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YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! Sign us up for “something wrong,” we said after reading Krugman: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2008

You’ve got to be kidding: Good grief! We scanned his words a second time, to see if we’d read them correctly. We’re fairly sure you know our view: Paul Krugman has been the very best, at the top of the pile, for a very long time now. But golly Ned! Here’s how he started this morning’s column. We had to read it twice:

KRUGMAN (11/7/08): Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you.

If those are the rules of the current game, sign us up for “something wrong with you.”

Were we stirred Tuesday night? We’re not quite sure. Teary-eyed? No, although moist at times. And we very much admired Obama when he took the hand of Biden’s mother and led her to the front of the stage. It made us think of Bill Clinton, on Inaugural Day, when he stopped to talk to a man who may have been homeless—and addressed him as “sir.” In each case, we were pleased to have a president who had such excellent judgment.

But “proud of our country?” No, not at all; we’ll stand with the early Michelle Obama when it comes to such gauzy constructions. Although we see and hear people, every day, engaging in splendid behavior. Wednesday afternoon, we happened to be driving home from the dentist. For that reason, we heard this woman, on the phone from Kansas City, speaking to Talk of the Nation. To hear her phone call, just click here, then scroll to 35:40:

CALLER (11/5/08): Hi. I am calling on the Republican line because I did end up voting for Barack Obama—I mean, for John McCain! But I am one of those people who waited until I had to put my ballot in the mail—we’re a military family, so I voted absentee—to decide. Two things that I wanted to say: As a Christian, we try to live, my family—we try to teach our kids this—to let no word come out of your mouth but what’s going to be profitable for building up one [unintelligible]. And that’s been something that’s been sorely lacking in this campaign. And just talking to other friends—it breaks my heart when I hear the negativity that we’ve heard surrounding this campaign. Even down in my home state with the Senate campaign that Elizabeth Dole just lost down there.

And then, as a military family member, what we try to tell our children—and I’m a spouse, and now I have a twenty-year-old son who is in the military—no matter who wins, this person is going to be Dad’s, and now Brother’s, commander-in-chief. And things that you say, strongly negative things beforehand, make it really hard to do that. So you know, our children don’t even know—I mean, if they asked us directly, I guess we would tell them—I mean, we’ve talked to them about the issues, but our children don’t even know who we voted for.

We didn’t vote the way this woman did. Eventually, she said she ended up casting her vote for McCain because “for me, it came down to national security and who I trusted more as commander-in-chief” But then, she told Neal Conan this. We thought this was splendid behavior:

CALLER: But that being said—now, our new commander-in chief is Barack Obama. And you know, I’ve been praying for him all along. And he will be the one that we pray for now, and will honor.

And you know, I’m very excited and—you know, as a Caucasian-American, I don’t think I can ever get the intensity of what African-Americans feel right now. But I felt a bit of that this morning. It is historic, and I’m excited that we’ve come to a place in our nation where every child can picture himself as president of the United States.

We had a reaction to that call; we thought this woman’s children were lucky in who they got for their mother. But this woman’s splendid behavior didn’t make us “proud of our country.” Nor were we “ashamed of our country” when we watched Rachel Maddow that night, churning a string of unfortunate jokes about McCain being too old to drive a car any more, and laughably short besides that. We just shook our heads again at the state of “progressive” wisdom.

Should we have been “proud of our country” because of “the election of our first African-American president?” Many African-American citizens have reacted to this week’s events with deep emotion; for just one (second-hand) example, read the letter from Donald Graul in this morning’s Post. This week, we’ve often recalled the professor who wrote, earlier this year, about her elderly parents in Mississippi; the professor said she was thrilled that her parents had lived long enough to see Obama’s campaign. For ourselves, if that professor pays travel and lodging, we’ll go down to Mississippi ourselves and carry her parents around on a chair. But when it comes to this part of the question, our own thumb largely comes down on a different part of the scale.

First, we’re not surprised that the country elected Obama, who was in most ways (not necessarily all) the clearly superior candidate. And we don’t plan to pretend we’re surprised, as many big pundits have done (not Krugman). Duh. We recall the way pundits stood in line in 1995, urging Colin Powell to run. And we recall the November 1996 exit polls: Had Powell been the GOP candidate, voters said they would have elected him—said so by a wide margin. (Powell 48, Clinton 36, Perot 8. Just click here.) To heighten the drama, pundits pretend that Tuesday’s election was something no one ever imagined. When they do so, some are lying again, as they do with such endless aplomb.

So no, we actually weren’t surprised to see Obama elected. Nor are we “proud” when voters do sensible things; as in the days when we taught fifth-graders, we expect sensible conduct. Beyond that, our thumb comes down on the part of the scale which says that Barack Obama should get to be Barack Obama, without having the mountain of race hoisted up on his back. It has been a very long time since any white person had to bear the burden of his ethnicity, which was never as big a mountain as race; we’re tired of seeing white folk insist on making Obama be the black guy. Rather than get all excited and proud about “our first African-American president,” we’d like to see people put their focus on having our first recent successful president.

By the way: Many children will not be able picture themselves as president of the United States, though that’s a separate question.

Should we be “proud of our country” for electing Obama? In most ways, he was the clearly superior candidate; why exactly should we be “proud” when voters make such a choice? Frankly, we think our standards have been dumbed way down when we clap ourselves on the back for such conduct.

Beyond that, we think we might to revisit the context in which this decision occurred.

Should we be proud of Tuesday’s outcome? In many ways, McCain was an utterly gruesome candidate. Are we supposed to be “proud” of the country whose groaning, store-bought, brain-dead elites worked so long, so hard, so dumbly to hide that matter from you? The same pundits who tell you about their surprise told you, for many years, that McCain was the world’s greatest known living human, although he plainly was not. How could anyone be “proud” of a country whose structures have conspired, for such a long time, to support these grisly elites in such gruesome, gong-show behavior? Guess what? Your political culture is a screaming disgrace. But so what? Even your smartest, most superlative columnist is saying that you should be proud of the country whose elites refuse to stop behaving that way. Whose elites agree not to tattle.

Guess what, kids? McCain was a horrible candidate nine years ago—but your “elites” (pause for laugh) told you different. Sometimes they did so because of their dumbness; sometimes they did so through bleating obedience to their group’s pre-approved standard scripts. But sensible people should be ashamed that this charade got anywhere near this place. McCain was ahead in many polls in mid-September, when the financial world collapsed.

Should you be proud of your country? Just consider what happened in early 2000 when Candidate McCain—then widely pimped as a moral sun god—spoke with Jonathan Chait. As Chait explained in his lengthy New Republic piece (no link available), McCain had been traipsing all about, boasting about the way his tax cuts were aimed at helping “the have-nots.” But as with so many other topics, McCain seemed to have no f*cking idea how his plan actually worked:

CHAIT (1/31/00): McCain says his economic plan is meant to help "the have- nots." As evidence, he points to his proposal to lift the amount of income subject to the 15 percent tax bracket. "If you put more and more people into the fifteen percent tax bracket, you would have a significant beneficial effect," he says. "The have-nots are not the poorest necessarily; the have- nots are lower- and middle-income Americans, who are not rising as fast as the wealthiest Americans, as well." But expanding the 15 percent tax bracket only helps those who are paying above 15 percent right now, which is only the wealthiest one-fourth of all taxpayers. When told this, McCain is at first undaunted. They "are in that bracket, but their boat is not rising," he insists. "They're a group of have-nots. They're in the have-not group." Later in the interview, though, McCain betrays second thoughts. "Maybe I'm not paying enough attention to the poorest of America," he says. "Maybe my priorities are not correct. I selected this course not thinking that it's perfect but thinking that it's the best that I could come up with."

“They are in the have-not group!” Go ahead—laugh out loud! In a rational world, a candidate like that would be laughed off the stage—but you live in a world that’s full of Chait, and all the Chaits were very “proud” of how magnificent this great man was. In a sadly comical effort, Chait found ways to see the best in McCain’s endless flips and confusions. “This man is not a Republican,” his headline announced—and he went on, in his lengthy piece, to explain away McCain’s flips and confusions. The great man was on an “intellectual odyssey,” he wrote—on a journey away from the right.

In fact, McCain bungled almost every topic during Campaign 2000, but the star-struck boys and girls on his bus found ways to ignore these bungles. With minor exceptions, they even managed to look away from the “race man” McCain had picked to run his South Carolina campaign. In The New Republic, Benjamin Soskis offered a short, biting profile. His headline said this: “Race Man:”

SOSKIS (1/31/00): McCain's top strategist in South Carolina is Richard M. Quinn, a savvy political consultant and the father of the state's House majority leader. Quinn has advised some of South Carolina's most prominent politicians; he has also ushered several previous presidential candidates—like Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Pat Robertson in 1988—through the prickly briars of South Carolina politics. But Quinn's real claim to fame in the Palmetto State stems from his post as editor of Southern Partisan, a 20-year-old quarterly that serves as the leading journal of the neo-Confederacy movement.

Like the movement itself—which combines a nostalgic yearning for an agrarian past with a virulent antipathy for the liberals and blacks who want to remain in the present—Southern Partisan's place on the ideological spectrum is a bit ill-defined. According to one reviewer, the journal is "to the right of National Review but to the left of the Klan." But, if the nostalgia has prompted the grand old men of Southern thought and culture—men like Russell Kirk and Andrew Lytle—to contribute to Southern Partisan, the antipathy has attracted a very different breed of writer.

Indeed, scan the last 20 years of Southern Partisan, and, right alongside a recipe for "Nutty Sweet Potato Casserole" and genteel reflections on Hank Williams, you'll find a gumbo of racist apologias. From a 1996 article comes the claim that "slave owners...did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves' peace and happiness." In 1987 the magazine offered a vision of South African history straight from the apartheid-era textbooks: "God led Afrikaners into the Transvaal, it was with God that they made their prayerful covenant when they were besieged by bloodthirsty savages on all sides." And in 1990 the journal celebrated David Duke as "a candidate concerned about 'affirmative' discrimination, welfare prolifigacy [sic] , the taxation holocaust ... a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal."

The mainstream press had met the most wonderful guy, so McCain was allowed to talk his way out of even this odd situation. (Bush was trashed for visiting Bob Jones University, a standard stop for Republican candidates—until the press corps fell in love with McCain and began pimping his narratives.) Ditto with his anonymous, inaccurate robocalls—the ones his campaign lied about, right in the press corps’ faces. Ditto with his bogus claims about the Bush budget plan; his nasty, bogus “jokes” about Gore; his serial lying about the negative fliers his campaign kept handing out. In the end, the great man was widely praised for his lying—for lying about that confederate flag. When he told the truth about his lying—after it no longer mattered, of course—it just showed us how honest he was!

In a rational world—in a country which might make a sane person proud—a candidate who did these things would have hooted from the stage. Instead, McCain was pimped ahead into the future. This year, having decided Obama was better, pundits had to fake it again. They had to pretend they were shocked, just shocked, by the strange way McCain had changed. But then, your journalistic “elites” will lie in your faces in much the way normal folk breathe.

Tell us again why we’re suppose to feel proud of the country whose “elites” create such endless deceptions. And yes—for all his superlative service, Krugman belongs to the elite which has handed you this decade of blather. Has he ever stated his full understanding of this system? We’d have to guess that he has not.

Let’s be clear: Our lack of pride had nothing to do with the conduct of American voters. To our ear, that caller’s decency spoke for itself—and she didn’t even vote the way we did! But why on earth would any sane person be proud of a country of Riches and Dowds—of Milbanks, Joe Kleins, Beinarts and Chaits? People like Talk of the Nation’s caller live inside a culture of clowns—and very few career players are willing to tell them. We’ll praise her decency to the skies. But “proud of our country?” Please.

What kind of country do you live in? Last night, Chris Matthews clowned for the full hour about Sarah Palin, pretending that anonymous claims about her dumbness are somehow plainly accurate. He has no idea if these claims are true—but he’s pimping the world your way now. You see, he wants to run for the Senate—as a Dem. So last night, he kept pimping your novels.

Your country? A hall of mirrors, staffed by clowns. Proud of it? Sorry—we’re not. We’ll proudly sign our name on this list: “Something wrong with us.”