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?