What did he say and mean: Paul Krugman’s new column includes some very bad news for all Americans. This very bad news appears more than halfway through the piece:
KRUGMAN (2/24/12): Given his advisers, then, it seems safe to assume that what Mr. Romney blurted out Tuesday reflected his real economic beliefs—as opposed to the nonsense he pretends to believe, because it’s what the Republican base wants to hear.Is Romney “running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty?” Is he engaged in “nonstop mendacity?” In a forum as important as this one, we’d stay away from psychiatric-sounding language. But Krugman’s statements are in the ballpark.
And therein lies the reason Mr. Romney acts the way he does, why he is running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty.
For he is. Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?
Therein lies the bad news.
Romney could still end up in the White House. For that reason, Krugman’s basically accurate statements are bad news for all Americans. We don’t know if anyone has ever run such a weirdly disingenuous White House campaign. It’s hard to imagine where this leads if Romney gets to the White House.
That said, we were struck by the way Krugman started his column, not by its gloomy conclusions, which made a great deal of sense. As a reader, we were struck by the way he presented the highlighted quotation from Romney—the quotation which forms the basis of today’s rumination:
KRUGMAN: According to Michael Kinsley, a gaffe is when a politician accidently tells the truth. That’s certainly what happened to Mitt Romney on Tuesday, when in a rare moment of candor—and, in his case, such moments are really, really rare—he gave away the game.Is Romney a closet Keynesian? We have no idea. In our view, he has seemed to dissemble about so many things that we don’t know if he believes anything at all at this point. But we were struck by that highlighted quotation—and by the way Krugman judged what Romney likely meant.
Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.
The right’s ideology police were, predictably, aghast; the Club for Growth quickly denounced the statement as showing that Mr. Romney is “not a limited-government conservative.” On the contrary, insisted the club, “If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy.” And a Romney spokesman tried to walk back the remark, claiming, “The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around.”
But that’s not what the candidate said, and it’s very unlikely that it’s what he meant. Almost surely, he is, in fact, a closet Keynesian.
On their face, Romney’s 22 words seem to be a heresy for those on the pseudo-right. According to Krugman, the Club for Growth quickly snapped off a reply, insisting that we should balance the budget with spending cuts only. (The group is often confused with the Hair Club for Men. In fact, there is no connection.) Meanwhile, Romney’s spokesperson explained what he supposedly meant. Romney meant that we should have pro-growth policies and spending cuts, the campaign officially said.
According to Krugman, “it’s very unlikely” that this is what Romney meant. In his opening paragraph, he seems to assert a stronger degree of certainty.
Krugman offers a chain of reasoning in support of this view. But he offers no context.
Krugman tells us what Romney meant. As a reader, we are wondering what he said. Did he utter those 22 words and not a word more? If he only uttered those 22 words, are they sufficient to form a judgment? Are they even worth discussing?
As a reader, we were surprised that Krugman offered no context for Romney’s remark—and no explanation for the lack of context.
As we devoured Krugman’s column this morning, we hadn’t yet researched Romney’s remark, although we’d seen it flogged on cable. Even now, as we type, we still haven’t researched the 22 words; we expect to do so this weekend, after a bit of a train ride. But as a reader, we were struck by the lack of context in Krugman’s piece. What were Romney’s fuller remarks? What exactly had he been asked? What else, if anything, did he say? Surely, a serious person wouldn’t judge what Romney meant without considering the fuller context, if there is one.
We make this point for a reason. On cable “news” channels, the silly, tightly-clipped pseudo-quotation has become a reliable staple. MSNBC is now a master of this practice. A tiny portion is pulled from a longer remark; gangs of chimps then sit around misrepresenting what was actually said. This is now one of the principal ways the chimps entertain us baboons.
The “press corps” has mastered variants of this technique over the course of the past twenty years. Even back in the 1990s, this was one of the principal ways our “journalists” would go after targeted pols. The technique is now a reliable standard on our “liberal” cable “news” channel. And by the way:
When we let journalists function this way, we give them enormous power. This year, they may decide to use this power against a GOP front-runner. But in the past, they have played this game against a string of major Dems—and they may flip back the next time.
As a general matter, this is the way we rubes get made dumb. This is the way we give control of our minds to gangs of chimps.
Like most people who will read Krugman’s column, we haven’t done the background research (yet). But as we read the column, two questions popped into our mind:
What did Romney actually say? Shouldn’t we have been told?