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.
Heres what it said yesterday morning:
Shepherdstown, West Virginia: 79 degrees
Feels like: 79 degrees
A place which feels like it is! We didnt 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. Well probably discuss that topic more next week. For today, lets just say this:
What will happen on August 3 if Congress doesnt 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 hasnt bothered.
Second point: In the past few days, conservative voters have heard about a new proposal which would allegedly avoid a default. (Wed 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 dont 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 Hitlers 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 placesShepherdstown includedwill 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. Whats 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 KRUGGERSYOU HAVE TO NAME NAMES (permalink): Paul Krugmans new column is immensely accurate, even though as a general matter wed avoid calling people crazy.
(We know whereof we speak. When we were kids, Frankie FontaineJackie Gleasons Crazy Guggenheimlived right up the hill behind our own back yard!)
That said, has the Republican Party (slowly) gone crazy? Thats the premise of Krugmans column. The piece is headlined, Getting To Crazy. Krugman starts like this:
KRUGMAN (7/15/11): There arent 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 reliefof the black-humor varietyin 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 isnt something that just happened, its the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasnt been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.
Krugman says the GOP has been getting to crazy for decades. In todays 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, theyre suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.
As we said, wed be slow to throw around sweeping claims about people being crazy. And we dont agree with some of the claims Krugman makes as he proceeds. At one point, for example, he cites Mitt Romneys 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.
Thats 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 didnt support his proposal in Massachusetts; they dont support Obamas plan now. Yes, theres a whole lot of crazy out there. But as someone who lived down the hill from Fontaine, we think thats 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 voodoowhich claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapsehas 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 administrations 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 crazinessand 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 pledgeuntil 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 wouldnt pay for themselves. He said they wouldnt 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 theyve rarely heard anyone challenge the claim. Krugman continues from there, noting that things are now worse:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Recently, however, all restraint has vanishedindeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenuea claim completely at odds with the evidenceand also declared that this was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject. And its 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 dont pay for themselves. Its amazing to see major figures say different. But this is where Krugmans 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, theres 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.
Heres 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.
Heres the problem:
Krugmans 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 doesnt 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 rationalityand sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If youre surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.
Krugman doesnt 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 claimsand weve named the names of the mainstream and liberal journalists who have failed to challenge them.
Weve named the names of major liberal columnists. Weve named the names of our big liberal journals.
Yes, our big mainstream hacks have failed to speak toopeople 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!) Its true regarding Social Security. (The money isnt thereweve already spent it!) Its true regarding health care. (European-style health care has failed everywhere its ever been tried!) All those statements are intellectually crazy, although theyre 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 cant address this problem without naming some names. We have endlessly named those names, over the course of the past thirteen years. Why isnt Krugman the problem today, agreeing as he does not to name them? Why isnt 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 isnt the fault of average voters (including average conservative voters) when crazy claims get spread through the landand voters see no prominent pundits stand up to confront them.
It isnt the fault of those average voters, conservative, centrist or liberal. Its the fault of the people who spread those crazy ideasand its 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 isnt done! But that is one of the basic ways The Crazy has managed to spread.
Special report: Whos flunking now!
PART 4AS ATLANTA BURNED: With apologies, coming Monday.