Film-maker stands against Krugman: Paul Krugman starts his new column in hopeful fashion.
We assume that Krugman is right on the substance all through today’s column. But in our view, he is dreaming a dream in this opening passage—or perhaps he’s simply making a category error:
KRUGMAN (11/26/12): These are difficult times for the deficit scolds who have dominated policy discussion for almost three years. One could almost feel sorry for them, if it weren’t for their role in diverting attention from the ongoing problem of inadequate recovery, and thereby helping to perpetuate catastrophically high unemployment.We assume Krugman is right on the substance—and he discusses a fair amount of substance in today’s column. But good God! If he thinks the deficit-scold movement is losing its political clout, he should probably watch the tape of yesterday’s Meet the Press.
What has changed? For one thing, the crisis they predicted keeps not happening. Far from fleeing U.S. debt, investors have continued to pile in, driving interest rates to historical lows. Beyond that, suddenly the clear and present danger to the American economy isn’t that we’ll fail to reduce the deficit enough; it is, instead, that we’ll reduce the deficit too much. For that’s what the “fiscal cliff” — better described as the austerity bomb — is all about: the tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the end of this year are precisely not what we want to see happen in a still-depressed economy.
Given these realities, the deficit-scold movement has lost some of its clout...
David Gregory had assembled a six-member pundit panel. All six seemed to be spouting the talking-points of the deficit-scold movement. To our ear, this included Al Sharpton—and for unknown reasons, it even included film-maker Ken Burns.
Why was Burns part of a panel about the fiscal cliff? We have no idea. To our ear, he seemed to have no idea what he was talking about when budget issues were discussed.
But Burns did seem to know all the scripts which drive the fiscal-scold movement. Just so you’ll know, the “Carly” to whom he swears allegiance in this first Q-and-A is Fiorina, not Simon.
Are the deficit scolds losing steam? Someone forgot to tell Burns:
GREGORY (11/25/12): Ken Burns, David [Brooks]’s colleague, Tom Friedman, wrote a column recently and I put a portion of it on the screen because I think it gets to the leadership challenge for Obama, what he’s got to do to really apply leverage on Capitol Hill. Tom Friedman writes this: "I get why the president needs to stress that the wealthy will have to pay higher taxes before he can go to the base for spending cuts to restore long-term fiscal balance, but here’s what I hope we’ll see more from the president. A sense of excitement, a sense that if we can just get this grand bargain done, we can really unlock roads again. If everyone has to take their castor oil, the rich more, the middle class some, make them feel that it will enable us to all get stronger, make them feel that we are embarking on a new journey not to punish but to solve. Not to sock it to the successful but to create more abundance for all." A sense of some civic duty.Presumably, Burns meant to say that the spending cuts were going to be really painful. But there he was, the inventor of twee, stressing agreement with Fiorina and repeating the standard points about the need to stop kicking the can down the road and the need for Obama to lead us toward spending cuts which were going to be really painful.
BURNS: That’s right. Not kicking the can down the road which is very easy. You can see all the ways that can happen. I agree with Carly. As someone who just came out of witness protection along with Big Bird since the first debate, breathing a sigh of relief, but we know the pain is going to be distributed. And I think that’s the important part and what he has to do is lead in that regard.
You have to insist on keeping the campaign promises but you also have to figure out where you’re going to make the revenue [sic] cuts. And that’s going to be really painful, but it’s true. There is some clear sailing on the other side of that that permits us to have some flexibility, kind of flexibility we have not had in an awfully long time.
Did Burns know what he was talking about? To our ear, he showed no sign of having a clue about the budget issues under discussion—but he did seem to know all the scripts.
Eventually, Burns engaged in a second Q-and-A concerning the fiscal cliff. In this exchange, he states solidarity with David Cote, the Honeywell CEO who served on the Bowles-Simpson commission:
GREGORY: Ken, I want to get you in on this in this way, which is how does Speaker Boehner`s threat this week to bring health care into all of this affect it all? This is what he wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday about putting health care on the table. They still want to repeal it. As was the case before the election, he writes: "Obamacare has to go. We can’t afford it. We can’t afford to leave it intact. That’s why I’ve been clear that the law has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation's massive debt challenge. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct thorough oversight of the executive branch, and congressional oversight will play a critical role in repealing Obamacare going forward."We're all just so self-indulgent!
They didn’t defeat it legislatively. They haven’t defeated it in the court. This is going to be their last chance, presumably.
BURNS: This is a little bit of red meat, still, back to the constituency, but I think the deal has to get done. The demographics are there from the last election. They have to make the point. I think what Cote was saying, too, about you’ve got all these independent free agents. We’re—we’re a culture now that’s so indulgent. You know, we fantasize about apocalyptic things. We’re—we have secession movements, fads coming up. We’ve got all this stuff going on.
And what I think this is about is about process. It’s getting down to the deal. You have to give a clear path for the Republicans to say yes, as you’ve suggested, David [Brooks], and you have to get it done.
Now, he’s going to posture every once in a while. The president has to posture to his base. But in the end, you’re going to have to sit down and make a deal. That's how this government works. Anything else short of it is not the way this government works. And we've spent too long frozen in some other kind of independent free agency where everybody gets to be their own talking head.
Clearly, Burns had nothing whatever to say about the fiscal cliff. But he seemed to agree with everyone else: We absolutely must make a deal. And the pain must be shared.
Why was the mop-top on this show discussing fiscal issues? Why did he agree to take part, since it’s obvious he had nothing to say about these matters?
We can’t answer those questions. But while we assume that Krugman is right on the substance, we’ll guess he’s totally wrong on the politics. The fiscal scolds are still ruling the world, as Burns’ empty-headed script-reading seemed to show.
Gregory had six different panelists in this discussion. To our ear, all six were reciting a uniform set of scripts.
Later, Burns threw in a few race plays. This might have given us liberals the sense that our interests were being represented on yesterday’s panel.
Sorry. Liberal interests were not represented by this know-nothing seeker of corporate funds, who should have been dragged off by the lobe of his ear and made to stand in a corner. Race complaints are the (very) small price that is paid to keep us rubes on board.
Burns played that role on yesterday’s show—but he agreed with “Carly” on the obvious need for shared pain. Obama needs to lead us to a deal! He needs to do so right now!
Carly said it—and Ken agreed! In our view, the deficit scolds were in firm control as consent was manufactured on yesterday’s Meet the Press.
Greg Sargent watched the same program: Greg Sargent also saw the gang in rapt agreement, especially when they all agreed about the obvious meaning of "Lincoln."
Wealth and power were in control on yesterday morning's Meet the Press. Dearest darlings, it takes big (corporate) bucks to make those PBS films!