by George Beres
(Swans - November 7, 2005) Paul Krugman, whose syndicated column appears regularly in newspapers nationally, dislikes labels. "But," he told me, as we visited before his talk in Portland, "'liberal' may be a fair tag, although I'm really a centrist. I'm viewed as on the left because the administration feels my criticisms of it make me a leftist."
He was not hired because of a liberal identity when the New York Times asked him to write a column in 2000. As a professor of economics at Princeton University -- a position he returns to next fall -- he has world renown as an analyst of global currency issues. He took a sabbatical from campus to write for The Times a column on economics in contemporary times. What he learned from the large stable of reporters who cover the globe for the newspaper caused him to make economics but a point of reference. Increasingly, the column began to scrutinize and criticize US policy that went beyond his academic discipline.
"I was hired to write about economic problems overseas, not in our domestic area," he said, "because things were going well here at the time. But I became radicalized -- not by becoming a radical, but over what was beginning to happen in the United States."
Observing the 2000 election campaign and its aftermath had its impact: "I realized Bush was saying things that were not true. Now I've become a persistent critic of the Bush administration when what it says is not true in a variety of areas -- the environment, war and tax cuts."
He feels the same thing happened with the Iraq nuclear question: "The great myth just after 9-11 was we were united as a people in a common cause. Instead, I saw profiteering occur immediately. I asked: 'Who are these guys? Were they academics? No. They were hired guns.'"
Looking ahead, he is skeptical about real differences between Democrats and Bush. "In order for a challenger to win the election," he said, "he or she has to come out swinging about Bush being wrong. The Democrat field is very much narrowed when you eliminate those who say, 'I'm like Bush, only less so.'"
As an economist, he sees the permanent tax cut engineered by Bush as "amazingly irresponsible." Never has he seen such a cut during a war in any country. "The approach of the tax cuts is blatantly dishonest," he said. "Government statements about the deficit not being a long-term problem are nonsense. Some GOP senators had a brief attack of responsibility when they opposed the tax cuts. The administration's economic policies all are sleazy, giving the pretense that cuts are for the little guy. That's like the government saying: 'I just bought you a new TV set.' Then it says: 'I used your credit card to buy it. By the way, I used it to buy one for me, too.'"
As a man of words, he is angered by what he calls government "word tricks to perpetuate its nonsense." An example he gives is its "healthy forests plan," which does little but make the forest environment unhealthy.
"This government," he charged, "is in business to put something over on you. All governments lie to us in varying degrees. But this one makes it a policy to exploit problems instead of solving them. Its motto should be: Up is Downism. I find myself thinking something I thought I'd never say -- that I miss Ronald Reagan. He had big tax cuts in 1981. But he then had rollbacks in 1982, to respond to developments."
He does not spare the news media: "The mainstream news media as a whole have become pathologically evenhanded instead of objective. Some, like the Washington Times and the Rupert Murdoch multimedia operation, virtually are house organs for the administration. If the president said, 'We have discovered the earth is flat,' their headlines would say, 'Views on earth's shape vary.'"
He believes whistle-blowers are vital to democracy when administrations or organizations are lying. "Right now," he said, "whistle-blowing is terribly important, because this is the most secretive administration in history."
Krugman was the first to mention what has become the Wilson Case: the blown cover of a CIA agent married to a diplomat who angered the administration with reports that didn't correspond to what it wanted to hear. "We hear the usual denials," he said, "as they relate to administration suspects such as Rove, Abrams and Libby. As usual, the denials are tastefully phrased." Indictment of Scooter Libby, right-hand man for Vice President Cheney, he believes has a chance to get the snowball effect in motion.
I asked him why there has been no public outcry, if, as he says, this lying is constant. "People simply are in disbelief over what has been happening in this administration," he feels. "Those who try to warn us are viewed as alarmists."
He believes the nation is heading for a crisis -- "a train wreck" -- because of what he calls the great level of irresponsibility in government. He uses comic situations as metaphors for serious problems, such as what he sees as a rapidly deteriorating economy: "Right now, we are like the Roadrunner in the old animated movie cartoon. He would run off the edge of a cliff, advance 10 more steps in thin air, look down, then disappear."
Krugman had a suggestion for a capacity audience at the First Unitarian Church of Portland: "If you, the public, really understood what is happening, you would do everything you could to stop it. That means you have to get the word out. As in the movie, 'Network,' you have to lean out your windows and yell: "I'm not going to take it anymore!"