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.Ha! This drywall factory closed during the tenure of President Bush, not under President Obama! “Many reporters” noted this point, Krugman said.
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?
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.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.
“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.”
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.Forget “the American people” for now. Will "the news media" explore this general policy question in the months of campaigning to come?
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.
Krugman asks, but we can tell you right now:
People! Of course they won’t!