallenged. Included among those “prominent pundits” is the whole roster of “leading liberals,” including the fiery young career liberals who seel to build careers through employment at big mainstream news orgs.

Krugman describes a giant problem. Over the past thirty years, the “liberal” world has failed to address it. So have our prominent “mainstream” pundits and journalists, of course.

In the end, you simply can’t address this problem without naming some names. We have endlessly named those names, over the course of the past thirteen years. Why isn’t Krugman the problem today, agreeing as he does not to name them? Why isn’t it Krugman himself who is “deliberately turning a blind eye?”

Who is Krugman talking about? At some point, their prominent names must be mentioned. And no, a million times no: It isn’t the fault of average voters (including average conservative voters) when crazy claims get spread through the land—and voters see no prominent pundits stand up to confront them.

It isn’t the fault of those average voters, conservative, centrist or liberal. It’s the fault of the people who spread those crazy ideas—and it’s the fault of those prominent pundits, the ones who failed to speak!

Dear Kruggers: At some point, you have to name their names!

Darlings, we know: It just isn’t done! But that is one of the basic ways The Crazy has managed to spread.

Special report: Who’s flunking now!

PART 4—AS ATLANTA BURNED: With apologies, coming Monday.