Friday, November 09, 2007

always look on the bright side of life

Video: Monty Python, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Time’s tight this morning, so I’ll spare you the cogent analysis [1] of Paul Krugman’s delivery last night to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and just bullet out what I heard. I took good notes in lieu of a Martin’s request for audio and video -- or relatively good notes.

Although I have to confess that the very first note that I took was off -- the one that said it started at 6.30, so be there by a little after 6. No, actually, in fact it started at 6. So we missed a few minutes -- about five, according to the kind lady who seated us late, but we were there in time to catch Krugman’s depressing assessment of the race card in America -- that invisible force which he described as “a backlash against the Civil Rights Movement”, that has influenced so many elections and moved so much policy, and remains too often unnamed.

Krugman noted that Southern white men are the only group that votes strongly Republican in the U.S., reminded us of Bush Sr.’s Willy Horton and Reagan’s welfare mother driving the Cadillac, and made a side comment about Guilliani’s strange appeal to Republican voters -- which Krugman believes has more to do with Rudy’s reputation for cracking down on “you know who” than it does on his 9/11 moment. (Re Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Guilliani: it’s “still leaving me kind of freaked out.”)

Having heard that I was getting ready for the full waterboard: we’re screwed. It’s over. We might as well cede to China and call it a day.

But then the tide turned.

Most Americans are liberal, Krugman stated -- they just don’t say they are. It’s an epithet that folks won’t subscribe to -- but the policies they support -- health care, sorting out this mess in Iraq -- they support in surprisingly liberal ways. About the race card he said “we’re not that country anymore”. Immigration has changed us. Diversity has shaped us.

The Conscience of a Liberal, he said, the book he just wrote, that he was here to shill, “is a happy book -- because I think it’s about over.”

But not because our government is straightening out the worst of it -- it’s because the people won’t take it anymore.

Krugman stated that it’s “amazing to me that the worst didn’t happen; the public turned out to be better than we feared.”

As I review my notes I realize that I didn’t record any of his proofs -- I can’t recall that he offered more than this compelling optimism, or maybe I was so grateful and glad to hear it that the pen stopped for a while and I just steeped in it. I do know that the statement he made as he wrapped up his remarks settled well in my sternum. He said he was “astonishingly hopeful” because America did turn out to be the country he hoped it was.

And then came the Q&A.

  • Of Bush on National Security Krugman stated he’s “destroyed the brand”. Krugman doesn’t see the fear factor influencing future elections that it did in years past -- Bush and his administration have made such a mess of the war in Iraq that they’ve destroyed all credibility on this front. The American public won’t allow themselves to be manipulated again. (We can only hope.)

  • He cited a “constitutional lawyer who asked to remain unnamed” who stated that “if Bush hadn’t been such a screw up [2] the republic would be over” -- we came that close to losing it all.

  • Of Milton Friedman and the piece in the NYRB (assuming this was the piece you were referring to, Martin...) he defended his original position, of course, saying that Friedman’s ideas were fresh in the ‘50s, but that as he aged he became “increasingly doctrinaire” to where he was defending things that were indefensible -- like the belief that the FDA was unnecessary because the free markets can police these things. To this he alluded to our recent troubles with imports from China, and told the joke that he said has been circulating in academic circles: “Sure our trade with China is fair and balanced -- they send us poisoned toys and we send them fraudulent securities.”

  • Of the economy -- “it’s pretty bad, but don’t panic yet”. He said the dollar is having a Wiley E. Coyote moment, observing that law of “cartoon physics where objects stay suspended in space until they become aware of their environment”. We’ve plunged off the cliff and are just now realizing what we’ve done. Here again my notes offer no solid proofs outside his reassurance that all will be well -- I suppose we’ll have to read the book to find out why.

  • Of media coverage of the politics and the presidential elections, he disparaged what he called the “cult of even-handedness”, skewering the press for failing to call folks on their bullshit -- he cited Guilliani’s recent wrong-headed statements about prostrate cancer when the headlines read “Guilliani claims disputed” (No, said Krugman, Guilliani’s claims were WRONG.) Said Krugman: “The moments when my optimism leans over to dispair is when I look at the coverage.”

    The remedy: Harassment. Journalists have thin skins, said Krugman -- the Right figured this out a long time ago and it resulted in the “asymmetrical intimidation of journalists”. The Left needs to fire off and hold the Media accountable.

And now I have to go to work. Happy Friday, Y'all.

[1] Yeah, right. I’m qualified to deliver cogent economic analysis on Krugman like... well. You know. I’m not.

[2] Krugman noted that this was a paraphrase -- the lawyer used a stronger phrase than "screw"


p2wy said...

Brilliant post, D.

Thank you for this.

mrtn said...

There's this thing Krugman keeps saying which I think is both funny and true: if George W. Bush came out and said the world was flat, there would be a headline the next morning saying "Shape of the World: Opinions Differ".

Thanks for the recap, Suttonhoo.

suttonhoo said...

you're welcome, guys -- happy to be the amanuensis ('specially 'cause it gives me a chance to use that word. I love that word.)

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