Factual Challenges

The New York Times Book Review assigned Stanford history professor David Kennedy to review Paul Krugman's new book, “The Conscience of a Liberal.” It is an extremely negative review. I have not read the book so can not comment on it but I did read the review. And I found it inconsistent to say the least. For example, after chiding Krugman for being, in Kennedy's words, “factually shaky,”  he then writes:

For this dismal state of affairs the Democratic Party is held to be blameless. Never mind the Democrats’ embrace of inherently divisive identity politics, or Democratic condescension toward the ungrammatical yokels who consider their spiritual and moral commitments no less important than the minimum wage or the Endangered Species Act, nor even the Democrats’ vulnerable post-Vietnam record on national security.

Ummm, that all sounds factually shaky to me. What is the basis of Kennedy's statement? A fact or 2 to support this sweeping claim, especially from someone throwing stones, might have been in order. Kennedy continues:

As Krugman sees it, the modern Republican Party has been taken over by radicals. “There hasn’t been any corresponding radicalization of the Democratic Party, so the right-wing takeover of the G.O.P. is the underlying cause of today’s bitter partisanship.” No two to tango for him. The ascendancy of modern conservatism is “an almost embarrassingly simple story,” he says, and race is the key. “Much of the whole phenomenon can be summed up in just five words: Southern whites started voting Republican. … End of story.”

A fuller and more nuanced story might at least gesture toward the role that environmental and natural-resource issues have played in making red-state country out of the interior West, not to mention the unsettling effects of the “value issues” on voters well beyond Dixie. . . .

Again, this seems factually shaky to me. A few facts to support his view on this. As far I can see, Kennedy replaces his opinions for Krugman's. Fair enough. But not fair enough when a reviewer is decrying factual shakiness.

Now this part just seems plain dumb to me:

For all that he inveighs against the evils of partisanship, Krugman astonishingly concludes by repudiating the chimera of “bipartisan compromise” and declaring that “to be a progressive, then, means being a partisan — at least for now.”

What is astonishing about that? Krugman's point is that faced with a Republican Party that will not engage in bipartisanship or even nod a progressive goals, there is little choice for anyone looking to advance a progressive agenda. Krugman has made the commonsense, almost obvious, observation that when the Republican Party has definitively eschewed “bipartisanship,” it is impossible to embrace it. Indeed, in Kennedy's words, it takes two to tango.

Kennedy's misunderstanding of this simple and obvious insight leads him to write silliness like this:


Indeed, at times he seems more intent on settling his neocon adversaries’ hash than on advancing solutions to vexed policy issues. “Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” he writes, a sentence that both stylistically and substantively says much about the shortcomings of this book.

But this is the whole point. You can not “advance solutions to vexed policy issues” without settling partisan hash, thanks to the takeover of the Republican Party by the most extreme movements in our country. And here's the funny thing – Kennedy AGREES:

That assorted wing nuts have pretty much managed to hijack the Republican Party in recent years is scarcely in doubt.

But Kennedy fails to address Krugman's thesis that to “advance solutions to vexed policy issues,” today's extremist Republican Party must be defeated and the Republican Party must be remade in order to allow for the much desired “bipartisnship” that Kennedy, following the High Broderism, desires against all odds.

In short, the review is pretty lousy.


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  1. “But Democrats are bad too!!!”


    Those upstarts set out in the 1960s to exploit racial tensions, national security anxieties and volatile value-laden matters like abortion, school prayer and gay rights “to change the subject away from bread and butter issues.” By century’s end they had managed to fasten upon their hapless fellow citizens “a second Gilded Age” in which inequality is on the rise and even the modest American version of the welfare state that the New Deal put in place is in danger of being dismantled.

    is exactly what happened. The Dixiecrats defected to the Republicans, and in exchange for accepting tax cut ideology, remade the cultural and social policies of the party in their image.

    They’ve even spawned a Republican Leadership Council (I’m so not kidding).

    • Lahdee on October 20, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    targets, eh. What with our condescensions, our capitulations and our spinelessness, how could that possibly happen?

    Don’t they know we’re the good guys?
    Wait, you mean we have to prove it?
    And then defend it?
    And stand up?

  2. I like this bit:

    And yet maybe Krugman is not really an economist – at least not according to the definition offered more than a century ago by Francis Amasa Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who wrote that laissez-faire “was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.”

    Because, of course, we all know John Maynard Keynes was just a big fraud.

    I wouldn’t recommend Professor Kennedy write a History of Economics any time soon.

  3. That people just haven’t grasped the nature of the Republican beast.

    Fucking Amazing for allegedly intelligent people.

  4. You know, some ideas and positions are better than others.

    If you consistently choose bad ones I think I have the right to decide that perhaps you’re not as smart and insightful as you think no matter how important you and your oh so fragile ego consider your “spiritual and moral commitments.”

    • robodd on October 20, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    The democrats don’t embrace progressive ideas at all, except perhaps in speeches and to shore up the base.  And the republicans aren’t bipartisan. This review is just Broderistic fantasy about a world that doesn’t exist.  But let’s give the reviewer his right to a different world view.  It still is no basis for criticism.  Are Krugman’s ideas logical?  Are his ideas better? 

    And progressive ideas aren’t extreme except to the extent they are repressed.  At their foundation, they are about equal rights and that’s about it. 

    • Pluto on October 20, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    …so I particularly liked this one:

    “Much of the whole phenomenon can be summed up in just five words: Southern whites started voting Republican. … End of story.”

    This was caused by stupidy, because for them, voting Republican was voting against their own best interests and survival. (But it did allow them to secretly hate blacks in the voting booth — since that’s how they perceive the Republican message.)

    Ipso facto — your destiny is controlled by stupid hate-voters.

    Let’s look at the GSS’s measure of intelligence — the number of vocabulary words out of 10 answered correctly. I list the divisional means from highest to lowest for whites only:

    Mean vocabulary score

    New England 6.65
    Pacific 6.53
    Middle Atlantic 6.52
    Mountain 6.48
    West North Central 6.33

    USA 6.25

    East North Central 6.14
    South Atlantic 6.07
    West South Central 6.00
    East South Central 5.42

    Oh yeah. People are seriously ignorant in the south. It is also the predominant locus of the below-average IQs in the US.

    How are you going to defeat the proud (hate-filled) stupidity of your fellow voters?

  5. moments I have had lately was watching Paul Krugman try and debate with Tucker Carlson. The looks on Paul face were priceless. He said at one particularly dumb hateful assertion, ‘That’s not intelligent at all.’ I am looking forward to his book and I’m glad the wall is down.

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