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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 17, 2014

 
What Krugman said

by David Atkins

Part of what makes Krugman a joy to read is how sharply he can both clarify and eviscerate without resorting to the level of angry indignation that most progressive writers constantly express, myself included. Particularly on the subject of conservatives and race, it's hard to keep the arguments piercing but the passions cool.

This is Krugman at his best:

There are many negative things you can say about Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the G.O.P.’s de facto intellectual leader. But you have to admit that he’s a very articulate guy, an expert at sounding as if he knows what he’s talking about.

So it’s comical, in a way, to see Mr. Ryan trying to explain away some recent remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working.” He was, he says, simply being “inarticulate.” How could anyone suggest that it was a racial dog-whistle? Why, he even cited the work of serious scholars — people like Charles Murray, most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Oh, wait.

Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like — and I’m talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character — and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved.

Or we’re told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it’s hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees. Instead, all the movement’s passion, starting with Rick Santelli’s famous rant on CNBC, has been directed against any hint of financial relief for low-income borrowers. And what is it about these borrowers that makes them such targets of ire? You know the answer.

One odd consequence of our still-racialized politics is that conservatives are still, in effect, mobilizing against the bums on welfare even though both the bums and the welfare are long gone or never existed. Mr. Santelli’s fury was directed against mortgage relief that never actually happened. Right-wingers rage against tales of food stamp abuse that almost always turn out to be false or at least greatly exaggerated. And Mr. Ryan’s black-men-don’t-want-to-work theory of poverty is decades out of date.
I wish I could post the whole thing, so go read it. The second half of his argument lays out how even if there had been a shred of validity to conservative arguments about laziness and welfare back in the 1970s, the fraying of the middle class and the dismantling of the ladders of opportunity since then make conservative claims about the safety net ridiculous.

It's part of a thesis I've been laying out for some time: conservatives simply have no answers for the new plutocrat-controlled two-tier economy. They're stuck pretending it's the late 1970s forever, on both social and economic policy.


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