Back to Krugman’s extremely important column!


How should this story be told: In the past week, we have continued to read and reread Paul Krugman’s very important column from February 13.

We hate it here when Krugman snarks. In this case, we thought the snark he marbled all through his piece undermined its effectiveness (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/12).

That said, the column dealt with the most important fact in modern American politics. “Something has clearly gone very wrong with modern American conservatism,” Krugman wrote at one point in his piece. In the following passage, he asks a very important question, setting aside the snark:
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!
We think Krugman’s premise is right. In various ways, contemporary American conservatism really is “detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality.”

In our view, the corporate world is now creating institutions which are designed to take us liberals in similar directions. But in many ways, the conservative world has been devoted to disinformation and nonsense for three or four decades now. We liberals are working hard to catch up. But the other side has a large head start, and the process has created the state of affairs Krugman described.

It’s very important to explain these facts to the wider electorate. In our view, snark tends to undermine that process. Beyond that, we would offer three complaints about Krugman’s column, which had to be shortened because he burned so much time being snide:

Who’s to blame for this state of affairs: Krugman blames this state of affairs on Republican politicians. That’s part, but only part, of this story. How do you write a column like this without naming Limbaugh and Hannity?

When did this situation start: Krugman implies that this lunacy is a fairly recent manifestation. In the passage we have quoted, he implies that thing weren’t this way in the early 1990s, when the Heritage folk laid out that good solid health care blueprint. Please! Spin-tanks like Heritage had been active for many years at that point, convincing us rubes that (to cite one example) we were more likely to see a UFO than to ever get Social Security. Why understate this point?

What crazy beliefs are at issue: If you’re going to say that tens of millions of voters believe a bunch of crazy things, you ought to be careful when you list those beliefs. You also have to ask yourself who you’re trying to persuade. For our money, Krugman did a fairly lazy job listing the crazy beliefs in question. Question: How do you list crazy claims from the current GOP campaign without even mentioning Newt Gingrich? Gingrich’s lunacy got a pass. But Krugman did include this:
KRUGMAN: Then there’s Ron Paul, who came in a strong second in Maine’s caucuses despite widespread publicity over such matters as the racist (and conspiracy-minded) newsletters published under his name in the 1990s and his declarations that both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act were mistakes. Clearly, a large segment of his party’s base is comfortable with views one might have thought were on the extreme fringe.
Can we talk? In reality, Ron Paul didn’t get popular among conservatives pimping those racist newsletters twenty years ago. This type of presentation may make us liberals feel good. But who are we trying to influence?

That was a very important column. It tells a very important story. We liberals should try to learn how to tell it.

Who are we trying to persuade? Assuming we aren't just pleasing ourselves, how should this story be told?


  1. To add to Somerby's point re: the longevity of hyperbolic rhetoric and thinking by prominent Republicans I would point one to PBS's Frontline website to view their 1996 piece on Newt Gingrich. They spend a good deal of time elucidating Gingrich's rise to power by hyperbolic, do-anything, say-anything means in the 1980s - 1990s. For someone like me it was very instructive. Their is a moment at the beginning of a GOPAC victory part (or something of that nature) in which Newt asks everyone to pray for Rush Limbaugh amongst other far right bomb throwers. The story how hate speech became the diction of Republicans needs to be discussed as nauseum in our public discourse.

    1. Its far worse than that.

      Limbaugh was made an honorary member of congress during Newt's reign for his part in getting Republicans elected.

      People have a short memory.

      Santorum was exposed as a far right radical during the Terry Schiavo affair.

      The people of Pennsylvania found his role so repulsive they voted him out of office by one of the largest margins in modern history.

      Yet, here we are in 2012 and the radical right has elevated him to front-runner status for the most powerful political office in the world.

    2. It would be great if there were an honest conversation about these people and their hateful rhetoric. Gingrich's invective "style" runs thick throughout all of Republican rhetoric these days. From the Rovian "make their strength a weakness" to the Luntz linguistics to the Fox News/NeoCon daily talking points horse shit. When you start talking about people as if they aren't people it becomes exceedingly difficult to act like a person. And good god! It is hard to treat people acting as automatons like something else...

  2. Ron Paul has methodically been destroyed by Democrats, and simply laughed at by Republicans, but Paul is the only candidate from either Party with a distinct approach to foreign affairs. Paul wants to end American wars, Obama and the other Republican candidates cannot get enough of American wars and will bring us more. I care about nothing else in terms of Paul and would vote for him in a moment on this matter.

  3. I dearly admire Paul Krugman, but I will under no circumstances vote for President Obama simply because Republicans are supposed to be so scary. I find Obama a Republican and not a Democrat and to me that is just too scary for another vote.

    Obama will win, but not with my vote.

    1. On behalf of the RNC allow me to be the first to thank you for your (lack of a) contribution. Hopefully we'll be able to find enough people throwing their votes away in hissy fits to move our agenda even more forward.

  4. To be clearer, if you wish to know why I am so opposed to President Obama read Glenn Greenwald and learn how Obama has catered to militarism above all though catering to Wall Street or large corporate management interests is a close second.

  5. In a depraved political culture, it's probably too much to expect media -- particularly corporate media with a direct self-interest in deregulatory, low-tax policies -- to offer a corrective to obvious falsehoods. At best, these entities can be occasionally shamed into telling the truth, when the truth is so thumpingly obvious that even *they* can't avoid reporting it. But corporate media is more collaborator here, than prime actor.

    If we're looking for someone to blame, we really need to turn to the Democratic party, and what amounts to a one-party system in the U.S. When American politicians of *both* parties decline to tell the truth about much of anything, there's no hope for mainstream discourse. Any genuinely left-of-center politician might as well come from Mars, for all the coverage and respect his views get.

    Note, for example, how much better and more truthful Al Gore is *out* of politics, then in. As a politician, after all, Gore was a big supporter of NAFTA and similar investor rights' agreements, the Telecommunications Act (more accurately, the Telecommunications Monopoly Act), the repeal of Glass/Steagal (need we say more?), the pauperization of Haiti, the national security state, etc.

    With neither party telling the truth, and both effectively owned by the banks, Wall Street, and the top .1%, what hope is there? Experience would suggest the answer is "none". Which is why this preoccupation with what corporate media is saying about the wardrobe of corporate candidates can get a bit tiresome.....

  6. I agree with Bob that Krugman's snarks undermine his case, but I think it's worse than that. Krugman simply doesn't prove his case that conserivatives are irrational. His argument boils down to: conservations don't agree with us liberals, so their beliefs must be irrational. That sort of argument doesn't facilitate useful discussion and debate.

    It sure would be nice if both sides could start with a POV that the other side is rational and well-intentioned, but just wrong. Then we could calmly look at the facts and evidence together. All sides could learn something from such a discussion.

    1. Proving, of course, Krugman's point. There's no "agreeing" or "disagreeing" about factual claims. They're either true of false.

      For example, the claim that tax cuts increase revenues is demonstrably false. The claim that life began 6000 years ago in the Garden of Eden (and that therefore the environment is ours to pollute, as a matter of divine right, and without concern for the consequences), is demonstrably false. The claim that global warming isn't man made, isn't happening, or isn't a matter of grave concern, may be legitimate as a belief, but has no basis in science. If you've got better science to disprove the prevailing science, fine. But if you don't have better science, at least keep your superstitions to yourself.

      If, however, all "facts" are subject to dispute -- i.e., there are no rules of evidence -- then we have to call bullshit where we see it.

      So, David in Cal, I call bullshit: you're full of a "conservative" orthodoxy which is routinely shown to be false on this blog, but you never tire of repeating those discredited claims. On that basis, there's nothing but to dismiss you. Whether as fool, charlatan or idiot, each person can decide for himself.

  7. Dave, how can anyone have a sensible conversation about, say, global climate change, with any Republican politician? Why is the US the only major industrial nation whose right-wing party disputes the reality of human activity-caused climate change? Every GOP presidential candidate - and most notably Santorum - insists otherwise, in a way that can only be seen as "detached from the facts and reality." You can call Santorum's "belief" a lot of things, but you can't call it rational and well-intentioned. That's what Krugman was describing. Oh, and Dave, I suspect you have a set of "facts" and "evidence" that disputes the reality of climate change, but I have no interest in your recital of them. It's hackery, not science.

    1. Right, Bill, you can't have a serious discussion of global warming with any politician, conservative or liberal. All the politicians can do is quote their preferred scientists. That's why Al Gore will is happy to make presentations on climate change, but refuses to debate it.

      However, I disagree with you about where the debate lies. The question isn't just whether climate change is "real" and whether human activity has some effect on climate. The important debate among scientists is about such things as

      -- How fast is climate change occurring?
      -- What's the magnitude of humanity's impact?
      -- What factors other than greenhouse gases are causing climate change and what are their magnitudes?
      -- What are the good and bad consequences of a warming climate?
      -- How certain or uncertain are the various climate models?
      -- Are there specific errors in certain paper by scientists on both sides?
      -- What's the cost and what's the effectiveness of various CO2 reduction schemes, such as cap and trade?
      -- Is geoengineering a better approach than CO2 reduction?

    2. @David in Cal

      Case in point! There *is* no "important debate among scientists" about "such things" that you list.

      The only people with an interest in such a "debate", and the only people holding it, are the industry-funded think-tanks and their "grass-roots" organizations. Some of the issue are superfluous -- they have nothing to do with climate science -- and others are designed to obfuscate the existing science, which points to unambiguous conclusions.

      In other words, the debate is not an honest one. One could just easily come up with a list of questions about "evolution" -- all of which ignore years and years, and reams of peer-reviewed papers, of the core science.

      Go home, buddy.

    3. What kind of debate is necessary when 97% of the scientists who write peer reviewed papers have examinined the evidence and come to the same conclusion.

      Fame and wealth is awaiting any scientist who can prove the 97% wrong just like fame and wealth is awaiting any scientists who can disprove Einstein.

    4. Not only is there debate among scientists about the issues that I listed, I don't believe you two anonymouses even know the answers that are supposed to be agreed on.

      E.g., take this question about the magnitude of the problem: If atmospheric CO2 doubles, how many degrees will that cause the global temperature increase? You say 97% of scientists agree. OK, so what number do the 97% agree on? What's their answer?

      In fact, even the warmists don't agree on the answer. Their models give answers ranging from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius.

      Or, take the question of how much Cap and Trade will do to ameliorate global warming. Warmists don't like to talk about this question. The answer their models provide is that the kind of reductions in CO2 that they're talking about would have only a minimal impact on global temperature.

    5. @David in Cal

      Again, case in point. 97% of scientists can disagree on any number of figures, or which model will most accurately predict the future, and still be unanimous on the basic science. What the 97% do agree on is that global warming is real, that it's largely the product of human activity, and that there will be very serious consequences for the earth and humankind if it's not halted or reversed.

      By contrast, the petrochemical industry, and conservatives generally, reject this science, for obvious reasons.

      That's all we need to know.

    6. Let's take a look at the low end of what Dave says the "warmists" are predicting- a 2-degree C rise (which was current as of September 2007):

      Plus two degrees: the consequences

      Africa: Between 350 and 600 million people will suffer water shortages or increased competition for water. Yields from agriculture could fall by half by 2020 while arid areas will rise by up to 8 per cent. The number of sub-Saharan species at risk of extinction will rise by at least 10 per cent.

      Asia: Up to a billion people will suffer water shortages as supplies dwindle with the melting of Himalayan glaciers. Maize and wheat yields will fall by up to 5 per cent in India; rice crops in China will drop by up to 12 per cent. Increased risk of coastal flooding.

      Australia/New Zealand: Between 3,000 and 5,000 more heat-related deaths a year. Water supplies will no longer be guaranteed in parts of southern and eastern Australia by 2030. Annual bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

      Europe: Warmer temperatures will increase wheat yields by up to 25 per cent in the north but water availability will drop in the south by up to a quarter. Heatwaves, forest fires and extreme weather events such as flash floods will be more frequent. New diseases will appear.

      Latin America: Up to 77 million people will face water shortages and tropical glaciers will disappear. Tropical forests will become savanna and there will be increased risk of coastal flooding in low-lying areas such as El Salvador and Guyana.

      North America: Crop yields will increase by up to 20 per cent due to warmer temperatures but economic damage from extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina will continue increasing.

      Polar regions: The seasonal thaw of permafrost will increase by 15 per cent and the overall extent of the permafrost will shrink by about 20 per cent. Indigenous communities such as the Inuit face loss of traditional lifestyle.

      Small islands: Low-lying islands are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels with the Maldives already suffering land loss.

      [end quote]

      Of course by 2009, that estimate had risen to +6 degrees C:

      "The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6C by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday. Such a rise – which would be much higher nearer the poles – would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation.

      We are headed for it, the scientists said, because the carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and deforestation which are responsible for warming the atmosphere have increased dramatically since 2002, in a way which no one anticipated, and are now running at treble the annual rate of the 1990s.

      This means that the most extreme scenario envisaged in the last report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007, is now the one for which society is set, according to the 31 researchers from seven countries involved in the Global Carbon Project.

    7. (cont)
      6C rise: The consequences

      If two degrees is generally accepted as the threshold of dangerous climate change, it is clear that a rise of six degrees in global average temperatures must be very dangerous indeed, writes Michael McCarthy. Just how dangerous was signalled in 2007 by the science writer Mark Lynas, who combed all the available scientific research to construct a picture of a world with temperatures three times higher than the danger limit.

      His verdict was that a rise in temperatures of this magnitude "would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe".

      He said: "It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles."

      Very few species could adapt in time to the abruptness of the transition, he suggested. "With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable. This would probably even include southern Europe, as the Sahara desert crosses the Mediterranean.

      "As the ice-caps melt, hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges.[...]"

      [end quote]

      So to sum up, it looks to me like it doesn't matter what "the number" is; if it's +2 degrees C it's disastrously bad, and if it's +6 degrees C it's horrific. Arguing that we can't trust the science because "they can't agree on a number" is the ultimate example of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    8. Once again, "Dave" makes a fool of himself, but he'll keep right on at it, as though none of these arguments have been made before. Exhibit A in Republicans believing crazy things. Bob is right about Rush and Hannity, but they aren't even ultimately the problem, but another symptom. The real problem is people like "Dave," who choose to believe what they want to believe, facts be damned, and choose to listen only to those people who tell them what they want to hear. Such a situation is bound to end badly, not that people like "Dave" believe they will be affected.

    9. @Dave

      There are a handful of politicians capable of thoughtfully debating this topic. The difficulty here is that a great many politicians gain their beliefs from "experts" that are actually little more than industry hacks. A solid majority of conversation amongst leading conservative pundits and ALL of the Republican presidential candidates is founded on either one of two beliefs
      1) that climate change isn't occurring at all or
      2) that the climate may be changing, but humans have nothing to do with it.
      That's the orthodoxy of one half of our political discourse, and both thoughts are completely unfit for where we are in the world right now.

      All but the first of your questions arise after these two beliefs have been set aside. The discourse has not been elevated to a plane capable of considering the field of play once climate change is not denied. There are multitudes of models for this phenomenon, a fact mainly due to the complexity of the object of study. That said, the range of outcomes based on peer reviewed, independently funded research is relatively narrow. Again, we cannot discuss this topic appropriately in print or on television because a large cadre of people are put in the front gate of this issue and will not allow the conversation to move past denial.

      Climate change is an interesting component of our discourse to consider because facts are denied in much the same way that carbon-dating is denied in other conversations (along with specious arguments of "faith"). This differs from the more value-laden conversations around clean water policy, mass transit, women's health issues (no need to discuss men of course; your prostate and your penis are covered!), bank regulations, public pensions, policies affecting unions, war, and so on. Those conversations typically never touch facts in our discourse. Take the abortion conversation. How often do you hear anyone debate the question of "which policies will actually reduce abortion rate?" Of course not! Then we'd have to talk to a sociologist (or something). We don't have engineers analyzing which transportation systems would be most effeceint or which energy systems would be the wisest place to invest our national revenues. We let "elected" officials decide where to put that money. And when people like Krugman spend time pissing on the rubes who don't see the score we lose valuable ink that should be dedicated to pushing us towards a more fit discourse.

    10. Anonymous, yes, I've seen the claim that "97% do agree on is that global warming is real, that it's largely the product of human activity, and that there will be very serious consequences for the earth and humankind if it's not halted or reversed." However, I've never seen a link to the surveys supposedly demonstrating that this is accurate. Do you have one?

      Yes, Rob, a 6 degree rise in termperature would have drastic consequences. However, oddly enough, the programs being promoted to reduce CO2 emissions would only reduce that 6 degree rise in temperature by a small fraction of a degree. That leaves this question:

      Why do people who claim to believe the models forecasting disaster nevertheless support programs entirely inadequate to prevent that disaster, according to those same models?

    11. @ David

      You're now proving the point. For your edification on the 97% "consensus", just go to

      That's published in PNAS. You know, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists? Think they know about the scientific consensus?

    12. Thanks for the link, Anonymous. Note a couple of points:

      1. The article says something like what you wrote, but not exactly. E.g., you wrote that 97% of scientists believe; the article addresses the beliefs of 97% of selected climate scientists.

      2. I'm not sure there's clarity on what the exact beliefs are. E.g., under Material and Methods, the paper says, "We compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers and classified each researcher into two categories: convinced by the evidence (CE) for anthropogenic climate change (ACC) or unconvinced by the evidence (UE) for ACC."
      But, belief in ACC is different from belief in catastrophic ACC.

      3. As a general rule, the PNAS accepts articles submitted by members of the NAS. So, publication in PNAS is actually less impressive than publication in a fully refereed journal.

      Anyhow, Anon, I hadn't been aware of this study. I thank you again for providing the link.

    13. The model for "Dave":

      1)Make a statement repeating RW talking points.

      2) Have someone point out research showing he is wrong.

      3) Say "Thank you for pointing that out. I hadn't been aware of that."

      4) Repeat RW talking point in slightly different form.

      5) Repeat steps 1 - 4 on a different topic.

    14. What is clear in the study is that there is consensus on the gross claim that anthropomorphic climate change exists. This is a direct challenge to the Republican establisment position that climate change is either 1) non existent or 2) not driven by human activity.

    15. Also, PNAS is not a gimme for a scientist looking to publish. It IS peer-reviewed. It isn't like you pay dies and get to publish whatever you feel like.

    16. Why do people who claim to believe the models forecasting disaster nevertheless support programs entirely inadequate to prevent that disaster, according to those same models?

      Because a) you have to start somewhere,
      b) the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging,
      c) the changes necessary to completely prevent the disaster needed to be made a decade ago, it's too late now and the best we can do is minimize the coming disaster,
      d) even the minimal changes being proposed are bringing howls of outrage from the know-nothings to the point that even those minimal changes may not be politically viable.

      So congratulations, right-wing idiots, you've consigned millions of people to suffering and death. Keep it up, and you may even be able to push the number into the billions!

  8. "Assuming we aren't just pleasing ourselves, how should this story be told?"

    Only they are just pleasing themselves.

  9. Dave is an idiot, obviously. As far as Krugman's snark, most people that are attacked in a deceitful manner like krugman usually is would react with more than just snark. When confronted with the abject idiocy and reprehensible behavior of the right a little snark goes a long way.

  10. My question: why so many trolls here? What is bob somerby on to that he's got so many people (on the right) scared? I suspect many thoughtful people on the left read him without commenting. Maybe they if there weren't these insidious trolls undermining the comments. But maybe they wouldn't -- they just read and think and (not always agreeing, but thinking) learn. Forget it, trolls.

  11. Somerby is hitting his most important target here. He wishes progressives could move beyond the egotism of showing that they are better than those who they would label conservatives, and onto a discussion of the merits, or problems, with current political proposals. The long run is certainly better served when progressive ideals are discussed, whatever the outcome of the specific contest.

    Al Gore is an excellent example for this point. His political presentations for climate issues were not centered upon his enemies motivations, morals, or competence. Instead he was trying to develop political proposals to address gathered physical evidence that could pose future problems to our society. Because he took this route, the issue will live beyond individuals.

    Showing that "the other side" are hypocrites or idiots is self-limiting. It takes large numbers of people out of your audience. Also, it is simply rude. It proves nothing. So what if a politician is stupid or mean? His or her program might be worthy. Really.

    So, Bob, please keep up the good work of pointing out that the groups "Liberals Who Hate Conservatives" and "Conservatives Who Hate Liberals" are quite similar, and get similar results.

  12. "crazy conservatism" goes back at least to the reagan administration, with regards to basic economics & social issues. reagan gave us both the "southern strategy" & "trickle-down" economic theory. the republican party has worked on those two premises since, simply tweaking them, to fit the changing demographics of the country.

    reagan's 1980 campaign platform consisted of three items:

    1. reduce taxes.
    2. increase defense spending (a 600 ship navy)
    3. balance the federal budget

    during that campaign, the MSM and many economists pointed out the contradictions inherent in mr. reagan's platform: massively increasing defense spending (as mr. reagan proposed), combined with decreasing taxes, would make it nearly impossible to achieve a balanced budget. as it happened, it wasn't nearly impossible, it was impossible.

    after brief flirtations with "trickle-down" economics, even reagan concluded (as had many country's leaders before him) that it was a theory with many fatal flaws. the biggest fatal flaw is that it didn't actually work in the real world. again, actual mainstream people and publications both voiced this concern, in public.

    sadly, that's no longer the case, and hasn't been since the age of clinton, when the mainstream media went mad, and right-wing talking heads took over most of "conservative" discourse. they substitute fantasy for facts, denying their audience the opportunity to even argue their rightness of their positions based on a disagreement over what the facts mean. instead, they argue over alternate reality, and why those darn liberals can't even get basic facts right. why, they know the clintons killed everyone in one arkansas town, so why is it so hard for liberals to believe they killed vince carter too?

    and so, here we are, at the end of a logical progression of events: republican candidates, and their constituents, who truly believe that real science, conducted by real scientists, is the real fraud, because it isn't based on biblical principles.

    the republicans/conservatives, and their corporate sponsors, have been working diligently, for 30 years, to achieve this. i am surprised dr. krugman thinks it's been more recently than that.

  13. Let's examine another Santorum bugaboo that has no basis in reality. Saith Rick: "I[T]hey have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized — ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — half of those people are enthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick."

    WaPo fact checker Glenn Kessler rated Santorum's statement 4 Pinocchios. Turns out that euthanasia accounts for about 2% of deaths, and there were 9 questionable cases out of 2,700 deaths. Said Kessler: "There appears to be not a shred of evidence to back up Santorum’s claims about euthanasia in the Netherlands. It is telling that his campaign did not even bother to defend his comments." Divorced from facts and reality much?

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