Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Cup of Tea or a Glass of Indignation?

Knowing that Paul Krugman is an economist (an area about which I know very little) and a liberal (an area about which I know quite a bit) still doesn’t keep me from reading his twice-weekly columns in the New York Times – and, occasionally, his blog on the same site. In my estimation, I disagree with him about 90 percent of the time and find that the more I disagree, the more my blood pressure rises. And yet I keep coming back for more, being a believer that to engage in an effective and substantive political debate, you have to know what both sides of the aisle are saying and writing.

So what is Krugman saying this week (or rather, what did he say yesterday)? In short, Republicans are an embarrassing lot that deserve to be made fun of (even though he doesn’t feel quite comfortable doing it because, “…it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people”) and a bizarre group who are unable to engage in true grassroots activity if big business and big money aren’t behind it. These are the points he makes in his latest column, “Tea Parties Forever,” concerning the anti-tax parties which – to a great extent – will be held in cities all across the country tomorrow, April 15.

If nothing else, Krugman offers arguments that will no doubt get both sides revved up, but in this particular instance he apparently feels the best effort he can put forth is to offer cheap shots and tired arguments to back up his claim of a lunatic fringe on the right. Here are a few examples:

“Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.” Yes, Republicans in Congress have been chastised of late as the “party of no,” but their opposition is in large part based on principle. Democrats by no means have offered anything close to a real policy debate, and the fact he feels that the debates are “among Democrats” is just confirmation of how fall short House and Senate leadership have fallen in meeting their promise of a new spirit of bipartisanship. (In fairness, this promise has been made by the top dogs in both parties for the past several decades, and it never changes; it is hardly a Democrat problem.) Where was the real policy debate in advance of the behemoth 648-page energy and climate change bill released earlier this month by Henry Waxman and Ed Markey – or consultation with the numerous groups which will be impacted by whatever version is finally enacted? Where was the real policy debate on the economic stimulus bill which was jammed down our throats, aside from the war of words waged in front of the cameras?

“It turns out the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf events, manufactured by the usual suspects.” When I last checked, the Republican or Democrat labels worn by many didn’t impact their feelings about the issue of taxes – aside from the fact that conservatives believe in lower taxes and liberals believe (for the most part) in higher taxes to support government programs, as long as it’s the other person paying the higher taxes. I've seen interviews with several self-professed Democrats who intend to actively participate in tomorrow's activities. And many of these tea parties have been organized at the grassroots level, using nothing more sophisticated at the outset than an email address book and the tools offered by such sites as MeetUp.com. Where was Krugman’s sense of outrage over the George Soros-financed groups who sponsored anti-war and anti-Bush demonstrations which were hyped to no end by CNN and MSNBC, among others? Oh, that’s right; it’s that danged belief system again – like with taxes – that it’s okay as long as we’re not the ones doing it.

All of this is to say that none of what Krugman puts forth in this column surprises me, and I’ll continue to return to his writing for my twice-weekly dose of adrenaline. Politics is a game of perception, of what people want to focus on and what they want to ignore or gloss over, and the media is a game of what to focus on and what will draw the biggest ratings and highest revenue. Yes, Fox News is heavily promoting the April 15 tea parties, but flip over the coin and you’ll find the Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermanns of the world milking them for an appropriate sense of righteous indignation and outrage.

Just as the famous children’s song says, “The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round,” the wheels on the political bus are still spinning – but the bus can’t move forward when all the wheels are trying to turn in different directions.


  1. "Politics is a game of perception"..that is a very insightful thought Matt. I wish that more of our GOP friends understood this.

    I long for a thoughtful leader to arise in the GOP.. one that rise above the squawking heads and provide some leadership.

    IMO, the Tea Parties are making us look like a bunch of whiners filled with sour grapes.

  2. Really enjoyed the article, Matt. As for the tea parties, I think they are wonderful. I am glad that people are gathering and voicing their opinions about the uncontrolled spending. They actually give me hope...