Friday, March 18, 2011

Where Is The Outrage?

"More than three years after we entered the worst economic slump since the 1930s, a strange and disturbing thing has happened to our political discourse: Washington has lost interest in the unemployed.

"... [N]o jobs bills have been introduced in Congress, no job–creation plans have been advanced by the White House and all the policy focus seems to be on spending cuts.

"So one–sixth of America's workers — all those who can't find any job or are stuck with part–time work when they want a full–time job — have, in effect, been abandoned."

Paul Krugman
New York Times

If you read that excerpt in an opinion piece and had no idea what the identity of the author might be, you'd probably think it came from one of his diehard critics.

Well, perhaps not. But you probably wouldn't think the criticism came from someone who considers himself a liberal.

It did.

Paul Krugman is a widely respected economist. In fact, he is the 13th–most cited economist in the world, according to Research Papers in Economics (RePEc), and he is a self–professed liberal.

Now, I was raised by progressive parents, and, for many years as an adult, I voted accordingly. My politics have shifted more to the center as I have gotten older, but I feel qualified to make the kind of assessment I am about to make ...

... which is ...

I believe there are essentially two kinds of liberals in America today, and you will find them in all walks of life. Some are economists. Some are journalists. Some are economic journalists. Krugman happens to be an economist who is also a journalist.

One kind of liberal cares more about the success of the Obama presidency than the results of his policies — because of (I can only presume) what Barack Obama represents. The logic behind this (and, again, this is my presumption) is that the first black president must be seen as a success because there will not be a second black president if he is not.

For that kind of liberal, perception is more important than reality. When the reality does not support the perception, it is because of racism — or something else that is beyond Obama's control.

To suggest otherwise undermines Obama's presidency.

The other kind of liberal is more realistic. To those liberals, Obama is a president who happens to be black. When he was battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008, it wasn't about black vs. female to those liberals. It was about who could get the job done.

Once the Democrats had settled on their nominee, those liberals backed him enthusiastically, even if they had not done so in the primaries. And now, when they see policies that are not succeeding, they do not hesitate to point that out.

A recent example that comes to mind is Ruth Marcus' column in the Washington Post about seven weeks ago, in which she worried about an absence of leadership in the aftermath of the State of the Union address.

That places policy above all other factors — personality, race, gender, everything — which is how it should be.

I think Krugman is caught somewhere in between. He has not hesitated to criticize policy. In fact, when Congress was voting on the stimulus package in the early days of the Obama presidency, Krugman often criticized it for not being enough — and, with hundreds of thousands of Americans slipping through the cracks two years later, one can only conclude that he was right about that.

But, in spite of the fact that he was so skeptical about the chances of the package's success when he believed that so much more money would be needed to repair the economy, he went along with it — often because (it seemed) that he was willing to give more than the usual amount of time for Obama to become comfortable in the job.

Today, however, Krugman seems to have reached his tolerance limit, and he tells readers, in today's New York Times, that "Washington has lost interest in the unemployed."

He seems genuinely baffled by this since, as he points out, "polls indicate that voters still care much more about jobs than they do about the budget deficit." Thus, he finds it "quite remarkable" that "it's just the opposite" in Washington.

He delves into some economic principles that are probably over the heads of most people, but then he gets back to the point that really ought to outrage the people who voted for Obama expecting him to be the champion and the defender of the average guy, the oppressed, the down–trodden.

"[T]he obsession with spending cuts flourishes all the same," he writes, "unchallenged, it must be said, by the White House."

He now asserts that Obama "surrendered very early" in the "war of ideas" and that it is understandable why most Americans see little difference between what Obama says about spending cuts and what Republicans say. Many Americans who are still employed no longer feel threatened by layoffs because that wave appears to have crested.

But, like the tsunamis that followed the earthquakes in Japan and Indonesia, they have left a great deal of human wreckage in their wake.

The price for this "unfortunate bipartisanship" in Washington, Krugman writes, will be paid by "[t]he increasingly hopeless unemployed."

"[Y]ou have to wonder," Krugman writes, "what it will take to get politicians caring again about America's forgotten millions."

Perhaps it's time for a bumper sticker that says "I'm unemployed and I vote."

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