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NYT's Paul Krugman on Bush's Economic Record and the Media

StorySeptember 01, 2004
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We hear celebrated economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman discuss the media and the Bush administration’s economic record and tactics. [includes rush transcript]

On Monday, Republican delegates approved a new party platform with little debate. The New York Times reports that for the first time the platform puts the party firmly on the record against legalized abortion, gay marriage and other forms of legal recognition for same-sex couples. The gay rights group Human Rights Campaign called the platform one of the "most discriminatory platforms in modern history." On economic issues, the platform calls for the privatization of social security and for making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent.

That same day economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman spoke at an event in New York University about the Bush administration’s record.

  • Paul Krugman, speaking at New York University on August 30, 2004.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

PAUL KRUGMAN: When I realized there was something wrong was actually during the 2000 campaign and it was over the issue of Social Security privatization, which it actually took me a while. I have expunged from the book some of my early attempts where I was actually trying to desperately trying to find out a way in which this thing made sense, what candidate Bush was saying. And I finally realized it was a scam, pure and simple, it really was two minus one equals four, that he was saying something that was nonsense. It amazing if the reports are correct, that Thursday night, he’s going to try the whole thing exactly as before. The — that having run on it, having had his own commission unable to come one a plan because you know the arithmetic doesn’t work, he’s nonetheless going to try it once again and say here’s the magic solution that will solve — actually in the case of social security, solve a problem that doesn’t exist. We’re going to create this great plan. It’s an amazing thing. It’s turned out that that’s the story all through. What I saw in social security, what I saw on fiscal policy is also the story on science policy, environmental policy, and of course, in the end national security and the war.

Couple of things to say. One thing that I think is important, and not a criticism of Green and Alterman, but it’s along the lines of focusing on the 'gotcha' lies is worthwhile, but shouldn’t focus on it too much. Often the worst things is when they don’t literally lie. If you go through the economic statements, you can find, if you want to find a situation where Bush said, most of our tax cuts go to people at the middle or the bottom of the economic spectrum, you can find that, but you have to sift through mounds and mounds of Bush statements. The great — most of the time what he and his people say are things that convey that impression without actually saying it. So that in last year, and as you can find it again in the campaign materials, last year saying that 92 million Americans will get an average tax cut of about $1,000. Which conveys the impression and would actually find pundits finally said that every family is going to get $1,000. That’s good. The answer right at — it’s — the people don’t know what average means. If Bill Gates walks into a bar, the average net worth of the patrons is a couple of billion dollars. But the point about that is — that’s how it works, but the point about that is when they say something that is deliberately misleading but not — that is misleading, let me say, but not literally false, that actually shows that it is deliberate. If this the — the extreme care — try to find — I don’t think anybody has found a statement in which Bush said that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, but you can find hundreds of elusive sentences where 9/11, Saddam, are all blurred together which shows that he and his speechwriters knew that it wasn’t true and were trying to — trying to plant the idea in people’s minds. That’s the thing that’s worse. It’s not the 'gotcha' moment. It’s not the smoking gun of the sentence where he says something that’s falsifiable. It’s the sentences that were clearly carefully crafted to convince people of something of something that the administration knew was not true.

Bush. We — we also probably make a mistake if we make too much emphasis on Bush, the individual. I know that there’s a particular thing that can drive you wild, which is the description of all of these virtues to a man who manifestly does not possess them, right? The idea of that this guy of all guys is treated as a heroic figure, and is really baffling, but this really is not about Bush. Bush is the guy that the movement found to take them over the top. But it didn’t start with him. And it won’t end with him, either. What’s going on in this country is that a radical movement — I think we do, mark is entirely right, a radical movement that has been building for several decades finally found their moment and their man in Bush, but you shouldn’t think of it as just being him. There’s a complete continuity between what’s going on now and the campaign of slander and innuendo against Bill Clinton. There’s complete continuity going back, really, I think that this is my next book; you need to go back to Goldwater. A lot of this has its roots actually in civil rights. And the people don’t like them. So, you really — but you really have to understand that this is not about one guy. It’s not even about one dynasty, although that’s a story itself. It’s about the coalition between the malefactors of great wealth and the religious right and how they found their man. Don’t think of it about as just being about this one guy. How can they get away with it? This is one of the biggest for risk, I think. You may want to know what does the — what does the Times think about what I write? By and large, they’re extremely protective, but they get antsy when I talk about the media. Because they’re part of it but it’s not possible to deny that the media are a very essential — or central part of this.

Actually — if you can get hold of it, the American Journalism Review has an interview with Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, the two Knight-Ridder reporters, who during the buildup to the war were providing, by far, the best account. I was going back and saying why did I know that the case for an active Iraqi nuclear program was being cooked up? Why did I know that this was being sold and analysts were being pressured? All of the stuff that many people won’t admit but is being treated as a revelation? I think it was actually reading the Knight-Ridder stories above all. They say in talking about it that the story of media failure here is as important as the story of intelligence failure. It is central to it. Couple of things to say on that. One is, of course, that substantial chunks of the media are part of this same movement. With Robert Greenwald here, we don’t need to say much more about that. Yes, FOX News and the Washington Timesand all of that are part of it. The rest is very much — is very difficult. The — most of the media — I’m not sure if that’s still true. I have been watching the sad decline of CNN. But anyway, most of the media is still trying to be even handed, is still mainstream, but they have lost the sense of what it means, what the job of being an even-handed media really is. It’s not — what they have — it should be, well, okay, here’s what people are saying, and we have checked the facts, and here’s what the truth is. Instead, it has become here’s what one side says, here’s what the other side says. We report, you decide.

Another one of my people who have heard me before and will know — but if Bush says that the earth was flat, the headlines on the mainstream media stories is, "The Shape of the Earth: Views Differ." I saw that in 2000 over social security. I couldn’t believe it was happening I could not get anyone at my organization or any other to write a straight story saying what does it take to privatize social security. It was always, here’s what Bush says, here’s what the other side says. It sounds good. He’s promising great stuff. You can find it more recently, unemployment reports, Swift Boat is the most horrible story. In this case, the last jobs report was really, really crummy. It was crummy enough if you were watching CNBC, which has the 8:30 in the morning when they have the traders in Chicago pit when the number came out, the traders starting chant, Kerry, Kerry, Kerry. But to read all of the newspaper stories the next day, it was well, the Bush people say it’s a good number, it’s a good report and the other said says it was a bad report and you never would have known the difference.

What do we do? This is really a — it’s much bigger than Bush. It’s a movement that’s been building. The one thing that I think you really have to day is that people — say is that people — on the left, the position formerly known as the center, people like myself — people like myself have been asleep for a long, long time. We just didn’t — we didn’t take it seriously. We sat through the Clinton scandals and said, probably, you know, funny stuff going on there. Didn’t really understand that the extent to which this movement was being built, which I have one minute, I believe. In the long run, there has to be the creation of institutions. My great beef with Bill Clinton, who I thought did a terrific job in the office, but he did not build the institutional basis for rolling this thing back. That’s in the long run. How are we ever going to get time to do that? Given that this onslaught is there, and it will come, they’re getting rid of one man is not in itself. It’s necessary, but not sufficient, as we say in the academy. The answer, I think, my great hope now is what we need is an enormous unearthing of the scandals that we know have taken place. We need a mega Watergate that rocks them back for enough time so that we can build a counterweight to this thing. Otherwise, this won’t be the country we grew up in.

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