First, you snark: In this morning’s column, Paul Krugman asks a hugely important question.
It may be the most important question in all of American politics. The question he asks has been that important for several decades now.
He asks a very important question—but it’s also a sensitive question. We’ll include the way he frames the question, and the bulk of his answer:
KRUGMAN (2/13/12): How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!Krugman is asking a very important question; it may be the most important question in all of American politics. In principal, we agree with his answer—although his answer is very limited, and in some ways it borders on wrong. (In Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush ran very strongly and very openly on a pledge to privatize Social Security. This part of his platform was strongly supported all through the press corps, and it polled quite well.)
My short answer is that the long-running con game of economic conservatives and the wealthy supporters they serve finally went bad. For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy—a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security.
Over time, however, this strategy created a base that really believed in all the hokum—and now the party elite has lost control.
Krugman’s question is hugely important—and by far, he has been our smartest and most valuable player at the top end of the press corps. That’s why we think it’s so unfortunate that he started this important column in the way he did. Especially considering the source, what follows is almost as dumb as the well-packaged hokum conservative voters have internalized over the past forty years:
KRUGMAN: Mitt Romney has a gift for words—self-destructive words. On Friday he did it again, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was a “severely conservative governor.”We’re sorry to tell you, but that’s just dumb. It’s dumb on the substance. On the politics, it’s may be worse.
As Molly Ball of The Atlantic pointed out, Mr. Romney “described conservatism as if it were a disease.” Indeed. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provided a list of words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely”; the top five, in frequency of use, are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured.
That’s clearly not what Mr. Romney meant to convey. Yet if you look at the race for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, you have to wonder whether it was a Freudian slip. For something has clearly gone very wrong with modern American conservatism.
Mitt Romney has flubbed again—or at least, our smartest player is willing to pretend that he has! He’s willing to waste his time quoting Ball, engaging in the micro-nitpicking which sends thrills up liberal legs. He’s willing to cite a linguistics professor who ought to return to his dry-as-dust lectures. He’s even willing to walk in the realm of Dowd, toying with Freudian slips.
In fairness, he’s isn’t discussing Mitt Romney’s pet dog and how he got on the roof of that car. But in this silly, snark-laden open, he comes depressingly close.
What's wrong with starting a column with three paragraphs of silly dumb shit? Many things are wrong with that tack, if you want to attain a world in which voters don’t believe all that hokum—and by the way, the hokum was running strong on the liberal web in response to last Friday’s “accommodation” to the bishops. We had planned to review a fiery, hokum-laden blog post on that very subject, until Krugman’s important column about the other side's hokum surpassed it. (We’ll look at that blog post tomorrow.)
What’s wrong with Krugman’s snark, which he extends through the meat of his column? (See paragraphs 6, 8, 9, 13.) We’ll offer two quick thoughts:
When you open a column with snark of that type, you’re inviting large swaths of the public to pay no attention to anything which follows. You also burn away 15 percent of your limited space. You leave yourself that much less time to support your central claim, which is hugely important—although it’s a sensitive claim.
Do modern conservative voters believe a big pile of “hokum?” We’d have to say that they do. Do “fantasies and fabrications” appeal to the conservative base? We’d have to say that’s accurate too. But within our democratic traditions, these are very sensitive claims, claims which have to be strongly supported if you want to advance them outside the tribe. Krugman burned up so much of his column with snark that he gave few examples of this hokum—and we'd say that some of his examples were chosen somewhat strangely.
Over the weekend, we were struck by the relentless lunacy expressed at the CPAC convention. A modern nation simply can’t function when tens of millions of its citizens believe so many crazy things.
But the hokum is spreading through our vineyards too, and the snark is helping it spread. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Krugman’s column, noting how poorly and weakly he explains the source of the conservative hokum. And we’ll look at that other blog post, where the hokum ran wild on our side.
Krugman’s question is hugely important. His answer is plainly correct—although we'd say his answer was very limited and was sometimes almost wrong. Why would you start by spreading the snark, by burning up words, when your basic point is so plainly correct and so hugely important?
First, you snark! But here's a question: Does that enable the crazy?