Monday, July 19, 2010

Krugman... Verbose hack.

Paul Krugman is enamored with his own ideas, such as they are, to the point where he has no apparent interest in expressing them coherently... You know the drill. Bold, not-bold. I take aim, and rewrite the piece at the end.

The Pundit Delusion

Does Paul Krugman not know that he is a pundit? I mean, that's how he makes his money. He wins awards and accolades for contributing to his field, but he gets paid for (hacky) punditry. Okay, moving on...

The latest hot political topic is the “Obama paradox”

On Planet Pundit, probably. In the real world, the hot political topic is the "I'm sick of this crap" non-paradox.

the supposedly mysterious disconnect between the president’s achievements and his numbers.

Yep. That's what everyone is wondering. How is it that, despite all the amazing things he has done, Obama continues to be unpopular? I ask myself that question every day, as do all of my friends.

The line goes like this: The administration has had multiple big victories in Congress, most notably on health reform, yet President Obama’s approval rating is weak.

Call this the East German paradox. What? Government has done what it wanted, but the people are unhappy? Das is paradox!

What follows is speculation about what’s holding his numbers down: He’s too liberal for a center-right nation. No, he’s too intellectual, too Mr. Spock, for voters who want more passion. And so on.

Allow me, then, to offer some entirely original speculation. People don't approve of Obama because they don't like his policies. Glad to be the first person to get that out there.

But the only real puzzle here is the persistence of the pundit delusion, the belief that the stuff of daily political reporting — who won the news cycle, who had the snappiest comeback — actually matters.

How is this a puzzle? Also, isn't political reporting, more or less, the topic of this piece?

What political scientists, as opposed to pundits, tell us is that it really is the economy, stupid.

Which resolves every question Krugman has raised to this point. There is no paradox. Obama's policies are terrible. They haven't been effective. People don't like them.

Today, Ronald Reagan is often credited with godlike political skills — but in the summer of 1982, when the U.S. economy was performing badly, his approval rating was only 42 percent.

A point completely ignored by pundits, which is why I have only read it approximately 25,000 times in the last ten months.

If the economy is improving strongly in the months before an election, incumbents do well; if it’s stagnating or retrogressing, they do badly.

Yep. So Obama should do as Reagan did, and he'll be fine. Good point, Paul.

Now, the fact that “ephemera” don’t matter seems reassuring, suggesting that voters aren’t swayed by cheap tricks. Unfortunately, however, the evidence suggests that issues don’t matter either, in part because voters are often deeply ill informed.

So Reagan's poll numbers did not matter, and neither, really, do policies, or the economy. Nothing matters because voters are idiots. This is Krugman's thesis.

Suppose, for example, that you believed claims that voters are more concerned about the budget deficit than they are about jobs.

Suppose, in other words, that there are only two issues voters cared about, and that taxes and spending are not one of them. The New York Times has doubled-down on this assumption, which is why their subscriptions are through the roof. Good job, Bill Keller.

(That’s not actually true, but never mind.)

Thanks for clarifying, Paul! Prior to your parenthetical, I did not understand your point of view.

There’s no point berating voters for their ignorance: people have bills to pay and children to raise, and most don’t spend their free time studying fact sheets.

Unlike Krugman, who, in spite of his inability to write 700 cogent words on a topic, is employed by the most prominent newspaper in the nation. His ignorance is organic, paid for and nurtured by the Gray Lady. What has Krugman's study of fact sheets taught him?

What should Mr. Obama have done? Some political analysts, like Charlie Cook, say that he made a mistake by pursuing health reform, that he should have focused on the economy.

For the record, Charlie Cook is a "political scientist, as opposed to a pundit". For a while there, that's what Krugman was arguing.

As far as I can tell, however, these analysts aren’t talking about pursuing different policies — they’re saying that he should have talked more about the subject.

Um, how can you "tell" this from what the "analysts" are talking about? From what Cook is saying, Obama made a mistake pursuing the wrong policy. For the record, Obama tried to sell his Health Care reform package as a boost to the economy, and the facts got in the way. But facts only matter to pundits, not to Krugman.

The best way for Mr. Obama to have avoided an electoral setback this fall would have been enacting a stimulus that matched the scale of the economic crisis. Obviously, he didn’t do that.

So, his polling numbers are based on his policies, and not ignorant voters.

Maybe he couldn’t have passed an adequate-sized plan, but the fact is that he didn’t even try.

So his polling numbers are based on the fact that he didn't try, which means his victories were not at all significant. What, then, is the paradox?

True, senior economic officials reportedly downplayed the need for a really big effort, in effect overruling their staff;

So, the... I'm struggling to keep a straight face here... The issue is that senior economic officials were ignoring their underlings? Interesting. Who hired these officials, the pundits?

In short, it looks as if the administration itself was taken in by the pundit delusion, focusing on how its policies would play in the news rather than on their actual impact on the economy.

And also, his economic officials supported a smaller stimulus. Remember the charts indicating that the stimulus package would hold unemployment to 8%? I mean, can you blame voters for being ignorant when their leaders conspire to render them so?

Republicans, by the way, seem less susceptible to this delusion.

Wait, what? Republicans are less susceptible to the delusion that tactics matter more than policy?

Since Mr. Obama took office, they have engaged in relentless obstruction, obviously unworried about how their actions would look or be reported. And it’s working: by blocking Democratic efforts to alleviate the economy’s woes, the G.O.P. is helping its chances of a big victory in November.

So, the delusion is that tactics matter more than policy. But voters are too ignorant to understand policy, and so tactics are what matter. And so Obama embraced tactics. But Republicans, realizing that policy matters more than tactics, emphasized the former, and have won both battles?

I have a simpler explanation. Obama's policies don't work, and are unpopular, partly because they don't work, and partly because he is an abysmal politician.

Can Mr. Obama do anything in the time that remains? Midterm elections, where turnout is crucial, aren’t quite like presidential elections, where the economy is all. Mr. Obama’s best hope at this point is to close the “enthusiasm gap” by taking strong stands that motivate Democrats to come out and vote.

So, Obama should take strong stands for political reasons, because the pundit class is wrong about emphasizing politics over... Okay, does anyone edit this damn paper?

But I don’t expect to see that happen.


What I expect, instead, if and when the midterms go badly, is that the usual suspects will say that it was because Mr. Obama was too liberal — when his real mistake was doing too little to create jobs.

And, at the end of his piece, Krugman introduces his real thesis. Fantastic. This piece was terrible. It demands a rewrite.

What he meant to say was this...

Barack Obama has taken criticism for his policies. The conventional wisdom is that his agenda has been too ambitious for most Americans. In accordance with this wisdom, Obama has tailored a "centrist" platform.

Unfortunately, for him, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

No matter what the pundits say, Americans care about jobs. As jobs go, votes go. Obama spent his political capital appeasing a pundit class that was wrong all along. He'll pay the price in November. Americans will pay the price for years.

There is still time. Obama can reject the "centrist" platform, embraced by pundits and maligned by opportunistic Republicans (what, he thought they'd give him credit for his efforts?). A strong stance in favor of jobs will have give the American people what they want.

When Americans get what they want, so do incumbents, and so will the president. Conventional wisdom be damned.

That took me four minutes. I don't agree with any of it, and it's obviously light on specifics (specifics being the hobby horse of conservatives), but it says everything it took Krugman 700 words to say. It even has a pithy zinger and a stutter sentence.

I grew up reading Mitch Albom after all.

I don't expect Krugman to be correct, or even cogent. Is it too much to expect him to be precise?


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