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Bitter & Twisted
Krugman predicts just what he sows.


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Donald L. Luskin

Paul Krugman began his New York Times column Tuesday by patting himself on the back for a brilliant prediction:

Almost a year ago, on the second anniversary of 9/11, I predicted “an ugly, bitter campaign — probably the nastiest of modern American history.”

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Apparently, America’s most dangerous liberal pundit — who is also an economics professor at Princeton — has had to give up making not-so-brilliant predictions about the U.S. economy, as Krugman Truth Squad member Caroline Baum noted in an e-mail to me. In fact, they’ve all been so spectacularly not brilliant that Krugman was forced to say on Tim Russert’s CNBC show several weeks ago: “compare me, uh, with anyone else, and I think you’ll see that my forecasting record is not great.”

And even this latest prediction — about “an ugly, bitter campaign” — isn’t really so brilliant once you think about it. For one thing, just two sentences later in the same column “on the second anniversary of 9/11,” Krugman predicts that either Howard Dean or Wesley Clark will be the Democrats’ presidential candidate. (I guess that would make it, well, a lie when Krugman told George Stephanopoulos on his ABC News show last Sunday, that he is “often checked by the, by my editor to ask, you know, have you truncated a quote to change its meaning.” It remains to be seen whether it was a further lie when he added, “It’s exactly the kind of thing that would force me to issue a humiliating correction in my column if I did it.”)

But even in isolation, was it really so brilliant for Krugman to predict “an ugly, bitter campaign”? Sure — but only in the same way that it was brilliant for Arnold Rothstein to predict that the White Sox would lose the World Series in 1919.

That’s right. On this bet, the fix was in. No one has personally done more to make this campaign “the nastiest of modern American history” than Paul Krugman himself.

Yes, in his latest column, Krugman decries the ugliness and bitterness of anyone’s daring to question John Kerry’s four months of heroism in Vietnam (or Cambodia, or wherever he claims to have been). But Krugman has consistently urged more — not less — ugliness and bitterness, provided that the ugliness and bitterness is directed against President Bush. In the primary season he openly endorsed the Democrats’ raver-in-chief Howard Dean. In one column last January he wrote that “A mild-mannered, upbeat candidate would get eaten alive.” In another January column he even urged John Kerry to drop out of the race — to get out of the way of then front-runner Dean: “This is no time for a candidate who is running just because he thinks he deserves to be president.”

Kerry is too mild-mannered for Krugman’s taste — Krugman goes more for the ugly and the bitter — but his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry is another matter. In a column last month Krugman applauded Mrs. Kerry’s publicly telling a reporter to “shove it” after he questioned her use of the McCarthyite expression “un-American” (which she had indeed used minutes before, and then denied having said).

And Krugman is a consistent defender of Michael Moore’s ugly and bitter film, Fahrenheit 9-11. In a July column he admitted it was a “tendentious, flawed movie” that will leave viewers “believing some things that probably aren’t true.” But the end justifies the Moore: Krugman claims the film “tells essential truths.”

And despite the fact that Moore has called America “this country of mine, which is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe,” and has said, “I’m American … We’ve got that big s***-eating grin on our face all the time because our brains aren’t loaded down,” Krugman told Tim Russert that Moore “is a guy who really does love his country.”

Krugman has even defended the worst possible ugliness and bitterness — the lunatic anti-Semitic ravings of Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad. How? He blamed those ravings on George W. Bush. Who else?

Krugman has to defend the ugly and the bitter from the political left. That’s because no one else has played such a pivotal role in making ugliness and bitterness the norm in mainstream leftist political discourse. Believe me — I know from ugly and bitter personal experience. Last year I attended a lecture by Krugman, and soon thereafter he went on national television and smeared me, accusing me of having “stalked” him “personally.”

But that’s nothing compared to what Krugman has said about George W. Bush. Endless are the villains — real and fictitious — to whom Krugman likens Bush. One column last year had Bush as Captain Queeg of The Caine Mutiny. Another column had him as the emperor Caligula. A column this month cast Bush as the mind-control pawn of Osama bin Laden — “The Arabian Candidate.” And no list such as this would be complete without the inevitable Hitler comparison — found in the introduction to Krugman’s best-selling Bush-bashing book The Great Unraveling.

Nothing is too petty, too personal — or too downright slanderous — in Krugman’s quest for the ugliest and bitterest. One especially nasty column last year likened the teetotaling Bush to a “recovering alcoholic falling off the wagon.” A 2002 column accused Bush of taking “a $12 million gift” while “a sitting governor,” when he was in fact paid out on his contractual interest in the sale of the Texas Rangers (an angry letter to the Times from Bush’s former partners explained that the contract had been negotiated a decade earlier, but Krugman never ran a retraction). I leave it as an exercise to Krugman Truth Squad aficionados everywhere to find the endless number of columns accusing the Bush administration of all manner of unproven corporate corruption associated with the war in Iraq.

Consider the ugliness and bitterness with which Krugman — supposedly a serious academic economist — has expressed himself on Bush’s economic policies, especially his tax cuts. In columns last year he said the tax cuts were part of a “fiscal train wreck … already under way.” He said they were evidence that Bush “actually wants a fiscal crisis.” He said we should reconsider the tax cuts because “the long-run budget outlook is nothing short of catastrophic.” He warned that thanks to the tax cuts, international investors will be “treating us like a banana republic.” All the way back in 2001 he called Bush’s first small tax cut “disastrous.” (What may be ugliest of all is the way Krugman responded to Bill O’Reilly when he accused Krugman, on Tim Russert’s show, of having said “Column after column after column … [that] these tax cuts were going to be disastrous for the economy.” Krugman said: “Nope! … That’s a lie. Let me just say, that’s a lie.”)

Krugman is even ugly and bitter about unspecified sins that he only imagines George Bush has committed. In Tuesday’s column Krugman writes that

his inner circle cannot afford to see him lose: if he does, the shroud of secrecy will be lifted, and the public will learn the truth about cooked intelligence, profiteering, politicization of homeland security and more.

You see the rhetorical dirty trick here? Someday just try defending yourself against an accusation where the very absence of evidence is used as evidence against you!

The ugliest and bitterest version of this dirty trick is Krugman’s repeated prediction that the 2004 presidential election will be rigged. Way back in December of last year Krugman wrote a column exaggerating problems with touch-screen voting machines (which have only been put in place for this year’s election because people like Krugman exaggerated the problems with “butterfly ballots” in the 2000 election). It’s not just that the machines don’t produce a paper audit trail — no, Krugman warns that they are manufactured by a company whose CEO is a Bush supporter. He wrote, “you don’t have to believe in a central conspiracy to worry that partisans will take advantage of an insecure, unverifiable voting system to manipulate election results.”

Krugman won’t require proof this November. As long as Bush wins, the result will be suspect: “We may never know,” he intoned in a column last week. His loony solution to the predicted election fraud? Check it out:

Intensive exit polling … It would serve as a deterrent to anyone contemplating election fraud. If all went well, it would help validate the results and silence skeptics.

We hardly need to ask what he means by “if all went well.” That means, “If Kerry wins.” And we hardly need to ask what happens if all does not go well — that is, if Bush wins: then Democrats can use their hand-picked exit polls to contest the results (and Michael Moore will have the opening scenes for his sequel to Fahrenheit 9-11 ready made). Such use of exit polling is so manifestly a bad idea that even the New York Times itself rejected it in an editorial last week — when exit polls were used to question the validity of the recall victory of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez (whom the Times favors because the Bush administration wants him out of power).

What we have here, then, is more than just a self-fulfilling prophecy of “an ugly, bitter campaign.” We have the opening moves in a pre-scripted left-wing game-plan designed to assure a victorious George W. Bush an ugly and bitter second term. Before that second term even begins, Krugman — acting as the primary mainstream-media mouthpiece for the Left — has created the conceptual structure for denying Bush’s fundamental legitimacy. If Bush wins the election, by definition he stole it. If he does a great job in office, that’s just because he managed to keep scandals hidden from view.

That liberal game-plan amounts to nothing less than an attack on the fundamental processes by which collective decisions are made, and are given legitimacy once they are made. It’s an attack on the rule of law. It doesn’t get much more ugly or much more bitter than that.

– Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm. He welcomes your comments at [email protected].



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