Monday, February 11, 2008

Krugman's out of control

Alfonso II of Asturias, who has nothing to do with this post.

William has written about how much Paul Krugman has been attacking Obama for Clinton's benefit, but today he has gone off the deep end. He begins by stoking old Democratic feelings by appealing to the classic hero and the classic villain:
In 1956 Adlai Stevenson, running against Dwight Eisenhower, tried to make the political style of his opponent’s vice president, a man by the name of Richard Nixon, an issue. The nation, he warned, was in danger of becoming “a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland.”
He goes on to say how he worries about division turning the Democratic party into "Nixonland." Of course, it's true that we've seen the race card pulled, threats of terrorism to inspire fear, and a desire to change the rules halfway through the race in Michigan, Florida, and Nevada, and all of this behavior is perfectly Nixonian. Still, who does Krugman see as the culprit?
I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.
I respect Krugman, but he must be smoking too much dope at this point. I think any one example of the Clinton's race-baiting can be explained away as misinterpreted (and of course he only refers to one), but you really have to have some blinders on not to see the whole set as calculated. The same thing goes for every low road the Clinton campaign has taken to counter Obama's success. To turn around and use the adjective "Nixonian" to describe Obama supporters is a twisting of reality that approaches doublespeak. I also think both Hillary and Obama have personalities and stories that raise a great deal of passion, much more than our last couple of Democratic nominees (Gore has developed a personality now that was not evident in 2000). Supporters of both candidates are truly inspired by them, and that's not a bad thing. By referring to a "cult of personality" and then bringing up "Operation Flight Suit," Krugman not only explicitly compares Obama to George Bush (!), but to Josef Stalin (!!!!). Paul Krugman is dangerously approaching an Ann Coulter style of "journalism," and that's way beneath him.

UPDATE: Almost immediately after I posted this, I checked sitemeter and saw that someone at Princeton had came by, connected to the site from a search on "Paul Krugman -- NY Times." I don't know if it was one of Prof. Krugman's students or the man himself, and as I said I do respect Krugman a great deal. I even share with him some of his reservations about Obama's health plan. Still, I think he did stoop low with this column. I checked out some of the other links on the search page, and it's interesting how emotional this is getting for supporters of both candidates. It makes me wonder what Krugman meant by "supporters of Obama" in his column. Most of the problems I have with statements supporting Hillary Clinton against Obama come from Hillary herself, her husband, from people in her campaign, or from people close enough to the Clinton campaign that it's hard to imagine their talking points were not vetted (I'm thinking about remarks made by Andrew Cuomo or Bob Kerrey, or the op-ed in the Times by Gloria Steinem). As far as other comments go, like the crazed rant against Ted Kennedy by Marcia Pappas of NY-NOW, who knows? I'm not sure it's fair to blame the Clinton campaign for those. I would like to know what supporters Krugman is talking about.

On my run through blogs concerning this column, it was interesting to see that there were people excoriating Krugman and others praising him. A comparison to Frank Rich's Sunday column came up a couple of times, which was either denounced as trash by pro-Hillary bloggers or held up as the good to Krugman's bad by Obamamites (I personally tend towards the latter opinion). One thing that surprised me was one pro-Hillary blogger who talked about how Obama's race-baiting was despicably low. Look -- the LBJ/MLK comment could have been misunderstood (though it was horribly insensitive to civil rights activists, black and white, who literally put their lives on the line during the Civil Rights movement, something that Krugman just does not get), and Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment may have been taken out of context (though once again, there is an insensitivity issue here), but there were just too many racial references coming out of the Clinton camp for it to be random. They introduced race into the campaign to brand Obama as the candidate for (and only for) the African-American population. That is wrong, and as one Clinton surrogate might put it, they can't "shuck and jive" their way out of it.

This column by Jason Linkins makes a couple of good points about Krugman's column: 1) he does not substantiate his claims in anyway, and 2) although it is true that some of the press has taken some nasty pot shots at Hillary Clinton, Obama's campaign has nothing to do with that. A side note: Linkins talks about how his wife has a problem with the chants of "Yes, we can." My wife, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis (who is a fervent Obama supporter) couldn't help pointing out that the crowds at Obama's speeches chanting "we want change" sounded a bit too much like "Imhotep... Imhotep... Imhotep..."

(Although to tell the truth, just watching Obama's speeches on TV, I find the energy of the crowds almost as exciting as his speeches -- the energy of the "we" that Obama always talks about, as opposed to the "I" that Hillary tends to use).


cowboyangel said...

Thank you.

I'm still angry an hour after reading his column. And I've already posted on one blog that highlighted it. I'm writing a letter to the Editor of the NYT at some point today.

As somebody who sent campaign contributions to Edwards and Richardson, and who spent 2007 voicing concerns about Obama, I find it irritating that I'm suddenly a member of his cult simply because I prefer him to Clinton.

The worst and most surprising part of Krugman's recent columns is how poorly argued they are. His normally considered writing reeks of desperation.

Man, at some point, some Democrats have to deal with The Clinton Factor. They just don't understand that other members of their party may not like the Clintons for very valid reasons. The smugness of their thinking is insufferable - it's the same smug arrogance of the Bush administration. This section of the Democratic Party NEVER dealt with the 2000 election and WHY there was a third party. They just don't get it.

Liam said...

Yeah, I lost some work time due to seething today as well. I added an update -- I don't know if you saw it.

crystal said...

I'm pretty out of touch as I haven't read any of the stuff you've mentioned. Maybe I'm trying to preserve my bias by not looking too closely :-(

cowboyangel said...

Don't look, Crystal! It's like a busload of orphans going over a cliff!

Good additions to your original post, Liam.

It really is getting ugly out there. The Obama supporters are "glassy-eyed" cult members.

What I find ironic is that when the Democrats finally get a candidate who's really charismatic and generates enthusiasm, he gets criticized for it. As if they're secretly longing for the dynamism of the Dukakis campaign.

My cynical and suspicious side has, admittedly, been cautious about some of the energy behind Obama-rama. I understand where Krugman's coming from to a degree. But my hopeful side can't help but admire a candidate who's able to get people so excited about the political process, and get them to be so active, after the last 7 years.

The Democrats shold be celebrating a candidate who can bring out people the way he has.

What I'm worried about is a replay of the Clinton's post-Iowa freak out. Alexandra and I were talking last night, and it turns out we're both worried about even uglier stuff to come. They're going to go after his early days, I think. The Bob Johnson kind of attacks suddenly increasing.

crystal said...

To be honest, I should say that I do perceive a sort of cult of personality thing about Obama. To see Robert deNiro introducing him to New York, to see the Kennedys fawning over him and naming him the new JFK, etc, does seem to be capitalizing on that. Also maybe younger voters are more likely to want to vote for a "personality" while those who seem to be voting for Hillary (elderly, poor, immigrants) are more voting for policies?

And ironic (the JFK thing) - Hillary gets dinged for her husband's infidelities, which are not her fault, and JFK was one of the worst in-office womanizers.

I haven't been reading all the stuff, it's true, but it seems not so fair ... all negative comments about Obama are considered racist and engineered by Hillary .... should we assume the opposite, that all negative comments about Hillary are sexist and engineered by Obama?

It'svery stressful to disagree with all of you guys on this stuff, and as usual, I don't really know what I'm talking about so forgive if I'm wrong :-)

Liam said...

Crystal --
No, please, disagree and don't get stressed about it -- that's what conversation is about.

Obviously, Obama's personality is a part of his appeal. That probably creates a wide range of reactions on the part of his supporters, and I'm sure that some of them are shallow. For me, I think his personality is authentic, and it is authentically inspiring. Still, the idea that Hillary is all policy and Obama is all personality is not true. Obama's website is full of policy. Hillary connects with her supporters on the level of personality as well, especially with her base of baby-boom women -- that makes sense, they feel she understands them.

But to talk about a "cult" of personality is a loaded term. It originally referred to Stalin -- and it brings up ideas of mindless groupthink. That's not true and it's not fair when applied to Obama supporters.

There is a lot of sexist and unfair attacking of Hillary in the blogosphere and in the media, some of it by people who support Obama, some of it by others. But what I've tried to show in this post (especially in the update) is that the race issue was brought up by the Hillary campaign, and by people near the campaign (she was the one who brought up the gender issue as well, in one of the debates, which implicitly made it race vs gender). The Obama campaign is not perfect (their health insurance mailer was disappointing), but I have yet to see people in or near the campaign bring up the "nasty Hillary is a shrew" sexism that we see in the media. Now, the Clintons are not in any way racist, but I find it disturbing that they will use race to make a campaign dirty and distasteful just to win. Obama has been much more positive -- and that's where personality comes in, and where it's important.

I found an interesting article which I'll link to in another update.

jackjoe FRANK said...

I am an Obama supporter. Might you not be a little unfair by putting the mud slinging tactics of a few Clinton supporters on the Clintons themselves.

Now what the white Republicans I know fear is that Obama is of the 'reparations' wing of the black leadership i,e. past wrongs must be corrected by giving preferential treatment to those wronged.

A simple statement like: "If people come to me and ask for something they will get no head start by being white. If people come to me and ask for something they will get no head start by being black"

This may seem silly to you but Obama does need to make this explicit. I and my family are working for Obama in a Republican area. I very much like Jesse Jackson, yes and even Sharpton but not for president.But Obama does need to clarify which wing of the black political sprectum he is on.

Also might I add I worked hard in the Stevenson campaign, and your attack indirectly on him is unfortunate. If your quote is right about Nixonland, was he not corect? Jack

Liam said...

Jack -- I would never attack Stevenson. I just wanted to point out that Krugman was using Stevenson to attack Obama, which I think was unfair.

crystal said...

I'm so unread, when I think of "cult of personality" I think of that song .... didn't know about Stalin :-)

I'm probably just afraid I've made the wrong choice and am defending it rather than taking a painful closer look.

BTW, I just posted something about this and an old Japanese horror movie - trying to see the humorous side of my death grip on voting for Hillary :-)

cowboyangel said...


Just to clarify, my comment "Don't look, Crystal! It's like a busload of orphans going over a cliff!" was talking about the overall ugly atmosphere that's developing between Clinton and Obama supporters. I was trying to be funny. It wasn't meant to be an attack on anyone.

I don't think you've made the wrong choice, even if it's different from my own.

But then I've made three choices so far, as each one of the candidates I like goes down. So feel good that you support someone who can last!

cowboyangel said...


Good points again.

It would be useful if people citing sexism against Hillary from the Obama camp would detail the incidents. I've yet to see anything like the list you have on the race-baiting incidents. (And I've seen that list, in various forms, for weeks now.) I hear about the sexism - and more and more. I see it at times in the media. But I'd like to know how Obama's campaign has been sexist. Specifics.

Ted said...

Liam, how does sitemeter work?

crystal said...

William, thanks.

Here is a blog post that says what I'm not artuculate enough to say on Obama's attitude toward Hillary, if you guys are interested ...The Sexist Media Lynching of Hillary Clinton

Liam said...

Hmmm... "lynching"... I think that extremely poor choice of words given the context should raise a red flag.

I don't know, Crystal. Is it really Obama's role to run to Clinton's aid on this issue? Especially when it's an essential part of her campaign. Her friend Gloria Steinem wrote an op-ed for the Times saying basically that it's harder to be a woman than to be a black male (the issue is extraordinarily complex, but for what it's worth, IPAO thinks that's bull) -- part of Hillary's whole plan to introduce identity politics into the campaign. Why should he play into that, especially when his big thing is unity? Another thing -- there is a lot of nasty sexist anti-Hillary stuff in the media, but she has benefited from the media as well. Back when she was selling the "Hillary is inevitable" idea, the media ate it up.

One last thing -- there is a big difference between the sexist idea that Hillary is nasty because she is ambitious (what politician isn't?) and saying you don't like Hillary because it seems she'll do anything to elected, including a great deal of misrepresenting the facts, introducing ugliness into the campaign, and trying to cheat on delegates, especially when you can document all of that -- many Hillary supporters (See Stanley Fish in the Times today) try to slander the latter by grouping them with the former.

Liam said...

Ted --
Sitemeter's cool. The easiest way to check it out would be to click on the icon under mt "goodreads" box.

cowboyangel said...


The only direct example in that article about Obama being sexist is his quote from the South Carolina debate when he said "Hillary is likable enough." That was, admittedly, not a great moment for Obama, but I don't think it was necessarily sexist. Arrogant, yes. But if John Edwards had the "likability" issue and Obama was questioned about it, I think he would've said the same thing.

There's no denying that some of the media has been sexist at times in dealing with Clinton, but that's a totally different argument than saying Obama has been sexist towards her. Women and men should call the media on it when they see it.

The article make a pretty poor argument for trying to tie the media's flaws to Obama. AS Liam said, Hillary's also benefited tremendously from the media in the last year. I'm sorry, but as someone who supported Edwards and Richardson, I have a hard time hearing the Clinton camp whine about bad media coverage. They didn't say a word when she was sucking all the oxygen out of her opponent's coverage over the last 13 months.

If my wife ever caught me saying sexist things about Hillary Clinton, she would kick my ass. And there's no way she would put up with it in Obama if she felt he was being like that. Or if a lot of his supporters were like that. Nor would other women friends I know. But they prefer Obama to Clinton. In fact, some of them have been the most vocal against Clinton. Many of them were against the war, and, though many Clinton supporters don't want to deal with it, there's still a lot of resentment among a lot of Democrats about her ongoing support of Bush & Cheney. Code Pink, the women's anti-war group, have probably been the most vocal critics of Hillary Clinton for the last 5 years, getting arrested for interrupting her speeches. Are they sexist?

I'm willing to write a complaint to whatever media company is treating Clinton in a sexist manner. But I just don't see it all being Obama's fault.

Jeff said...

Regarding Krugman: I'm wondering if he has a job on the line. I have a feeling the Clintons have promised him the possibility of a high-ranking economics post in her administration.

I've been reading his book (The Conscience of a Liberal), and the importance of health care reform is of paramount concern to him. I have a feeling that he's got a problem with Obama mainly because his plan isn't universal.

Politics ain't beanbag, and the Clintons hate losing. They are brawlers. They will do whatever it takes to win, and if that includes straying from the high road in order to do it, they will not hesitate. Bill has been lying low lately, but there seems to be no shortage of surrogates willing to take up the slack. As for Hillary, I was stunned yesterday to hear her still raising the racial angle, basically chalking up her Louisiana loss as another loss in an African-American state.

crystal said...

Thanks for taking a lokk at that blog post. We may never agree on this stuff but I'm glad we can talk about it.

Anonymous said...


Regarding Krugman: I'm wondering if he has a job on the line. I have a feeling the Clintons have promised him the possibility of a high-ranking economics post in her administration.

You might be right. So the NYT's columnist stable really is becoming a holding pen for political agents while they're out of power. Somehow, their hiring of Bill Kristol makes more sense now...

Jeff said...

Hi Brian,

Yeah, I'm inclined to think so. They passed Krugman up the last time, and I think they felt bad about it.

So, Kristol gets fired from Time and he ends up at the NYT without having to give up his Weekly Standard gig? Interesting. Maybe that's the influence of Sam Tanenhaus being put in charge of the 'News of the Week' over there.

Ted said...

The idea that Obama has somehow benefitted from sexism directed at Clinton is intriguing, but in no way does it compare to the racism that has been employed by the Clinton campaign itself. The gutter politics of the Clinton campaign is listed here: