Will the media cover this policy question?

MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2012

Why does he even ask: At the start of this morning’s column, Paul Krugman pops a basic question:

“Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are?”

We’re not sure how to answer that question. (In part, we don’t know who the “we” is in that question.) That said, we’ll assume Romney knows that our political discourse is just monumentally stupid.

That fact is the dog that doesn’t bark in Krugman’s new column.

In his column, Krugman describes a slightly awkward performance by Candidate Romney last week. Romney spoke at a closed drywall factory in Ohio, criticizing “the failure of this President’s policies with regards to getting the economy going again.”

What made this performance slightly awkward? Here is Krugman’s description, right at the start of his column:
KRUGMAN (4/23/12): Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? If you’ve been following his campaign from the beginning, that’s a question you have probably asked many times.

But the question was raised with particular force last week, when Mr. Romney tried to make a closed drywall factory in Ohio a symbol of the Obama administration’s economic failure. It was a symbol, all right—but not in the way he intended.

First of all, many reporters quickly noted a point that Mr. Romney somehow failed to mention: George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was president when the factory in question was closed. Does the Romney campaign expect Americans to blame President Obama for his predecessor’s policy failure?
Ha! This drywall factory closed during the tenure of President Bush, not under President Obama! “Many reporters” noted this point, Krugman said.

But uh-oh! As best we can tell, no reporter ever mentioned this fact at Krugman’s own New York Times. On-line, Krugman is forced to link to this news report at ABC News.

In her report, Emily Friedman mentioned that slightly awkward fact ever so briefly, in passing. But she also recorded what Romney actually said:
FRIEDMAN (4/19/12): Standing on the floor of a shutdown factory visited during the 2008 campaign by then-senator Barack Obama, Mitt Romney suggested that workers would have returned by now if it weren’t for the President’s economic policies.

“So, as you can tell, we are in a factory,” said Romney, speaking at the National Gypsum Company in Lorain, with a massive sign that read “Obama Isn’t Working” hanging behind him. “This factory is empty.”

“It was closed in 2008 at the beginning of the economic downturn,” he said. “Had the President’s economic plans worked it would have been open by now. But it is still empty. And it underscores the failure of this President’s policies with regards to getting the economy going again.”
Uh-oh! Romney explicitly said that the factory closed in 2008; George Bush was president then, as many people know. Here's his argument, and it may be a very weak one: The factory would have reopened by now if Obama’s policies had worked.

In the rest of his column, Krugman explains why Romney’s larger argument is very weak. “Drywall is mainly used in new houses,” Krugman explains, “and while the economy may be coming back, the Bush-era housing bubble isn’t.” But Romney’s misstatement wasn’t quite as striking as Krugman made it seem—and no reporter at the Times seems to have “noted [this] point.”

In part, we would offer this column as another small sign of a very bad trend—Krugman’s increasing tribalism, a trend we regard as a defeat for progressive interests.

Then too, as he ends his column, Krugman displays another small weakness. He pens a Pollyanna’s question about the campaign to come:
KRUGMAN: So am I saying that Mr. Obama did everything he could, and that everything would have been fine if he hadn’t faced political opposition? By no means. Even given the political constraints, the administration did less than it could and should have in 2009, especially on housing. Furthermore, Mr. Obama was an active participant in Washington’s destructive “pivot” away from jobs to a focus on deficit reduction.

And the administration has suffered repeatedly from complacency — taking a few months of good news as an excuse to rest on its laurels rather than hammering home the need for more action. It did that in 2010, it did it in 2011, and to a certain extent it has been doing the same thing this year too. So there is a valid critique one can make of the administration’s handling of the economy.

But that’s not the critique Mr. Romney is making. Instead, he’s basically attacking Mr. Obama for not acting as if George Bush had been given a third term. Are the American people—and perhaps more to the point, the news media—forgetful enough for that attack to work? I guess we’ll find out.
Forget “the American people” for now. Will "the news media" explore this general policy question in the months of campaigning to come?

Krugman asks, but we can tell you right now:

People! Of course they won’t!


  1. Krugman wrote:

    Mr. Obama was an active participant in Washington’s destructive “pivot” away from jobs to a focus on deficit reduction.

    Set aside the question of whether Mr. Obama was culpable in this "pivot" and set aside the question of just how destructive it was. The more important question is, What deficit reducion is Krugman talking about?

    The Federal Government has been running record-setting, trillion dollar plus deficits, with no end in sight. There's been no major tax increase, no major spending decrease. No reform of Medicare and Social Security. No reform of stupendously generous federal pensions. In what world has the federal government pivoted to deficit reduction?

    1. One could be technical and argue that a "focus on" deficits is a distinct matter from "deficit cuts" -- and a "focus" could very well affect public policy, by precluding (for example) any further stimulus spending -- but there have been several rounds of spending cuts, the first of which is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. Perhaps you weren't paying attention, David in Cal. And there would have been far greater cuts, stupid and injurious ones, if Repubs had been willing to accept Obama capitulation on the Grand Bargain.

      "with no end in sight".

      Not quite true, David in Cal. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire -- which is how they were sold to the public by Republicans-- would raise about 4 trillion over the next 10 years, bringing deficits down substantially. Letting them expire only on top earners, while providing a far smaller saving, is not an insignificant savings, but of course also opposed by your party.

      "No reform of Medicare or SS".

      Like all Repub propagandists hostile to New Deal programs -- so what if they've kept hundreds of millions of seniors out of abject poverty? -- you dihonestly lump these two very dissimilar programs together. David, as has been explained to you numerous times, 1) SS is an income transfer program which doesn't contribute a dime to the deficit (excluding the Repub demand, this year, for financing the payroll tax holiday out of deficit spending). If the SS Trust Fund is an accounting fiction, than so every portfolio which hold Treasury securities. Or, if you think it's good public policy to default selectively on Treasury securities to reduce the deficit, how about we start with yours, or those held by your private pension plan, instead the SS trust fund?

      As for Medicare -- the problem, as you should well know by now, is the cost of medical care generally. At 17% of GDP, the price of drugs and care in the U.S. is simply unsustainable. But of course, you're not willing to address the price of medical care generally, because that's a triumph of the free market. Note that at the current rate of medical inflation, these costs will bankrupt the country even if Medicare is eliminated.

      "Stupendously generous federal pensions"?

      What, in the world are you talking about? All those evil bureaucrats with decent retirements?

      Your mind is a mystery to me, David in Cal, and I confess to being tribal about it. Is there something about Republican ideology which requires constant dissembling, is it your nature, or are you paid to do this?

    2. Personally, I've decided that the Dems' lack of a plan to deal with the deficit is (slightly) preferable to the GOP's insane plan, which is, as always, cut taxes and slash social programs.

    3. Unfortunately not dealing with the deficit amounts to a plan to slash social programs by an even larger amount than the currnt proposal at some future time not of our choosing.

  2. Don't miss Chris Hedges's dispatch on the French elections. It seems in the land of Voltaire and Montesquieu the political discourse has grown as stupid and shallow as ours. www.truthdig.com

  3. Krugman’s increasing tribalism,

    It is indeed alarming and depressing. Hope this clowning is a short-lived diversion.

    1. One might be tempted to ask who has changed? Somerby or Krugman?

      Seems like ol' Bob can't find a single "liberal" who pleases him. Reads more and more like limbaugh.com every day.

  4. Quaker in a BasementApril 23, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    But uh-oh! As best we can tell, no reporter ever mentioned this fact at Krugman’s own New York Times.

    Your point eludes me. Is Krugman now editing the august daily?

  5. Democrats Set to Break Spending Cap Agreement


    Neither Congress nor the Pres is serious about ending and paying back the deficit.

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