Friday, November 08, 2002
Sometimes I think he does it just to goad me: I'd been avoiding writing critiques/responses to the lame columns by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently. I'd just gotten tired of his constant, inane carping and he hadn't written anything really ludicrous (for him, that is) ... until today.
Krugman decries the stupidity of the national electorate of handing over the executive and legislative branches of the federal government over to those evil, conniving Republicans.
[F]or those of us who think the nation has taken a disastrous wrong turn these past two years, Tuesday's election changed everything and nothing.
Clearly, we're going to have an extended sojourn in the political wilderness. Even criticizing the Bush administration's policies will become far more difficult. It will be hard even to find out what it's up to; the most secretive administration in the nation's history will now be even less forthcoming. And anyone who criticizes the administration, even on purely domestic issues, will be accused of lacking patriotism. After all, that strategy worked even against Senator Max Cleland, a genuine war hero who lost three limbs in his country's service.
Krugman goes back to his John Ashcroft "police state" rant. Like having the GOP in control of Senate will affect what Krugman writes in the Times' editorial pages.
Total amount of evidence Krugman has to back up his oft-repeated assertion that the Bush administration is the "most-secretive administration in the nation's history:" Zero. Krugman likes to harp on the fact that Cheney's energy task force wouldn't release information on who they talked to, what the content of those meetings were, etc.
The complaint is bunk.
If you're worried that energy corporations have undue influence on government energy policy, then you don't need the documents that Krugman and Judicial Watch would like to see. Why? Well, Bush released his energy plan to the public. He submitted it to Congress. These are smart people. Look at the plan. Figure out what companies it benefits. Of course, that doesn't really matter either. If the plan is bad, the plan is bad. The machinations behind it are irrelevant, really, to the policy.
Krugman then goes on to show how little he really understands politics. No one doubted Sen. Max Cleland's patriotism. They questioned his judgement.
Here's a short primer for Krugman on the Georgia Senate race and the legislation for creating the Department of Homeland Security.
Cleland's opponent, Senator-elect Saxby Chambliss ran commercials criticizing Cleland for voting against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The reason Cleland, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other Democrats were holding up the legislation because the president wanted the power to move, hire and fire workers without having to deal with unions. (Since the Carter administration, presidents have had the power to bar unions from government agencies if they are deemed necessary to national security. That's why there's no FBI union; no CIA union; no NSA union.) In a post-9/11 world, homeland security and national defense trump union protection. It's not that Cleland isn't patriotic. It's that his priorities are screwed up.
What hasn't changed is the fundamental wrongness of this administration's direction. Too many pundits, confusing politics with policy ? or engaging in sheer power worship ? imagine that a party that wins a battle must be doing something right. But it ain't necessarily so. Political victory doesn't make a bad policy good; it doesn't make a lie the truth.
See, the electorate is stupid. Too bad we're not all as smart as Krugman.
But what do we do about it?
Some of my friends are in despair. They fear that by the time the political pendulum swings, the damage will be irreparable. A ballooning federal debt, they say, will have made it impossible to deal with the needs of an aging population. Years of unchecked crony capitalism will have destroyed faith in our financial markets. Unilateralist foreign policy will have left us without real allies. And most important of all, environmental neglect will have gone past the point of no return.
Krugman's friends are in despair. It reminds me of the story of the New York socialite who wondered how in the world Ronald Reagan could've won the presidency, because she didn't know anyone who voted for him.
I know they often refer to the president of the United States as "the most powerful man on Earth," but damn, I had no idea that Bush had the power to totally destroy the entire planet. Environmental neglect? Unilateralism? (Let's list the countries that apparently don't count as allies: Britain, Australia, Italy, Qatar, Israel, Romania... the list goes on.)
Crony capitalism? Umm...people are going to jail. Adelphia, Enron...the list will grow. Besides -- that label can be applied to both parties equally. For every Enron on the right, there's a Global Crossing on the left.
They may be right. But we have to behave as if they aren't, and try to turn American politics around.
It won't be easy. There are essentially no moderates left in the Republican Party, so change will have to come from the Democrats. And they are deep in a hole.
I'll help Krugman out, since he's obviously been in a cave, here are some "moderates" in the Republican party: Olympia Snowe, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, John McCain. There, four off the top of my head, out of 51 in the Senate. You could probably add Senator-elect Norm Coleman, a former Democrat, to the list too.
Of course, in Krugman's lexicon, I'm doubtful that anyone could be "moderate" and "Republican."
It's not just Sept. 11. As Jonathan Chait points out in The New Republic, the Republicans also have a huge structural advantage. They can spend far more money getting their message out; when it comes to free publicity, some of the major broadcast media are simply biased in favor of the Republicans, while the rest tend to blur differences between the parties.
Krugman certainly can't really believe what he's saying. Check out the Media Research Center's daily cyberalerts. Those will disabuse you of the "conservative" media tilt. Survey after survey also shows that the vast majority of journalists consider themselves liberal and side with the Democratic party.
Besides, I've worked in newsrooms for nearly a decade. From personal experience, I can tell you that the surveys are true, even at a fairly conservative paper like the San Diego Union-Tribune. Taped to the sides of many computers in the newsroom are photocopies of The Nation magazine cover depicting George W. Bush as Alfred E. Newman. The number of photocopies of Al Gore from Vietnam fiddling with a rifle with the barrel pointed at his head: Zero.
But that's the way it is. Democrats should complain as loudly about the real conservative bias of the media as the Republicans complain about its entirely mythical liberal bias; that will help them get their substantive message across. But first they have to have a message.
Let's use the Times as a test case. The Times has 8 op-ed columnists. How many are liberal? Seven. Safire is the lone conservative, and I'd classify him as a moderate. Nope, there's no liberal bias to see here. Move along.
Since the 2000 election, and especially since Sept. 11, much of the Democratic leadership has argued that the party must play it safe ? don't criticize the Bush administration too much, don't propose anything drastic that will offend corporations and the wealthy. What we should have realized, and what Tuesday's election disaster confirms, is that this plays right into Republican advantages. Talk radio and Fox News let the hard right get its message out to its supporters, while those who oppose the juggernaut stay home because they don't get the sense that the Democrats offer a real alternative.
No mention of CNN or MSNBC, is that where the liberals go? Oops, my mistake, in Krugman's world liberals aren't allowed on the television.
The Democrats didn't offer a real alternative in the latest election. The Democrats' message seemed to be: "Me too...only less." That isn't a really persuasive argument to the electorate against the backdrop of Sept. 11 and with national security a top priority.
To have a chance of breaking through the wall of media blur and distraction, the Democrats have to get the public's attention ? which means they have to stand for something.
It's obvious what the Democrats should stand for: Above all, they should be the defenders of ordinary Americans against the power of our burgeoning plutocracy. That means hammering the Republicans as they back off on corporate reform ? which they will. It means defending the environment against the administration's sly, behind-the-scenes program of dismantling regulation.
And it means doing what the party has refused to do: coming out forthrightly against tax cuts for corporations and the rich ? both the cuts passed last year and those yet to come. In the next few months the Bush administration will once again demand tax cuts that benefit a tiny elite, in the name of economic stimulus. The Democrats mustn't fall for this line again; they must insist that the way to stimulate the economy is to put money in the hands of people who need it.
If the Democratic Party takes a clear stand for the middle class and against the plutocracy, it may still lose. But if it doesn't stand for anything, it ? and the country ? will surely lose.
At least most of this is a valid and not-too-dishonest position to take. Krugman, as is his inclination, takes the most cynical and negative view of the GOP and the president. Don't expect an apology or acknowledgement that he's screwed up if none of his predictions regarding the next two years come about.
The Democrats do have a problem, but I don't think they're going to solve it by moving to the left, as Krugman advocates.