Politics & Policy

Lying About Lying

Krugman didn't have a lot of fresh air for Terry Gross.

So let me get it straight, this policy the Democrats have on the subject of lying. Lying is bad, right? But apparently there are two exceptions, according to the Democrats. Bill Clinton established that it’s okay to lie about sex. And now Paul Krugman has established that it’s okay to lie about lying.

As he tools around the country on a whirlwind media tour to promote his new book, The Great Unraveling, Krugman’s lying at the top of his lungs about the supposed lies of the Bush administration. Take a listen to this Krugman interview Wednesday with Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. First, you’ll be struck by how Krugman is a perfect audio dead ringer for Woody Allen — the vocal resemblance is nothing short of eerie. But once you’re over that, you’ll be outraged at how Gross — normally a well-prepared and aggressive interviewer (at least when she’s interviewing the pop musicians and chick-flick directors she seems to specialize in) — rolls over and plays dead when America’s most dangerous liberal pundit lies about lying.

Krugman’s first lie about lying is an all-too-familiar sound-byte. In his New York Times column Tuesday, he wrote that “Mr. Bush and his officials portrayed the invasion of Iraq as an urgent response to an imminent threat,” and he told Terry Gross,

… if he says … that some country is an imminent threat when in fact the evidence points the other way, people in the journalistic profession are very, very reluctant to say, “Hey, he’s lying.”

Perhaps they are “very, very reluctant” because of the fact that President Bush said exactly the opposite. In his state of the union address this year, Bush was at pains to disclose that the Iraq threat was not imminent, but that a controversial pre-emptive strike was nevertheless justified. Bush said,

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?

Gross didn’t correct him. Krugman’s second lie about lying is that the Bush administration claimed the bulk of this year’s tax cuts would go to lower income taxpayers. Krugman told Gross,

The Bushies are different. They just plain lie. They just plain say, “Here’s our tax cut; it goes mostly to the working class.” And then you actually take a look at the numbers and it’s not subjective. You just say, “Oh, 42 percent of it goes to the top 1 percent of the population.”

Let’s just accept that 42% figure, whether or not it’s right. What’s important is that Krugman is lying when he claims that the Bush administration ever said anything to indicate that its tax cuts would go “mostly to the working class.” Yes, the administration said that “every American who pays income taxes will get tax relief.” Yes, the administration said that “the percentage reduction in income taxes is greatest for families with incomes under $50,000,” and therefore higher-income taxpayers “will pay a larger share of the total income tax burden.” And those statements are absolutely factual — as Krugman would say, “it’s not subjective.”

Gross let it go. Krugman’s third lie about lying is that the Bush administration is suppressing the dire truth about America’s long-term fiscal condition. Krugman told Gross,

Actually, we know they’ve done the math. If you look at the last budget put out by the Bush administration, tucked way in the back — you have to go through several hundred pages to find it — was an analysis of the long-run budget outlook. And it was catastrophic.

As Krugman so often points out, the gravest threats to long-term fiscal solvency are Social Security and Medicare in the upcoming baby-boom retirement years. And in the president’s most recent budget, there is a terrifyingly frank discussion of these threats right up in the main section of the budget, on page 32, in fact. You only “have to go through several hundred pages to find it” if you start from the back. This discussion, headlined “The Real Fiscal Danger,” shows charts documenting unfunded Social Security and Medicare promises stretching out 75 years into the future, and running as high as $24.8 trillion dollars! Yes, they’ve “done the math.”

Now go check out the last budget put out by the Clinton administration. Social Security and Medicare promises were no less then. But I defy you to find anything like the frank discussion of the value of those promises anywhere in the main section of the budget.

Gross let him get away with it.

Krugman’s fourth lie about lying is that Bush promised to be a compassionate conservative, but the real agenda of his administration is, as he told Gross,

to dismantle most of the federal system as it’s been built up since the 1930s. They talk about the New Deal and the Great Society, basically the work of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, as being illegitimate. And they talk about starving the beast. We’ve got to deprive the government of revenue so that it’s forced to give up these programs. … If you look at what candidate Bush ran on in the year 2000, it was, “I’m going to protect Social Security, I’m going to add prescription drugs to Medicare, I’m going to be compassionate.”

So what about those campaign promises has the Bush administration not honored? It has put in place a courageous initiative to fundamentally redesign Social Security, precisely because he is cognizant of its long-term costs (which Bush frankly acknowledges in the budget and Clinton concealed). And the president has said clearly that he would sign just about any Medicare prescription-drug program that Congress can agree on.

And for better or worse, the truth is that the Bush administration has presided over an historic increase in federal spending. As the Congressional Budget Office has documented, increases in federal spending have contributed about the same amount to today’s budget increases as have Bush’s tax cuts. Indeed, plenty of Republicans such as National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg are worrying that Bush is a “big-government conservative.”

Gross let him get away with that one, too.

The interview started out well, though. Gross challenged Krugman on the distinction in his mind between “something that you see as not a disagreement, but as a lie.” Krugman was not able to illuminate the distinction. So Gross asked,

… but, still, what kind of, like, editorial oversight do you have before you can go with the word “lie” in a column?

You won’t be surprised by Krugman’s reply — except that he suggests he had more oversight in the days of deposed executive editor Howell Raines, the man who unleashed Jayson Blair upon an unsuspecting world:

During the 2000 campaign, the then-editor of the editorial page, Howell Raines, basically told me I could not use that word. I could imply it by indirection, I could say it, but that it was just too harsh, too partisan a word to use in the middle of a campaign. … After that, I really haven’t had any restraints.

Indeed. Not at the New York Times, and not at NPR. At least there’s always the Krugman Truth Squad.


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