Like being spanked by a paddlewheel steamer

Citing the NY Times series on class in America (a source understandably hard to quarrel with, for Times colleagues and readers), Krugman turns in a remarkably far-reaching and fiery column, with a rare moment of snark.

[final circa 4am EST]

Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families – and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy “reform” that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It’s not a pretty picture – which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what’s going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it’s a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year’s Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts “increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system.”

(via Jorgey, via S.Z.)

It’s certainly unfair to suggest that Daniel Okrent is a ‘right-wing partisan’ — and far more accurate to say that he served certain embedded interests in his job: The Times is a shop that values consensus and team-playing, and that can be highly subject to a peculiar kind of centrism — people sometimes call it a ‘cocktail party liberalism’ — whose exemplars might hold progressive values, but can live in a wind-tunnel of Washington spin and high-middlebrow intellectual fads, such that in practice, their views can be nearly indistinguishable from the least progressive, most wowserist and anti-Democratic nonsense emitted by the Beltway (and from New York stink-tanks such as the Manhattan Institute). Tom Friedman is an excellent case-study: a war-liberal with a passion for free markets and techno-centric sociological ideas, who thinks in ‘memes’ and speaks in bromides, and strides undismayed from one incidence of being utterly, disastrously mistaken to the next, with no apparent sense of frisson or personal foolishness.

This is what, for structural and ontological reasons, the Times most solidly upholds as ‘mainstream opinion,’ as compared to Krugman; and long-term problems come from it. Facts seldom outpace the historical Friedmanocracy, our era’s men and women of the mainstream notion: They’re usually three steps ahead, chasing a shiny, new faddishness by the time the prior one unravels into a heap of duct tape, baling wire, and calamity — first on Page A-13, then rising upward. And when crises strike, they set to work ‘explaining’ them as though they were singularities produced by the grand spinning-wheel of fate, events whose contexts accrue to them like matter toward a black hole.

Friedman himself offered a memorable post-WMD ‘explanation’ of the invasion of Iraq, saying that after 9-11, “We needed to smash something.” To which the only reasonable response besides limbic anger — that an educated American of any political hue could sit in a TV studio with his face and moustache visible to millions, and make such a child’s argument for killing — is a certain aesthetic awe: What a brilliant Friedmanism! And after World War I and the trials of Weimar, the Germans “needed to smash something” as well, yes. We all need to smash someone, sometime. It’s all in a day’s work here at Explain-o Central.

But let’s not go there. Statements such as, “Smash something — That’s not what you told us at the time, Mr. Friedman,” seem to bounce off the helmets of these yeomen of certainty like hurled cotton balls. They’re already onto something else, already chasing a new leprechaun — as Ahmed Chalabi notably said, “What was said before is not important.”

But there is much more to be said about this, pace Krugman, and Wolcott says a bunch of it here (although I was uncomfortable at Wolcott’s savaging of Farhad Manjoo).

A point worth adding is that Krugman’s implicit jab at Okrent makes equal sense in either context — toward Okrent, or toward ‘right-wing partisans.’ No matter what Okrent’s personal views are (and there’s no reason to think that he’s anything but a progressive at heart, or that Krugman fails to realize this), the results of Okrent’s haute-liberal pique at Krugman and the moony ravings of men such as Donald Luskin become, in the end, perfectly the same: Krugman must be discredited, despite (if I may underline this next phrase) the predictive value of his columns. Their test, and Krugman’s, is not in whether they describe reality in a way that’s consistent and that reality later shows to have been accurate, but in whether they taste good with the morning paper — or as the case may be, with Luskin’s morning bowl of howler-monkey chow.

Which is to say, the goal ultimately shared by the right wing and the ‘cocktail-party liberal’ — the Beltway progressive, the Upper West Side ‘liberal hawk,’ and all related species — is to sink into a warm bath of pretending, whereas Krugman keeps splashing cold water from the tap. Because facts are cold, sometimes. The 6AM alarm is strident, and the snooze alarm only a swat away.

But Krugman swats back, as well, and while there’s no ‘I told you so’ for folks like Friedman — for all the world’s Friedmans — until people stop gamely chasing their leprechauns with then, there’s a sting that Okrent, no doubt, felt at times, and that made him spend a great measure of his dignity in his final Times column, attacking his former colleague and doing a playground ‘no backs, double tax’ deal, planning to escape to retirement while Krugman stewed impotently in his Princeton office. He knew, or most probably suspected unwillingly, uncongenially, that Krugman was often not wrong.

And that’s why all Krugman has to do in this column is to be not-wrong some more, and to add the merest snark, to give Okrent a paddlewheel drubbing. We all know what he’s saying. And beyond that, we all know what he means.


Comments: 11


Krugman es el hombre.


You said:

a source understandably hard to quarrel with at the Times

There need not be a quarrel. For many, painting the NYT as a scion of the liberal press precludes any need to quarrel, present reasoned arguments, or develop any kind of counterpoint.

No matter how true it is, if it is in the New York Times there are plenty of people that will dismiss it as liberal propaganda.

Sad, too, because this series is amazing . . .


Nice work, Gavin. This post was like a Digby.


Thanks! The final version’s finally up. I think a lot of people might have seen it while it was sort of askew and not-quite-there.

If we turn up the ghetto-blaster playing ‘Your Eyes,’ do you think Digby might show up?


Ooh! Hit me baby one more time!


No matter what Okrent’s personal views are (and there’s no reason to think that he’s anything but a progressive at heart . . .) . . .Far from excusing Jokrent’s actions, IMO this would actually make them worse. I can live with honest opposition much more easily than “I’m not really a neo-con apologist; I just play one on TV.”


Nice blog Gavin. I, too, have a blog; a very progressive one.


That’s certainly a progressive blog, and definitely not one of those Princeton jokes that we at Rutgers used to hear about from time to time.


I think summoning Digby might require “If You Leave” by OMD, like at the end of Pretty In Pink.


Nice work, Gavin, but what exactly was wrong with Wolcott’s savaging of Farhad Manjoo? Manjoo wasted column inches in Salon to argue that even though Krugman was more or less completely right, and Okrent was a lying, insulting, petty, cowardly traitor to the politics he claims to support, Okrent was wronged and Krugman was a big meanie. Explain, please.


My impression of Manjoo’s style, from working with him on a piece once, is that he’s a very hardworking young guy, usually with more than one project going on at once, who spends a lot of energy sourcing his bigger pieces, and then sort of writes other ones between phone calls.

I thought that Somerby and Wolcott were reading crafty intentions into his piece, when it seemed more likely that he just fell into a j-school ‘false balance’ mode out of habit, with a deadline looming. It’s something that one does to hedge bets when one doesn’t quite know how a story plays out, or doesn’t want to get thwacked later for taking a stand that turns out to have been wrong.


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