For Crying Out Loud, Krugman

I’m the process of moving house, and admit that I got to Friday morning’s Krugman column 24 hours after every other blogger. But I couldn’t let this go.

Quoth Krugman:

For more than a year and a half — ever since President Obama chose to make deficits, not jobs, the central focus of the 2010 State of the Union address — we’ve had a public conversation that has been dominated by budget concerns, while almost ignoring unemployment.

Krugman should turn off the rage long enough to read the damn speech. Except for the parts that defended the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, practically the whole thing was about job creation, and to some extent about the difficulty of getting things done in today’s hyper-partisan Washington—a problem that Krugman one of these years might do well to consider taking seriously.

To the extent that we’ve forgotten Obama’s jobs agenda, it’s because Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate killed all most of the jobs programs that Obama proposed over and over again (most of which the House passed). True, the amount of the President’s speech devoted to the deficit was non-zero, whereas Krugman would have preferred zero. But the claim that the deficit was the speech’s “main focus” is pure fantasy.

Don’t believe me? I pulled from Lexis-Nexis some headlines from the next day. The New York Times: “Health Care Gives Way To Economy And Jobs” and “A Populist Promise To Press On With Goals.” The Hill: “Obama: ‘Jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010.” Even the Washington Times, which of course didn’t like the speech: “Obama vows to fight for his agenda; President calls for spending freezes, jobs programs.”

If pundits want to claim that the speech caused “the public conversation” to be about deficits, they should look at a mirror, not at the podium. Maybe they decided in the days and weeks following the speech that the spending freeze gimmick was the only “news” the speech contained. But their preference for paying attention to gimmicks and sound bites, not proposed legislation and its fate, is their fault, not Obama’s.

Yes, this was just one speech. Yes, Obama has done too much after that speech to give aid and comfort to the deficit buzzards—though as Obama’s critics tend to gloss over, most of his rhetorical transgressions happened after Democrats lost the House and the chance of serious stimulus was about zero. In the near future I’ll have more to say about how the President’s critics can usefully challenge their partly legitimate anger. (Hint: “Don’t like Obama? Re-elect Pelosi.”)

But facts are stubborn things. And those who decry the shallowness of public debate have a special duty to be what Mark Danner calls “empiricists of the word.” Krugman is being something else.

And if one can define a fanatic as someone who’d rather have enemies than friends, Krugman is fast becoming a caricature of that type.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl is a Visiting Professor in the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics and in Political Science at Yale University.