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KRUGMAN FROM MARS! Voters believe the darnedest things! Just consider that CNN survey: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011

Ezra speaks: Good lord! Hold the phone! While we’re at it, will Katie please bar the door?

Impossible! In one of the nation’s biggest newspapers, someone has actually written a piece describing some basic, bone-simple realities! Basic realities involving the role of current tax policy in creating our yawning deficits!

The person in question is Ezra Klein, writing in yesterday’s Washington Post. And no, we’re not talking about a blog post! Klein’s piece appeared on page A10, right in the hard-copy Post! For evidence of this unlikely fact, go ahead—just click here!

To what extent have current tax rates helped create our deficit problem? Your big “news organs” have spent the past year refusing to discuss this question—but yesterday, Klein stepped up to the plate. Here’s how he started, including his headline. We’ll translate his words below:

KLEIN (8/3/11): One shot on taxes: Don’t blow it, Democrats

There are now two sides in the American tax debate: the Republican Party, which refuses to have a serious conversation about taxes, and the Democratic Party, which . . . refuses to have a serious conversation about taxes.

Let's start here: We cannot fund anything close to the government's commitments if we don't raise taxes, or if we let only the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 expire. And that's true even if we make deep cuts across all categories of federal spending.

Good lord! That highlighted statement is rather opaque, so let’s get clear on what Klein said. If we want to get close to solving this problem, we have to let the Bush tax cuts expire! And that means all the Bush tax cuts! Not just those on high earners!

We have to dump all the Bush tax rates! By now, you can probably see that Klein really did say that in the statement we have highlighted. But later on, he stated the point more clearly:

KLEIN: Democrats will have exactly one chance to overcome the GOP's resistance to tax revenue. Next year, the Bush tax cuts expire. If Congress does nothing, we revert to Clinton-era tax rates for everyone, and the federal coffers fill with $3.6 trillion in additional revenue over the next 10 years—enough to stabilize deficits. This is a rare opportunity in which it's Democrats who hold the hostage and Republicans who have to compromise.

[...]

To govern responsibly, Democrats cannot simply raise taxes on the rich and call it a day. That's a world in which Republicans continuously force crises, refuse taxes, and extract deeper and deeper cuts.

You can read the whole piece for yourself. We’re not saying that Klein is right; we’d like to see the point discussed further. But at long last, a major “newspaper” has permitted this topic to enter the public discussion! Katie, report to the door!

Over the last six months, your major “newspapers” have pretended to discuss the budget situation. As part of this Potemkin discussion, these news orgs have avoided discussing the role played by the Bush tax cuts in creating the current situation. There have been a few exceptions, of course. On Sunday, July 24, Teresa Tritch created a one-day sensation when she made a dramatic if claim about what would occur if we dropped all the Bush tax cuts.

On-line, the liberal world got excited. For part of one whole day!

You live in a post-journalistic society. In truth, your country has no real “press corps.” It has no real “public discussion.”

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an actual claim about the actual state of the actual budget! How long will such an unusual action be allowed to stand?

Tomorrow: Hardball and Maddow, so awful

Special report: The discourse you rode in on!

PART 2—KRUGMAN FROM MARS: Paul Krugman may as well have spoken his piece from the dark side of Mars.

On Sunday morning’s This Week, Krugman restated his long-held views about the state of the economy. “We shouldn't be even talking about spending cuts at all now,” the prize-winning economist said. Krugman stressed that he has always said that Obama’s 2009 stimulus package “wasn't remotely big enough.”

George Will simply rolled his eyes at Krugman’s improbable statements. “It would be good to go to the electorate and have a Krugman election,” the famous man wrily mused.

Will imagined what Krugman would tell the voters in such an election: “Resolved, the government is too frugal. Let's vote!”

Will assumed that such an election would turn out badly for Krugman. He assumed that the voters would simply laugh at such improbable views.

For ourselves, we’ll guess that Will was right. Just consider the survey CNN conducted this Monday.

In fact, voters believe the darnedest things. If you doubt that proposition, you have to consider that survey.

By the time the CNN survey was taken, the debt limit deal was pretty much done. In a fleeting aside, Digby summarized what the survey said. We’ll highlight one striking result:

DIGBY (8/2/11): The new CNN poll shows that the public thinks everyone is Washington acts like spoiled children and that they don't think default would have amounted to much. They are pretty much evenly divided as to whether or not this was a good deal. (Most people approve of the big cuts but quite a few also think that there should have been some revenues.) Overall, most people think the deal was a good one and only 15% think the cuts were too big.

Respondents didn’t think that a government default would have amounted to much! Digby was overstating a bit, but these are the questions to which she referred, along with the survey’s results:

Do you think that a failure to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday would create a crisis for the United States, major problems, minor problems, or no problems at all?
Crisis 14 percent
Major problems 38 percent
Minor problems 31 percent
No problems at all 15 percent
No opinion 2 percent

As you may know, the agreement would raise the debt ceiling through the year 2013. Regardless of how you feel about the overall agreement, do you approve or disapprove of raising the debt ceiling at this time?
Approve 48 percent
Disapprove 51 percent
No opinion 2 percent

Would a failure to raise the debt limit create major problems? On this question, the public was pretty much evenly split. Indeed, a narrow majority, 51 percent, said they flatly disapproved of raising the debt ceiling at all at this time!

We think those views are utterly daft. We think a failure to raise the debt limit would have produced an obvious social disaster. But how was the average voter supposed to know such a thing? Over the course of the past few months, America’s “press corps” made little attempt to explain what would happen on August 3 if the debt limit stayed where it was.

This post-journalistic refusal to splain involved our most famous “news organs.”

What would happen on August 3 if the debt limit stayed where it was? The Washington Post made a feeble attempt to explain, offering this front-page report on Thursday morning, July 14. But to all intents and purposes, the New York Times never tried to answer this central question, along with a long list of others. On Thursday morning, July 28, the Times finally presented a barely-coherent “crash course in all things debt ceiling.” But what would happen on August 3 if the debt limit stayed where it was?

In its self-parodic “crash course,” the Times made little attempt to say. When it came to this basic question, the malfeasance of America’s “press corps” started right there, at the top.

Can we talk? Essentially, your country no longer has a “press corps.” It no longer has a public discourse—at least, it no longer has a public discourse of a journalistic kind. But in a culture which functions this way, how is an average voter supposed to understand basic questions?

Voters believe the darnedest things! But in a culture which no longer has a “press corps,” it will ever be thus.

According to that CNN survey, voters believed something else. Fleetingly, Digby cited this outcome too. This is the question CNN asked, along with the responses:

As you may know, the agreement does not include any tax increases for business or higher income Americans. Regardless of how you feel about the overall agreement, do you approve or disapprove of the fact that the debt ceiling agreement does not include tax increases for those groups?
Approve 40 percent
Disapprove 60 percent
No opinion 1 percent

Most respondents thought the deal should have included tax increases “for business or higher income Americans” [sic]. But forty percent didn’t want any tax increases at all—and this question only concerned tax increases on higher-income people.

As far as we know, it’s hard to get from here to there without tax increases across the board. But in the past several months, your big news orgs made little attempt to explain the role of the Bush tax cuts in creating our current unbalanced budgets. How are average voters supposed to know about such things, when our biggest “news orgs,” from the top down, avoid discussing such topics? When the “liberal world” barely seems to notice this abject failure?

Let’s return to Krugman on This Week, being eye-rolled by Will. Krugman expressed very basic economic views on Sunday’s program. But given the nutrition-free tapioca which currently passes for “public discourse,” he may as well have been speaking from Mars, so odd would his views have seemed to many average voters.

George Will understands that fact. We’d assume that Will was basically right about how us rubes would react.

Can we talk? In fact, your country no longer has a press corps; it barely has a public discourse at all. As a matter of basic economics, Krugman’s views were quite elementary—but to judge by the baseline of our D-minus discourse, he may as well have been speaking from a vacation home on the dark side of Mars.

In recent weeks, many “liberals” have cherry-picked polling data, pretending the public holds liberal views. In this way, the people currently cast as “liberals” help extend the ball of confusion.

Tomorrow—part 3: When even Krugman goes wrong