McDonough makes progress unlikely: In today’s column, Paul Krugman dreams of a better day. Let’s examine three key passages.
Even as he starts his column, Krugman starts breaking the rules:
KRUGMAN (12/6/13): Much of the media commentary on President Obama’s big inequality speech was cynical. You know the drill: it’s yet another “reboot” that will go nowhere; none of it will have any effect on policy, and so on. But before we talk about the speech’s possible political impact or lack thereof, shouldn’t we look at the substance? Was what the president said true?The gentleman wants us to “look at the substance?” Are pundits allowed to suggest that?
As he continues, Krugman discusses Obama’s suggestions about income inequality. Once again, the columnist attempts to sidestep the basic rules:
KRUGMAN: [B]ecause the president was willing to assign much of the blame for rising inequality to bad policy, he was also more forthcoming than in the past about ways to change the nation’s trajectory, including a rise in the minimum wage, restoring labor’s bargaining power, and strengthening, not weakening, the safety net.Krugman, please! If it weren’t for “fake problems,” would our public discussion recognize any problems at all?
And there was this: “When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit.” Finally! Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem—worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future—while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however, he’s moving on.
Our third point is meant to be serious. As he closes his important column, we think Krugman understates a very important point:
KRUGMAN: Finally, ideas matter, even if they can’t be turned into legislation overnight. The wrong turn we’ve taken in economic policy—our obsession with debt and “entitlements,” when we should have been focused on jobs and opportunity—was, of course, driven in part by the power of wealthy vested interests. But it wasn’t just raw power. The fiscal scolds also benefited from a sort of ideological monopoly: for several years you just weren’t considered serious in Washington unless you worshipped at the altar of Simpson and Bowles.Ideas do very much matter! But the power of the fiscal scolds doesn’t derive from “several years” of high-end propaganda.
The powerful interests which pushed their ideas have been doing so for decades. For most of that time, the liberal world pretty much stared off into air.
Has the liberal world started to push back with better ideas? If so, it’s been a long time coming. By the way:
If you want the public to adopt your ideas, you have to find ways to make common cause with the public. Tremendous amounts of “liberal” action now seem to involve gratuitous insult and the ensuing division.
On that score, we were especially struck by Katie McDonough’s recent piece in Salon. It concerns an incident at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
McDonough has no apparent idea what happened in this incident. Nor does she seem to have any idea that she has no apparent idea.
In comments, things get much, much worse. Because the incident in question involves claims about race, it has produced 1476 comments as we rush our copy to press.
Even by modern standards, we'd have to say that those comments devolved into pure tribal warfare. Here's the problem:
None of the commenters seem to be in a position to know what actually happened. That said, very few of them seem to realize that they don’t know—and McDonough made no attempt to bring this perspective to them.
Krugman wants Obama’s new ideas to matter. We’d like to see that happen too.
But few of those ideas will take hold in a world where two tribes can be led to name-call bitterly about an endless succession of incidents where no one has the slightest idea what actually might have happened.
We’ve come to admire McDonough’s spirit, we note in a mansplaining aside with a large dollop of condescension. That said, her journalistic effort was non-existent here.
This is the shape of the new Salon—and of conquest through division, the plutocrat’s oldest ploy.