Friday, October 25, 2002
Damned by his own words: Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for digging up this blast from Paul Krugman's past.
From "How to be a Hack:"
While hired guns do not flourish at Harvard or the University of Chicago, however, in Washington they roam in packs.
Portrait of a hired gun: He or she is usually a mediocre economist -- someone whose work, if it didn't have an ideological edge, might have been published but wouldn't have had many readers. He has, however, found a receptive audience for work that does have an ideological edge. In particular, he has learned that pretty good jobs in think tanks, or on the staffs of magazines with a distinct political agenda, are available for people who know enough economics to produce plausible-sounding arguments on behalf of the party line. Ask him whether he is a political hack and he will deny it; he probably does not admit it to himself. But somehow everything he says or writes serves the interests of his backers.
How can you tell the hacks from the serious analysts? One answer is to do a little homework. Hack jobs often involve surprisingly raw, transparent misrepresentations of fact: in these days of search engines and online databases you don't need a staff of research assistants to catch 'em with their hands in the cookie jar. But there is another telltale clue: if a person, or especially an organization, always sings the same tune, watch out.
Along those very same lines, today's Krugman column is all about the fact that President Bush is a liar.
It's tempting to view all of this merely as a question of character, but it's more than that. There's method in this administration's mendacity.
For the Bush administration is an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist facade. Its domestic policies are designed to benefit a very small number of people -- basically those who earn at least $300,000 a year, and really don't care about either the environment or their less fortunate compatriots. True, this base is augmented by some powerful special-interest groups, notably the Christian right and the gun lobby. But while this coalition can raise vast sums, and can mobilize operatives to stage bourgeois riots when needed, the policies themselves are inherently unpopular. Hence the need to reshape those malleable facts.
What remains puzzling is the long-term strategy. Despite Mr. Bush's control of the bully pulpit, he has had little success in changing the public's fundamental views. Before Sept. 11 the nation was growing increasingly dismayed over the administration's hard right turn. Terrorism brought Mr. Bush immense personal popularity, as the public rallied around the flag; but the helium has been steadily leaking out of that balloon.
I'd dispute the contention that the public was growing "increasingly dismayed over the administration's hard right turn." Maybe for Krugman's friends at the New York Times, but the much of the country was perfectly content with Bush's policies.
But Krugman's problem is, once again, that he pretends that any fudging of the facts to accommodate a political agenda is a new development in a presidential administration.
Early in the column, Krugman refers to this piece by The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.
Krugman, in his dedication to being a left-wing hack, ignores this telling paragraph in Milbank's piece.
Presidential embroidery is, of course, a hoary tradition. Ronald Reagan was known for his apocryphal story about liberating a concentration camp. Bill Clinton fibbed famously and under oath about his personal indiscretions to keep a step ahead of Whitewater prosecutors. Richard M. Nixon had his Watergate denials, and Lyndon B. Johnson was often accused of stretching the truth to put the best face on the Vietnam War. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, too, played with the truth during the Gary Powers and Bay of Pigs episodes.
There is nothing new under the sun -- but it sounds better to Krugman if there is something uniquely dastardly about this Republican president.