October 21, 2003


The Natural History of Bush-Hating (Keith Burgess-Jackson, 10/21/03, Tech Central Station)

The signs of Krugman's hatred are there for all to see. First, he is obsessed. Nearly every column for the past year has been about the Bush administration, and often about the president personally. I assume that Krugman has free rein as far as column topics go (just as I do at TCS), so why he focuses almost exclusively on President Bush requires explanation. Hatred explains it. Second, I have never seen Krugman make a favorable comment, even grudgingly, about President Bush. Someone might say that there is nothing favorable to be said, but that is disingenuous. Nobody is perfectly bad (omnimalevolent) and nobody performs only evil deeds (omnimaleficence). Krugman could prove me wrong by writing an occasional favorable column about the president or his administration. I will not hold my breath waiting for it.

Third, he systematically questions President Bush's motives. If the president says he did X for reason Y, Krugman says it was really for reason Z. Awarding a contract to Halliburton cannot possibly be legitimate; it must be a case of cronyism. Reducing taxes cannot be based on principle (e.g., that people are entitled to the fruits of their labor; that self-sufficiency is intrinsically good); it is calculated to "secure a key part of the Republican party's base," namely, the wealthy. To read Krugman is to see only corruption and deceit on the part of the president and his staff. It's not that the president's good intentions go awry, mind you. That would be a legitimate criticism. The president has bad intentions. Fourth, Krugman gives every indication of wanting the Bush administration's policies to fail, even if this redounds to the detriment of the American people. Krugman's incessantly negative and increasingly shrill and virulent columns about the war in Iraq, for example, come across as positively gleeful. One senses a hope, on his part, that the American reconstruction of Iraq fails. [...]

There is another and even better reason to refuse to read Krugman: He expounds on matters outside his field of expertise. Krugman's "economic" columns consist, in the main, of criticisms of President Bush's policies. The recent blackout, for example, was President Bush's fault. The California electricity crisis was President Bush's fault. Everything that happens in Iraq (or the Middle East generally) is President Bush's fault. Where did an economist get normative expertise? Graduate school? If so, which course or seminar, specifically? Was it during the research for and writing of the Ph.D. dissertation? But how does that work? I wrote a Ph.D. dissertation. It didn't make me wise(r). Economists are technicians, not moral preceptors. They can tell policymakers what they must give up in order to get this or that. They are not equipped, even if they are so inclined, to decide which action to take. [...]

Unfortunately, some of Krugman's readers may unwittingly infer normative authority from his authority in the technical realm of economics.

One thing about the Times is that its two ostensibly conservative columnists openly supported Bill Clinton over George Bush Sr., on the one hand (Bill Safire), and John McCain over George W. Bush, on the other (David Brooks). You'd think their Op-Ed page would be more interesting, if nothing else, were they to hire a real red-meat conservative and turn him loose. Don't even the editors there have to get tired of Krugman and Dowd obsessing over George W. Bush as the focus of evil in the modern world?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 21, 2003 3:46 PM

I stopped reading Modo and Krugman well over a year ago following my comment to the Times asking why anyone would want to read the political commentary of an economist and a dingbat.

They are "Johnny one notes" and Krugman in particular needs some help. Why the Times puts up with his trash is ... well we all know why.

Posted by: at October 21, 2003 5:07 PM

The NY Times attribution, which appears to be a mistake, really got my hopes up until I went back and looked at the URL.

Posted by: Rick T. at October 21, 2003 5:09 PM


thanks for catching that--I fixed it. Such self-criticism is way beyond the Times.

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2003 5:13 PM

So, I wonder if there were similar articles about Clinton-hatred back in the 90's? Some of it certainly seemed more pathological than justified.

I was much more of a D back then, & though I didn't love Clinton, I was sort of gratified that a considerable segment of Republicans had becomed so unhinged over him that it tended to erode their political effectiveness on the national scene -- now that I'm much more conservative, I get to enjoy the same (somewhat rueful) satisfaction, but in reverse.

Posted by: Twn at October 21, 2003 5:56 PM

Krugman's Bush-obsession is symptomatic of something bigger: the almost total lack of perspective in American political debate.

Two examples from personal experience -- one with a Canadian and one with an American.

My Canadian friend and I were discussing the war in Iraq. Although he disapproved of Saddam Hussein, he thought Bush's incursion was premature; he would have preferred for Bush to wait until the U.N. sanctioned the war. I disagreed with this position, on the grounds that the U.N. was too weak and corrupt an organization to rely on for this purpose (or just about any useful purpose, for that matter). Still, it was an intelligible position, and I could at any rate debate about it without fearing that I was causing mortal offense. We may not have persuaded each other, but at least we learned a little more about what the other side was saying, and why.

At about the same time I had to listen to the tirades of an American relative on the same subject. He seemed to look upon the war at a personal insult; he was literally foaming at the mouth when he mentioned Bush's name, and there was no more possibility of debating with him than with the member of a cult. What do you do when a true believer assures you that there is no salvation without Rev. Moon or Jim Jones or whoever? You nod your head, make a few non-committal remarks, and escape as soon as possible.

The moral seems to be: if you wish to discuss political matters with persons whose views differ from your own without being subjected to savage abuse, take care to cross the border first. I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

Posted by: Josh Silverman at October 21, 2003 6:18 PM

Twn -

I don't remember any articles exactly like this one, but the irrationality and obsession of Clinton-hatred, and the fact that it was hurting Republicans, was presented as a given in most mainstream (liberal) discussions of the situation.

The most interesting thing that binds Clinton-haters to Bush-haters is how both are reacting to the successes of the target. The feeling of being a futile opposition to the object of their scorn is what drives the feeling to such a fever pitch.

Posted by: Chris at October 21, 2003 6:43 PM

All that Clinton hatred and all we got was control of Congress, the statehouses and the White House.

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2003 7:41 PM

But wasn't the Clinton hatred softened somewhat by the grudging acknowledgement of Clinton's superb political skills? That admission mitigated, it seems to me, some of the animosity.

The Bush hatred is more pure, less adulterated and, therefore, both more intense and less reasonable.

The difference between the two hatreds is this: it's one thing to lose to someone you respect for their skills and abilities, even if you hate them. However, it's something totally different to be beaten by someone you both loathe and hold in contempt. This latter sentiment is, it seems to me, deeper and, most disturbing, dangerous (see Krugman).


Posted by: SteveMG at October 21, 2003 8:07 PM

If you look at the Clinton era, starting right from the gays in the military controversy a day after he took office, there was pretty much no period at all longer than about 30 days during which one scandal or another (airplane haircut, Vince Foster, Lani Guinier, Hillarycare and the secret meetings, etc.) wasn't bubbling up to dominate the news cycle. While none were ever enough to get the strongest Clinton-haters their wish -- the removal of Clinton from the White House before January, 2001 -- the fact that the majorty of those in his party opted to back him no matter what gave the voters pause and caused them to elect Republicans as a counterbalace, really beginning with the New York and Los Angeles mayoral elections in 1993 and early 1994.

In contrast, what scandals there have been so far involving the Bush administration have either been minor (Linda Chavez's nanny) or as of now too convoluted and/or trivial to draw much concern ("yellowcake"), so that the Democrats' Bush-hatred has found no widespread public support. That could change in the next 12 months, but it would have to be a really big scandal to offset the Democrats' currentl problem of a lack of a coherant foreign policy message.

Posted by: John at October 21, 2003 8:11 PM

I think that another big difference is that Big Media was essentially deferential to Clinton, in spite of his gaffes and sins. They may have rolled their collective eyes, but they did not spit.

With Bush, the venom is palpable, and they are spinning wildly to make everything look like the dismal failure of some idiot fundamentalist warlord who has usurped the American way.

When this gets hammered home daily (and I'm not even referring to European/Canadidan/Rest-of-World attitudes), it's bound to have an effect.

It's also bound to backfire if the gap between the reportage and the reality becomes utterly obvious. But this it the big anti-Bush gamble, and all of their chips are on it.

By the way, Krugman's forays are of utmost importance (and interest) because of the perception that if Bush is at all vulnerable in 2004, it'll be because of domestic economic/employment factors. So watch carefully: the crazier Krugman appears, I'll bet the more secure Bush's position really is (just a hunch, mind you).

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 22, 2003 2:19 AM

Another telling sign of Krugman's agenda to criticize all Bush administration initiatives is, Krugman no longer makes any sense, economically. He's willing to write things that he MUST know are, at best, partially correct, if it might hurt Bush.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 22, 2003 4:11 AM