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WHAT KRUGMAN SAID! Everyone wants a commission on debt! Last year, here’s what Krugman said: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2010

Connectivity—and apology: Connectivity problems continue to plague our sprawling campus. (The problem: We don’t have it.) As we struggle to solve this problem, our analysts still can’t contact people to thank them for their recent contributions.

We assume they’ll swing into action soon. Remember: They may ask you if they can live at your homes. Be firm with them. Just say no!

Massachusetts and women—and the mainstream press [permalink]: Is it harder for women to get elected in Massachusetts? In this morning’s New York Times, Katie Zezima discusses the question. As we read Zezima’s report, we thought about the gender issues which have driven a great deal of mainstream press conduct during the past twenty years.

How “liberal” is Massachusetts? The liberal and progressive tapestry contains a number of threads. As we mentioned last week, Massachusetts may not be as “deep blue” in certain respects as stereotypes will suggest. Gender may be one area where Massachusetts is not as reflexively progressive as is commonly thought.

This leads us back to the frequent gender-kookiness of the mainstream press corps in the past twenty years.

Bay State political culture is defined, in large part, by Irish Catholic cultural traditions—traditions which tend to be rather “conservative” in the area of sex and gender. Just consider the Kennedy family. Dating back to its patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, the family’s weaknesses (as opposed to its obvious strengths) have sometimes been found in somewhat peculiar sexual attitudes and conduct.

We Irish! East Coast Irish Catholic culture has never been especially “progressive” in the area of sex and gender. As we have often noted, this cultural traditional was widely expressed in the Clinton-Gore years (and beyond) within the large part of the mainstream press which is East Coast Irish Catholic. This was especially true at NBC News and its cable arms, where Jack Welch assembled a comically mono-cultural East Coast Irish Catholic brigade in the 1990s.

Today, Welch is gone from NBC; its on-air talent is more culturally varied. But as you read Zezima’s piece, you might want to remember all the gender kookiness which emerged from that Clinton/Gore-hating network up through Campaign 2000—and on into the Hillary-bashing the network’s male hosts often displayed during the 2008 campaign. Indeed: Even as NBC News has begun to hire outside the true faith, the channel has displayed an unerring instinct for gender-loathing hosts. Keith Olbermann has been gruesome in this area for years. On Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinki is cast in bit of a “Lucy Ricardo” role, playing the ditzy, clueless woman in a sea of mocking Mike Barnicles. (Sad to say, she does “ditzy” fairly well.)

Old world gender traditions may be at play in Bay State politics. As long as there is a Maureen Dowd, throwback attitudes from the 1950s will have an honored place in our upper-end press corps as well.

Competence counts/Lady Collins and KO [permalink]: Is Scott Brown “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea-bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees?” (And a “sexist” to boot?) That’s what Keith Olbermann thundered last week, offering ludicrous bits of “evidence” to support his thundering claims. Just like that, Gail Collins swung into action, helping Keith semi-relent.

Lady Collins reported her findings in Saturday’s New York Times column:

COLLINS (1/23/10): This is not the hour of the good loser in Democratic circles.

On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann called Scott Brown, the senator-elect from Massachusetts, “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.”

Yipes. It was a Senate race, not the Battle of Hastings.

“In the personal scheme of things, I went too far. In the broad scheme of things, this was a blip on the radar,” said Olbermann, in a telephone interview, citing the multitudinous cases when right-wing talk-show hosts have said much worse. Given the fact that Glenn Beck has already claimed that Brown could wind up “with a dead intern,” I believe he may have a point.

Glenn Beck is even worse, KO said, to a semi-willing buyer.

In our view, progressives will never build a winning movement by pushing such claims in such promiscuous ways. (An additional thought: People who respect the nightmarish historical tragedy of race may perhaps be a bit less eager to use the topic in such clownish ways.) But then, parts of our burgeoning liberal/progressive movement have sometimes been a bit over their heads in the wars of the past decade. In this morning’s New York Times, Brian Stelter describes the alleged managerial incompetence which has finally produced Air America’s demise. By way of semi-contrast, we surveyed this front-page piece (in our hard-copy Times) about conservative planner James Bopp.

Bopp is the fellow who orchestrated the law-suit which produced last week’s Supreme Court decision. (“Bopp won his biggest victory last week when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, unions and nonprofit groups have the right to spend as much as they want supporting or opposing the election of a candidate,” David Kirkpatrick reports.).

Granted, Bopp’s path through life became much easier when Justices Roberts and Alito made their way to the Court. But he’s just one of the many well-funded conservative activists who have been working, in the past fifty years, to reshape our political life.

Repeat: These activists and their organizations are frequently well-funded. Their practitioners tend to be technically competent—at market-testing misleading talking-points, for instance. Progressives will never prevail against such entities unless they too act in politically competent ways.

Is Olbermann a competent political player? We’d guess that, on balance, he isn’t. Others may differ in their assessment, but competence very much counts. Many liberals felt good when they heard Olbermann trashing Brown is such fiery ways. But how might his thundering claims sound to the masses of voters? We’ll guess that this sort of loud silly wail will not improve liberal prospects.

It also wasn’t a real smart idea when Olbermann spend a week last April aiming string of brainless dick-jokes at American voters. Smart players tend to aim their criticisms at political leaders and elites, not at regular people.

Meanwhile, Collins displayed her standard “pseudo” reactions by the end of her column. She rolled her eyes at big phony John Edwards, then proceeded to voice her view about big phony Spitzer too:

COLLINS: It would be great if all our disgraced politicians decided to devote themselves to helping the poor, providing they understand that this is not a second act but the thing they get to do after the curtain has dropped and the audience has gone home.

Eliot Spitzer was going to devote himself to good works, too. But now, every time you turn around, there he is talking on TV or blogging about current events. He’s trying to warn the country about evil robber barons. But I was thinking more along the line of distributing mosquito nets in Chad.

So typical! Spitzer is one of the only people who will ever “try to warn the country about evil robber barons.” Instead of praising him for this service, Lady Collins dares to dream he might stop.

Back to the basic point: In politics, basic competence counts. Whenever progressives make us feel good, we should ask: But does it help?

WHAT KRUGMAN SAID [permalink]: In this morning’s New York Times, Jackie Calmes reviews the various plans for a debt-and-deficit commission. Her opening paragraph:

CALMES (1/25/10): Just as President Obama and Congressional Democrats are trying to create a bipartisan commission on reducing the debt, some well-known former elected officials and veterans of past administrations are announcing their own task force on Monday, underscoring the mounting concern over the nation’s fiscal future.

How big a problem is our projected level of future debt? Since we aren’t expert on such matters ourselves, we decided to re-read what Paul Krugman wrote when he discussed this matter last August.

To read the full column, just click this. This is the part of the piece where Krugman brought rubber to road:

KRUGMAN (8/27/09): But what about all that debt we're incurring? That's a bad thing, but it's important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to G.D.P. And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren't as scary as you might think.

[…]

According to the White House projections, by 2019, net federal debt will be around 70 percent of G.D.P. That's not good, but it's within a range that has historically proved manageable for advanced countries, even those with relatively weak governments. In the early 1990s, Belgium—which is deeply divided along linguistic lines—had a net debt of 118 percent of G.D.P., while Italy—which is, well, Italy—had a net debt of 114 percent of G.D.P. Neither faced a financial crisis.

So is there anything to worry about? Yes, but the dangers are political, not economic.

As I've said, those 10-year projections aren't as bad as you may have heard. Over the really long term, however, the U.S. government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.

That shouldn't be hard in the context of overall health care reform. After all, America spends far more on health care than other advanced countries, without better results, so we should be able to make our system more cost-efficient.

Hmmm. “Over the really long term” (not defined), the U.S. “will have big problems unless it…rein[s] in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.”

Not to worry, Krugman said. “That shouldn't be hard in the context of overall health care reform.” Not that overall reform may be dead, where are we left at this juncture?

We thought Calmes’ piece was worth reading. Ditto Krugman’s piece.