Friday, March 26, 2010

Why Did Paul Krugman Win A Nobel Prize Again?

It sure wasn't for his analytical chops as a newspaper columnist, that's for sure. Despite his credentials as an economist he more often than not functions as the go-to guy for sanctimonious and insubstantial lefty agitprop on the New York Times op-ed page, and he's written a lot of mediocre columns over the years. This one denouncing the GOP's "eliminationist rhetoric" might be among the worst, however. He is right that some Republicans have come a bit emotionally unhinged in the wake of the passage of the health care bill, and that a few have spoken of fighting back using military metaphors. Where he lapses into sheer idiocy is in concluding on the basis of these observations that the Republican party has been hijacked by right-wing extremists intent on instigating violence against their political opponents.

For one, it's absurd to claim that Democrats did not deploy equivalently overheated language when criticizing George W. Bush. I can't count the number of times I heard Democrats refer to Bush as a fascist, for example, or claim that measures like the USA PATRIOT Act (which as a civil libertarian I found deeply troublesome) were the first step on the road to an Orwellian police state, or imply that because Bush opposed gay marriage he wanted to turn the U.S. into an evangelical theocracy. As for violent imagery, well, I recall lots of jokes about sabotaging Dick Cheney's pacemaker, and somebody even published a novel about assassinating Bush. I'll grant that none of these people were party leaders, but really - it's patently absurd to claim that Democrats are all peace-loving, civilized souls who would never stoop to ugly political rhetoric.

Secondly, there's the fact that the supposed instances of incendiary rhetoric Krugman cites - House Minority Leader John Boehner calling the passage of the bill "Armageddon", the Republican National Committee putting out a memo with a picture of Nancy Pelosi surrounded by flames and the words "fire Pelosi", and a map released by Sarah Palin "targeting" vulnerable Democrats who had voted for the bill in the sites of a rifle - are, on even cursory examination, not really incendiary at all. Boehner's remark is a bit melodramatic, certainly, but it's not a threat, and it is a fairly commonly employed figure of speech. From his reaction to the RNC memo it appears that either Krugman is as thick as a brick despite his Nobel Prize and daytime gig as an Ivy League professor, or that he is deliberately ignoring the clearly more relevant meaning of the verb "to fire", i.e., to terminate someone's employment. As for the Palin map, well, it actually shows rifle sites imposed over the districts of the Democrats in question, not the Democrats themselves. Again, this is perfectly standard political discourse - people speak of "targeting" and "picking off" vulnerable members of the opposing party all the time when discussing strategy for political campaigns (which is itself a word derived from military usage). To conclude on this basis that this means Sarah Palin wishes violence on the representatives of these districts is libelous, and I say that as someone who's no great fan of hers.

There really are only three possible conclusions here - Krugman is 1.)fundamentally dishonest, 2.)monumentally obtuse, or 3.)too lazy to fact check his columns. Whichever is correct, he's beyond terrible as a journalist, and it's a flat embarrassment to the New York Times that they let trash like this appear in their newspaper.

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