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The Lies, The Lies

As we know, and as this letter writer to his site reminds us, Andrew Sullivan has been a pretty consistent proponent of the view that Paul Krugman is some sort of liar. At issue, are Krugman's repeated insistences that George W. Bush's economic policy is founded on a tissue of lies. Krugman is, of course, entirely correct about this. The unnoted irony here is that in his May 14, 2001 column "Downsize," Sullivan conceded Krugman's point:

Ah, but the details. The Krugmans and the Chaits will shortly have a cow, if not a whole herd of them. The Times will weigh in again with yet another barrage of articles, editorials, and op-eds opposing any tax relief that would actually benefit those who pay most of the taxes. And, to be fair to these liberal critics, they're right about one thing. One of the tax cut's effects will surely be that the United States won't be able to afford a vastly expanded Medicare drug benefit. And the archaic sinkhole known as Social Security won't be shored up either. And Medicare, may the gods preserve us, may even have to grow at a slightly slower rate. In fact, many of the spending programs that some still believe solve most human problems will encounter the only political resistance that matters in budgetary matters: insolvency.

To which my response is: Hoorah. We don't need these expansions of the welfare state. We need to privatize Social Security if we want to provide for our retirement in ways slightly more up-to-date than those based on economics and life-expectancy figures devised in the 1930s. We don't need to add yet another entitlement for the most pampered generation--our current seniors.

And if there is one thing we have learned in the past 20 years, it's that controlling government spending is simply impossible without deficits. Look back at the last decade. A huge part of Bill Clinton's economic success was his remarkable grip on public finances. He deserves credit for this, although the Republican Congresses from 1994 to 1998 were mainly responsible, and Ross Perot made deficit-cutting hot. But from 1998 on, all hell broke loose. Last year, discretionary spending increased by a whopping 8 percent--under the Republicans. The minute deficits became surpluses, in other words, the politicians started bribing the voters with their own money. The only relevant question is: Why do Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle know better than taxpayers how to allocate their own resources? . . .

Some commentators--at this magazine and elsewhere--get steamed because Bush has obscured this figure or claimed his tax cut will cost less than it actually will, or because he is using Medicare surplus money today that will be needed tomorrow and beyond. Many of these arguments have merit--but they miss the deeper point. The fact that Bush has to obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending with the smoke screen of "compassionate conservatism" shows how uphill the struggle is.

Yes, some of the time he is full of it on his economic policies. But a certain amount of B.S. is necessary for any vaguely successful retrenchment of government power in an insatiable entitlement state. Conservatives learned that lesson twice. They learned it when Ronald Reagan's deficits proved to be an effective drag on federal spending (Stockman was right!)--in fact the only effective drag human beings have ever found. And they learned it when they tried to be honest about taking on the federal leviathan in 1994 and got creamed by Democrats striking the fear of God into every senior, child, and parent in America. Bush and Karl Rove are no dummies. They have rightly judged that, in a culture of ineluctable government expansion, where every new plateau of public spending is simply the baseline for the next expansion, a rhetorical smoke screen is sometimes necessary. I just hope the smoke doesn't clear before the spenders get their hands on our wallets again.

Now needless to say, Sullivan differs from Krugman in thinking that this is a good thing, while Krugman thinks it's a bad thing. But that's really all there is to it. Bush was lying. As Sullivan correctly points out, the lies were integral to securing public tolerance for Bush's agenda. Krugman has tried to expose the lies in hopes of denying Bush's agenda public support. It's very hard to see how Krugman can be held culpable in this scenario.

May 26, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

I'd love to make Sully shove Bush's $1.3 million in new debt every minute.

Posted by: Al Gore | May 26, 2005 12:16:56 PM

Sullivan: "Last year, discretionary spending increased by a whopping 8 percent--under the Republicans. The minute deficits became surpluses, in other words, the politicians started bribing the voters with their own money. The only relevant question is: Why do Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle know better than taxpayers how to allocate their own resources? . ."

Sullivan someone forgot that politicians resorted to "bribing the voters" without waiting for any stinking budget surplus. Thus the experience does not show any link between "bribing the voters" and the deficit.

Moreover, Sullivan hopes that Administration lies for good reasons -- because they fight an uphill battle. This is a tremedous leap of faith. Basically, he thinks that he can divine when the politicians actually tell the truth. But how does he explains the behavior of DeLay, Hastert and Frist that he condemned? That they only pretend to be friends of Grover Norquist?

Basically, we have a choice between spending on goals acceptable to most or on boondogles that are beneficial to few, and between doing it with balanced budget or while running deficit.

Posted by: piotr | May 26, 2005 12:30:30 PM

In other words, Bush may claim to be against destroying human life in order to save it, but he's for higher spending in order to reduce spending.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | May 26, 2005 12:33:38 PM

Bush only lies to us because he's smarter than we are.

who's the elitist again ?

Posted by: cleek | May 26, 2005 12:36:33 PM

This is "if I eat the whole bag of cookies now, it won't be there to tempt me any longer" logic. While admitting that Clinton payed down the deficit and Bush is running it back wayyy up, Sullivan honestly expects us to draw the conclusion that Bush is battling the leviathan by making the government so big as to be unsustainable?

Insane. Just insane. And how approving he is of lying to the people for the sake of the republican agenda.

Hack.

Posted by: Battlepanda | May 26, 2005 12:39:33 PM

Bush was lying.

It would be helpful if Matthew had actually given a Bush statement that he thinks was a lie. But I guess in the reality-based world, evidence like that is not necessary; in the reality-based world, all one needs to do is state "Bush was lying" and the correctness of that statement is supposed to be obvious.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 12:41:17 PM

Why does anyone listen to Andrew Sullivan?

Posted by: praktike | May 26, 2005 12:42:20 PM

Apparently outgoing public editor for the NYT agrees with Sullivan. He just wrote a farewell article in which he went out of his way to slam Krugman for his "selective statistics" or something. An economist carefully selecting his statistics to support his argument? Heaven forfend!

Yet another example of the "liberal media" bending over backwards.

Posted by: Martin | May 26, 2005 12:42:30 PM

I used to enjoy reading Krugman. I usually disagreed with him, but he was thought-provoking and funny. He's completely changed. Mankiw is correct about Krugman now -- Krugman believes anyone who disagrees him is a liar or a fool. He's tiresome.

Posted by: ostap | May 26, 2005 12:48:59 PM

Um, Martin, that article by Okrent was what started the whole discussion. Please spool back and read before you hit "post" with reflexive snarkiness.

Posted by: Jim M | May 26, 2005 12:51:20 PM

Krugman believes anyone who disagrees him is a liar or a fool. He's tiresome.

But, in this respect, completely representative of the Democrat party.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 12:53:12 PM

Ah, but as demonstrated here, the Bush adminsitration is a pack of liars and the people who believe them are a gaggle of fools.

Posted by: praktike | May 26, 2005 12:55:00 PM

all one needs to do is state "Bush was lying" and the correctness of that statement is supposed to be obvious.

Matt assumes his readers are aware of the lies. The key lie (and I'd like to hear you explain this as Bush merely being misinformed) was Bush's insistence after the UN Resolution that the renewed inspection process was a path to avoiding war that he would support. E.g.:

http://archives.cnn.com/2002/US/11/08/bush.transcript/
I've assured them that the United States will fully support their efforts, including requests for information that can help identify illegal activities and materials in Iraq. I encourage every member of the United Nations to strongly support the inspection teams. And now, the inspectors have an important responsibility to make full use of the tools we have given them in this resolution.

There is a great deal of old as well as recently revealed evidence that war with Iraq was a foregone conclusion much earlier. This includes the often quoted "F--- Saddam, we're taking him out." as well as the more recently revealed memos showing that war with Iraq was consider "inevitable."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/12/AR2005051201857.html

Bush was not working with the UN in good faith over resolution 1441 and he lied to the American people in suggesting that he was. I mean, the lie was pretty transparent at the time to anyone paying attention, but that does not make it less of a lie.

Bush said a lot of other things that turned out to be exactly wrong: about WMDs, about the fiscal impact of tax cuts, about his "trifecta" of necessary conditions to run a deficit that he claimed to have stated during his campaign. These things may just be due to his poor memory, poor advice, or general incompetence. But his presentation of the Iraq war as other than a foregone conclusion was an outright lie.

Posted by: PaulC | May 26, 2005 1:01:46 PM

It would be helpful if Matthew had actually given a Bush statement that he thinks was a lie. But I guess in the reality-based world, evidence like that is not necessary; in the reality-based world, all one needs to do is state "Bush was lying" and the correctness of that statement is supposed to be obvious.

Al,

Matt is summarizing Sullivan by saying Bush was lying. Sullivan says:

"Bush has obscured this figure or claimed his tax cut will cost less than it actually will"

"Bush has to obfuscate his real goals"

Bush and Rove have judged "a rhetorical smoke screen is sometimes necessary".

The point of Matt's post is that Sullivan has conceded Bush was lying. It's clear from the context that's what Matt's sentence meant.

Posted by: Foo Bar | May 26, 2005 1:02:30 PM

I'm actually a fan of both Sully and Krugman. Both may have their faults, but they’re also worth reading. Sully gets over-emotional at times, but he also makes a genuine effort to be honest and intellectually consistent. Krugman may get tiresome in repeating that the Bushies are fools and liars, but he’s also pretty much right.

Posted by: RC | May 26, 2005 1:05:10 PM

Andrew Sullivan, disingenuous, dishonest?!?! The mind reels....

Posted by: sglover | May 26, 2005 1:06:04 PM

I think the reason Krugman inspires such intense hatred among certain conservative policy intellectuals is that he's trying to do what they aren't allowed to do -- be both consistently for one side *and* not a mere partisan hack. That's what makes them furious. They've all had to make a choice either to be a partisan loyalist or to retain intellectual respectability. Krugman is trying to do both and it drives them crazy. Basically, what his critics are saying is: "See, he's no better than us! Why does he still have credibility?"

Posted by: pjs | May 26, 2005 1:09:05 PM

Foo Bar - But Matthew clearly is saying both that Sullivan is saying those things AND that they are correct. I would fault Sullivan too, but what's the point?

When I call someone a liar, I tend to try to provide both an actual quotation that was the lie, and then some kind of evidence that the statement was knowingly false when made. Neither Sullivan (at least in the quoted text; there is no link to the full text) nor Matthew do so. (Yeah, yeah, I'm sure someone will now go through the archives to prove me a liar.)

But you lefties have gotten so used to calling everything a lie, that it really isn't even necessary for you to provide an actual statement or evidence showing the statement's falsity anymore. In the reality-based world, it is perfectly sufficient to say that George Bush said something to show it to be a lie.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 1:16:12 PM

Krugman may get tiresome in repeating that the Bushies are fools and liars

Krugman has figured out that repeating yourself, while tiresome, is about the only way of effectively getting your point across. He's not going for the prize in witty, unpredictable remarks, like a lot of ineffectual liberal pundits.

He's on a mission and in the process has probably sacrificed a lot of detachment we require from a serious academic. I think there's a level of self-conscious discipline to it that you can see hints of in his memetic analysis of the spread of supply-side theory: http://www.pkarchive.org/cranks/virus.html

Biologist Richard Dawkins has argued famously that ideas spread from mind to mind much as viruses spread from host to host. It's an exhilaratingly cynical view, because it suggests that to succeed, an idea need not be true or even useful, as long as it has what it takes to propagate itself.

Krugman believes (and I mostly agree) that he has good ideas. But he's savvy enough to understand that good ideas don't automatically succeed on their own merit. The require hard work and mindnumbing levels of enthusiastic repetition. I think he's one of the few indisputable assets to the liberal cause and this is why conservatives hate him so much.

Posted by: PaulC | May 26, 2005 1:17:28 PM

I think the reason Krugman inspires such intense hatred among certain conservative policy intellectuals

No, the reason that Krugman inspires such loathing among righties is the very same reason that Ann Coulter inspires loathing among the lefties.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 1:18:46 PM

But you lefties have gotten so used to calling everything a lie, that it really isn't even necessary for you to provide an actual statement or evidence showing the statement's falsity anymore.

It's called adjusting your default assumptions. Why should I give Bush the benefit of the doubt when every time I have made an effort to discover a lie, I can usually find one?

Posted by: PaulC | May 26, 2005 1:19:04 PM

No, the reason that Krugman inspires such loathing among righties is the very same reason that Ann Coulter inspires loathing among the lefties.

Yeah like how Krugman goes around calling people traitors and ridiculing people based on the way they choose to dress. There's a real equivalence there.

Posted by: PaulC | May 26, 2005 1:20:40 PM

Sullivan is truly amazingly dumb...for a supposedly smart guy...

He is making the case for an "ends justifies the means" morality and "the big lie" is to be "good" in service of admirable goals...

I hated this comment the most:"The only relevant question is: Why do Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle know better than taxpayers how to allocate their own resources? "

Taxpayers know how to allocate their own resources for PRIVATE purposes, or at least they should know how. They haven't a freaking clue as to how to allocate their own private resources for necessary PUBLIC expenditures. That's why we have a freaking supposedly "elected" government.

What a jerk Sullivan is...No wonder I never read a word he writes...

Posted by: Oleary | May 26, 2005 1:27:07 PM

Yeah, that time Krugman said he wished Timothy McVeigh had blown up the Wall Street Journal editorial offices was just beyond the pale. Al, you are truly the stupidest human being alive. No wonder your posts are so short-- your brain doesn't have the capacity to keep you breathing while you type them.

Posted by: Hank Scorpio | May 26, 2005 1:30:24 PM

Al, Matthew is addressing people who have been paying attention. You, obviously, are not among them. The word for today is: "trifecta". Ring any bells?

I also remind you of these Bush quotes:
"My jobs and growth plan would reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income tax"
By the year 2042, the entire [social security] system would be exhausted and bankrupt."
"I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied, finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA -- that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."
and, of course, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

Posted by: Greyspace | May 26, 2005 1:33:12 PM

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