When centrists are wrong

The Paul Krugman column I picked for tomorrow's op-ed page has some things seriously wrong with it, as do most Krugman columns: He trashes Obama for seeking bipartisan support of the stimulus (Krugman HATES bipartisanship), and he demagogues like crazy:

    What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of
American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition,
undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who
flip their houses?

In its anti-UnParty sentiment, the column could be said to have precisely the opposite message of my Sunday column. But I chose it anyway, partly because one of the main missions of the op-ed page is to give you opinions other than mine, but also because he raises, in a backhanded way, a good point: Just because someone is a "centrist" doesn't mean he's right (or she's right, in the cases of Susan Collins and Olympia Snow).

In fact, one thing I ran out of room to say in my Sunday column, but had wanted to say, was that in the case of this bill, there are centrists and there are centrists. You'll recall that I ended the column thusly:

if the president has a bill that Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Ben
Nelson of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine all voted for, the nation
would have a chance of moving forward together. And together is the
only way we can recover.

When she was proofing it Friday, Cindi came into my office to object that John McCain was not a member of the gang of "centrists" negotiating over this legislation. I said yeah, that's right. Neither is Graham. I didn't intend to say they were involed in the Nelson-Collins group. I meant to say that it would have to have even broader support than what it would take to get the Nelsons and Collinses on board.

In fact, as I would have explained if I'd had a couple more inches to work with, that particular group was guided by a principle that I thought was wrong-headed: They simply wanted to cut $100 billion out of the bill, period (or that's the message I got, anyway). Since I was worried that Krugman was right when he said in a previous column that Obama's stimulus proposal wouldn't be enough, I doubted that making it LESS, on principle, was the right thing to do.

I mean, take your pick: Spend $800 billion that you don't have or $900 billion that you don't have. How is the former necessarily better than the latter? Once you've decided that massive deficit spending is what you've gotta do, in for a dime, in for a trillion…

And yet, this press release from Susan Collins seems to indicate that for her at least, reducing the amount was the point:

After days of leading bipartisan negotiations, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Ben Nelson (D-NE) tonight announced an agreement on an amendment to the Economic Recovery Act currently before the Senate. The Nelson-Collins amendment would reduce the total cost of the package to $780 billion-$110 billion less than the bill that the Senate is currently considering.

"This deal represents a victory for the American people," said Senator Collins… "We've trimmed the fat, fried the bacon, and milked the sacred cows…"

The idea that when it comes to stimulating the economy, less is more, seems unpersuasive to me. So does the DeMint position that all you need is tax cuts. So does the position that all massive spending is good.

So is the idea that just because someone is labeled a "centrist" doesn't mean they're right. (But it sure doesn't mean they're automatically wrong just because they're centrists, as Krugman believes.)

Nobody's got the monopoly on wisdom in this discussion, from what I've seen. There are certain things I think the stimulus ought to do: It should spend money as quickly as possible and spend it on things we'll have something to show for down the line — such as physical infrastructure that we needed to spend on anyway. I think the tax cuts are going to be pretty useless because they're spread too thin for anyone to feel them. But rather than cut them out, I'd direct that money to shovel-ready, needed infrastructure. I think any cost ceiling anybody tries to place on the plan is fairly arbitrary (such as Obama's own reluctance to go over the magic trillion mark).

But there's only one thing that I think is fairly non-negotiable: This thing needs to transcend the partisan spin cyle. To turn around our economy, we've got to be pulling together. This needs to be something that the overwhelming majority of Congress can go back home and sell, something that leaves the talking heads on 24/7 TV "news" little to natter about. And I believe that goal is worth spending a little more time to achieve.

27 thoughts on “When centrists are wrong

  1. Doug Ross

    > I mean, take your pick: Spend $800 billion
    > that you don’t have or $900 billion that
    > you don’t have. How is the former
    > necessarily better than the latter? Once
    > you’ve decided that massive deficit
    > spending is what you’ve gotta do, in for a
    > dime, in for a trillion…
    That pretty much sums up the reason the Unparty is a figment of your imagination. Where does the extra $100 billion come from? Thin air?
    Why don’t you buy a $1 million dollar house? Or $ 2 million?
    Your unwillingness to attempt to even understand basic economics is staggering.
    Every dime in the “stimulus” bill has to come from someone, someday or else via printing more worthless money. Do you disagree with that? Who do you think will pay back the money that we are borrowing?
    You want to focus on Kumbaya-politics when there is nothing that can be done via TALK.
    We are in a painful situation created by a variety of forces. The solution is going to be painful. No one from the Obama/Reid/Pelosi coalition wants to admit that basic fact.

  2. Doug Ross

    If we’re in a crisis, why don’t we divert every dollar of foreign aid into our own economy? That’s money that doesn’t have to be created from thin air.
    Magic money won’t solve the problem.

  3. Phillip

    Brad, your desire for the country (and Congress) to pull together on this is very idealistic and admirable in many ways, I genuinely mean that.
    But you’re living in la-la land. Do you really think there are more than a tiny handful of Republican senators at most who are going to vote for a stimulus-spending bill of the size that you say is needed? I agree that merely trimming some $ was perhaps an arbitrary way to get enough GOP senators to close debate, but what other options are really available, I mean in real life?
    You say it’s worth taking time, but we’ve already been taking the time in the lame-duck transition from the election till now, things are getting worse by the day.
    The longer this takes, the more dug-in GOP spending hawks will be. The economy will continue to tank, and as time passes with no action, the public will begin to see this crappy economic situation less as the legacy of Bush 43 and more as the ineffectiveness of Obama and the Democratic Congress. Jobs will be lost, people’s lives will be disrupted and ruined, but at least the Democrats will start to get blamed.
    That is the game that the Republicans are playing right now, and your post above is the kind of well-meaning but naive thinking that walks right into that trap.
    Maybe you answered it on the other threads, but I have to ask you again:
    what kind of bill do you think could possibly get more than 4 or 5 Republican senators on board? Certainly not anything along the lines of what you favor in this post above.

  4. Richard L. Wolfe

    My question is just what is a Centrist? Is he like the independents who vote for the republican or democrat instead of the independent Nadar? What is the Centrist position on Abortion or the death penality. I think that I might like a Centrist position on term limits.

  5. Bart

    Simple fact: Democrats do not need Repubicans to pass this bill. Why bother at all? As we have been reminded time and time again, Obama and the Democrats won and this fact confirmed when Obama made his comment to the effect, “I won, that trumps you”. Nothing more needs to be said. Just ask bud and Rich. Leave the bipartisanship at the door and let the Democrats own this bill 100%. Let the Republicans take the opposing position and see where it takes us.
    The only reason some money was cut from the bill was to appease some of the liberal Republicans in congress and an unnecessary desire for the bill to have legitimacy with support from both sides of the aisle even if only one or two Republicans.
    Nonsense. It is either a good bill, partially good, or a bad bill. Democrats put it together without any Republican input so why the trip to Elkhart, Indiana to talk to people who work in the SUV and RV industry which is in the tank and will be further once the green agenda is fully enacted? (Thanks for the heads-up on that one Lee.) What is the message here? We are destroying your livelihood thru legislation that in essence will eliminate the vehicles you produce here but we want you to know that it is not our fault?
    Do we need a stimulus bill? Absolutely. Should it be done with input and consideration from all sides? Absolutely. Should the bill be examined line by line and each line given the opportunity to stand on its own? Absolutely. Will that happen? Absolutely not.
    We will have a stimulus package bill passed in a day or two. Rest assured of that simple fact. Obama has too much riding on it. Democrats have too much riding on it. Democrats have blamed Republicans for all of the ills of our country, never taking responsibility for their contrubutions at all. Again, just read the comments from bud and Rich.
    This bill needs to have one owner and one owner only. Let the Democrats have it.

  6. martin

    Seems to me the advantage of job creation is that everybody getting a job is going to pay taxes, some of which will apply against the debt of the stimulus. On the other hand, a tax cut is, by definition, a tax cut and money very likely down the tubes or under the mattress in these nervous times.
    Really, which is more fiscally responsible? And, we get to make sure more bridges don’t fall in the river. What’s wrong with that?
    One other thing, we might need to start some group therapy for those of us who are so terrified of socialism and communism. Who keeps stirring that up, Rush? What do you REALLY think the chances are that’s going to happen here? If it didn’t happen during the Great Depression, it’s unlikely to ever happen.

  7. Capital A

    This bill needs to have one owner and one owner only. Let the Democrats have it.
    Posted by: Bart | Feb 9, 2009 6:39:59 PM
    We will take it and we will own it, Bart. Your Grand Old Party has failed so consistently, that you would think you would have the good grace to just shut up with the premature criticism while the adults clean up your myriad messes.
    Let me repeat that: Your party and the policies you have supported have failed utterly. Own that blame, please, just as your Bushbaby mancrushes led you to unflinchingly support the previous, impotent administration.
    If this were sports, and God I wish this current state were as trivial, Republicans would be akin to Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees or Clemson Tigers fans — supporters of a team that is always supposed to “be something”, yet that team always fails to meet generated hype or the misused investment of resources attached to its efforts. You lack the good sense and grace to give credit for those more successful, even as you are proven as consistent losers in recent years.
    We know full well what Republicans are capable, or rather, INcapable of doing. Please stop wasting air with your worries at least until we discover the same for the current administration.

  8. murraywood

    I’m with you Bart, let the Dems own it. They’ve owned Congress and run this country into the ground for the past two years. Stellar job.

  9. Bart

    Capital A, welcome to the bud and Rich club of regressive policies and failed ideologies. Welcome to the club that so adamantly denies ANY Democrat involvement in any of the failed programs, bills, and economic incentives over the past 100 years. Welcome to the Ostrich Club where your head is buried as far in the sand as possible when it comes to taking responsibility for any mistakes past, present, and future.
    You and yours have been advocating the position for decades that all ills of the nation are to be placed squarely on the shoulders of Republicans and conservatives.
    I did not as you say, “unflinchingly support the previous, impotent administration.” Bush made several bad choices and I disagreed with him very strongly. He never used his veto enough. He never stood up and demanded from the bully pulpit stronger regulations and oversight of our financial institutions when he had the votes to get something done and he resisted for too long in Iraq sending enough troops to get the job done and us out of there. He listened to the wrong people about the possible aftermath of the initial invasion and allowed a jerk to dismantle the very organizations that should have been kept in place to prevent the chaos and civil disorder that took place afterwards. You don’t dismantle a house and expect an inexperienced novice to put it back together again. So, don’t go there until you know how I feel.
    To speak plainly, clearly, and loudly, as a conservative who tends to vote Republican, I do accept a fair share of the blame for failed policies in the past. I do understand that we are humans and as such, we screw up all the time. I do understand that there are conflicting policies and ideologies scrambling for the power position in politics. Problem is that you, bud, and Rich along with some others who comment on this blog have no foundation rooted in the reality of the human condition as your comments clearly indicate. Yours is a world of unrealistic expectations and demands.
    Utopia exists only in the works of fiction and literature. It exists only in songs written and sung by John Lennon, “Imagine”. Living in the real world is impossible for you and will always be so. Your world of Greek philosophers, intellectuals, and academics constitute a realm of bigots and racists of the worst kind. You imagine you are the only ones who understand and are actually helping but in truth, the slavery of the mind and soul you spread is worse than the slavery of chains. At least physical chains can be broken and cast away with effort and strength. Slavery of the mind is much more insidious, dibilitating, and difficult to break. You and yours have nurtured the weak and innocent into believing that what has been earned by others somehow belongs to them and they are entitled to an equal share without earning it and the results are clear. A series of generations of underachievers, social cripples, government dependent families, and those who don’t or won’t take responsibility for their own actions.
    Once you get Dodd, Franks, Carter, Clinton, and other social Democrats to admit or accept some responsibility for their part in this financial disaster, then I will give credence and credibility to what they say and/or ask of us. Until then, their words are nothing more than whispers and lies on the winds of failure.
    I am willing to acknowledge and accept a fair share of the blame for the failures of the administration and representatives sent to Washington, DC to act on our behalf. I have voted in every election for over 40 years. Doing so assigns a certain amount of responsibility to me. Some of the people I voted for, and along the way several Democrats have received my vote, have been failures and disappointments.
    Are you honest enough to admit the same and accept the fact that this current situation is not just the making of George Bush and the Republicans but it consists of everyone in Washington, past and present, making significant contributions to the witches brew before us? Are you honest enough to admit that the number of Democrats counted among the wealthiest in the nation outnumber the so-called rich Republicans? Are you honest enough to acknowledge that if anyone in Washington, Democrats and Republicans, had been serious about solving the problems when they became obvious and acted like adults, we might not be facing several years of economic uncertainty?
    Trash Bush all you will. It is your right in a democracy. But don’t tell me to keep silent. It is obvious that in victory, your true colors come through. I worry more about you and your willingness to shut me up than the remote chance that someone may have listened in on one of bud’s private phone calls.
    Our system is not a failure, the failure belongs to those responsible for administering oversight to it. Failure from both sides of the aisle. Failure from Democrats and Republicans alike who have made fortunes off of the uneducated and ignorant in the ways of finance and responsiblity. The uneducated in terms of education geared toward knowing how to survive in the real world, balance a checkbook, understand home finances, and all of the other ingredients necessary to have a successful family life. Not the world of letting the government take care of you. The list of failures is long and extensive and is authored by Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, Christians, athiests, secularists, Muslims, Bhuddists, and on and on.
    So, if you want to do the Reader’s Digest version, go for it. Reduce responsibility down to the one or two. That way, you can get away without revealing just how fraudulent your thinking really is. My comments usually include something from both sides and on the one I just did, there was an acknowledgement that the bill could be good, not so good or bad. I stated the obvious that there was no input from the Republican side and it is something the Democrats should own outright. For once, set the stage with players from one side only and see how well it is received and how it plays out in the long run. Will we have another long running play like “Cats” or “Phantom of the Opera” or another closed after one night?
    I repeat, I am very much in favor of Democrats owning this bill outright. I will concede the point that your side won, hands down. Obama is right when he said, “I won, that trumps you”. Now, the burden of proof is in your court. But, if you think for one moment I and others won’t voice our opposition and opinions loud and often, think again.
    Mancrush indeed! By the way, what the hell is a “Mancrush”? Also, how can you describe the previous administration as being “impotent”? If I go by the comments from you, bud, Rich, and the usual gang, it seems as if the previous administration was anything but impotent. You have been screaming about how often Bush has screwed everyone. 🙂

  10. Rich

    You’re an idiot. How can you claim that the Democrats have a “failed ideology” when it was a Republican administration over the last eight years that ran us into the ground economically and politically? Who’s been in power for the last eight years implementing their policies that, in retrospect, cannot be considered to have worked?
    Even if you say Bush did not live up to a Reaganesque approach to trickle-down economics favoring the rich and claiming that government was the problem instead of the solution, a regime of tax cuts has already been tried and shown not to work!!
    As for Brad, his latest editorial offering verges on the incoherent. Krugman is a nobel-prize winning economist. What are you, Brad??
    The editor of a local paper in a regional state that is increasingly becoming irrelevant on the national level thanks to its ideological intransigence and its history of rebellion, secession, oppression, poverty, and ignorance.
    S.C. has nothing to say on the national stage, and Graham and Sanford prove that fact!

  11. Lee Muller

    No, the Republicans shared power with Democrats from 2001 – 2006.
    2007 and 2008 were owned by Pelosi and Reid.
    They doubled the deficit in 2007 and quadrupled it in 2008. Their crooked, racist mortgage schemes brought down the banking system and automobile manufacturing.
    Now they turn to messing up the rest of the economy.

  12. Rich

    You live in an alternative universe where government is always evil and the free market is always right.
    Unfortunately, that’s not the universe we live in–a universe where the masters on Wall St. pay themselves billions in bonuses while their companies go belly up and accept federal largesse.
    Government IS the solution. Get used to it!!

  13. Bart

    I think I made it clear. You’re the idiot. Read the comment by Lee. Then look around the world and witness the failure of socialism and communism both of which you are a proponent and wish either one were the government we had. You have no credibility at all when you go off on one of your rants about the failures of the past 8 years and the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that your beloved party was and continues to be a MAJOR contributor to the effing mess we are in now. You are the epitomy of a total dumb ass ideologue who has no intellectual honesty. Your “Utopia” is one where the government dictates everything to the masses and if the masses don’t fall in lockstep with the official government doctrine, “off with their heads.”
    Bush’s policies did not create the situation we are in now. It was a collective effort by both sides and a failure of those operating in the system who failed it. Your concept of government being the answer to everything is the failure along with the belief that if your system becomes the one we live under, it will be perfect. It will be just as screwed up with imperfect people running it as the one we have now. Or is that concept too far removed from your fantasy world to be considered as valid?
    Tell me this one thing Rich. Once we reach your “Utopia’, who is going to pay the bills? Who will be the ones to take a chance and open a new business unless you already have millions available to finance a new one? Who are the richest of the rich in this country right now? It is not Republicans or conservatives. And with all of this wealth available from the limosine liberals, why are we in such a deep hole? If Bill Gates and Warren Buffett along with Soros and a very long list of others are so damn concerned about us common folk, what are they doing to help? I don’t recall any of the liberal rich giving up their fortunes and signing them over to you. Of course, they will give their time but don’t mess with their money. If you will bother to come down from your lofty perch, most of the philanthropic charities in America were funded by the “rich Republicans” over the history of this country. As a matter of fact, Obama worked or served with the Annenberg Foundation during his time in Chicago. I think it was a Republican supporter who started it before it became a liberal organization. Don’t recall many funded by Democrats, do you? Last time I checked, MoveOn.Org was not a charitable organization but a political one. One of the MicroSoft billionaires owns the Seattle Seahawks and supports an organization dedicated to contacting life on other planets. Mark Cuban, another left winger owns a professional basketball team. Need more examples.
    You are more dangerous in one minute than Bush was in 8 years. For all of your posturing about how Bush violated your civil rights, not once have you been able to come up with a documented example of an AMERICAN citizen being tortured or waterboarded. Not once have you been able to come up with one example of an AMERICAN citizen in this country having an illegal wiretap on his or her phone. All we have heard is the usual ultra left crap out of you.
    Roe V Wade is still intact. There is no official government religion forced on us. Gays are recognized as domestic partners. Social Security and Medicare, programs I support are still there. Government programs for children are still available. The list goes on and on.
    It was Carter who started the process that eventually led us to the subprime fiasco we are now buying our way out of. Clinton furthered the cause with his initiative and support of deregulation in 1999. It was Dodd and Franks who defended the worst perpetrators of all, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It was corporate greed from Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike who led us into this financial mess. It was the uneducated who were led to believe they could buy a home worth $250,000 on a salary of $25,000 because they have been told by you and yours all of their lives the government would take care of them.
    At least I have a pair large enough to admit, acknowledge, and take responsibility for my part and be accountable for those I have supported, you don’t. The path you take is to blame everyone else, especially those you don’t agree with. I won’t try to tell you to stop making comments. Please keep it up. Every time you do, your lack of honesty and display of willful ignorance is on display for all to see.

  14. p.m.

    “…Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees or Clemson Tigers fans — supporters of a team that is always supposed to ‘be something’, yet that team always fails to meet generated hype or the misused investment of resources attached to its efforts.” – Capital A
    Clemson has won 18 conference football championships, Cap:
    1900 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, 1902 SIAA, 1939 Southern Conference, 1940 Southern Conference, 1948 Southern, 1956 Atlantic Coast Conference, 1958 ACC, 1959 ACC, 1965 ACC, 1966 ACC, 1967 ACC, 1978 ACC, 1981 ACC, 1982 ACC, 1986 ACC, 1987 ACC,
    1988 ACC, 1991 ACC.
    As you can see, there was a long lull between 1902 and 1939, and between 1991 and now.
    Here is the list of USC’s football championships: ACC, 1969.
    An anomaly punctuated USC’s eternal lull.
    Dallas, meanwhile, has won five Super Bowls, 10 conference championships and 18 division championships while making the playoffs 27 times.
    The New York Yankees have won the World Series 26 times and the American League pennant 39 times.
    So what was your point?
    Oh, that’s right, that Republicans are to blame for everything.
    Sure. None of the bankers are Democrats, and all Democrats pay their taxes on time.
    You do your party a disservice when you misrepresent the facts.

  15. p.m.

    Hey, Rich, isn’t ideological intransigence when when your sense of right and wrong doesn’t jump all over the map based on what would benefit you the most?
    Isn’t that a good thing?
    Isn’t that what the Bill of Rights was based on?

  16. Lee Muller

    The small Bush tax cuts for everyone in 2001 immediately ended the Clinton Recession of 2000.
    Even after the 9/11 attacks took $5 TRILLION out of the economy, the private sector continued the recovery in 2002, giving us the lowest unemployment in decades and generating a huge revenue surplus, enough to pay for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and still balance the budget.
    But Democrat pushed for $600 billion deficits, and Republicans compromised with them to run $350 billion deficits, all for new social welfare programs.
    Then, in 2007, the Democrats got control of Congress and ran a $500 billion deficit, even with reduced war spending.
    In 2008, unemployment was 4.5% until August, when the corrupt Democrat mortgage scams started to come apart. Their $500 billion deficit ballooned to over $1,200 billion dollars. In 2009, the deficit will be over $2,000 billion.
    Socialism and liberalism created this mess, and it is making it worse.

  17. bud

    The Paul Krugman column I picked for tomorrow’s op-ed page has some things seriously wrong with it, as do most Krugman columns:
    You completely undercut the rest of your article with this bit of pre-packaged bias. Given the fact that Krugman is a Nobel prize winning economist and Brad is, well, a bipartisan partisan there is only one conclusion left to reach: Krugman is right and Brad is hopelessly, completely, totally, utterly, 110%, foolishly wrong. No sense in arguing his absurd logic. What’s the point? He’s not about to actually consider this issue on facts. It’s all about process, not results. The only real question is why someone with an actual brain could come to such a warped conclusion.

  18. Birch Barlow

    If Clemson is like the Republican Party, then USC is like the CPUSA. They have never won anything of importance and even birds of a similar feather (liberals in the case of the CPUSA and SEC fans in the case of USC) think they’re delusional.

  19. Lee Muller

    Paul Krugman has no experience in the area of fiscal policy, nor any experience in business economics. No business pays him for his analysis or advice. Newspapers pay him to write appeals to authority articles for big government.
    His is not a practicing economist. He is a professor who teaches economics in college. His narrow area of expertise in s econometric models of one area of international trade.
    That’s why his opinion columns are so vague, and devoid of explanation of his political positions. He asks the reader to trust him even though he is unable to explain anything, because he has a PhD on his wall.

  20. Rich

    I keep on reminding all of you who won the election! The stimulus is going through and once a liberal Republican from NH is named to the Senate by the Democratic governor and Al Franken takes his rightful place as jr. senator from Minn. (in spite of the Republicans’ blatant attempt to steal another election), then we’ll have the magic 60 votes needed to keep the will of the people from being thwarted.
    Sorry, guys, S.C. is usually on the wrong side of history. Just think of what this place would be like if the South had won the Civil War. I shudder to think. . .

  21. Lee Muller

    Paul Krugman is not a practicing economist because he has no clients. No business pays him for his advice. He is a political pundit with a PhD.

  22. bud

    No, the Republicans shared power with Democrats from 2001 – 2006.
    Actually there was shared power between late 2001 and January 2003. That’s only because Jumpin’ Jim Jeffords got fed up with the GOP and became an independent who caucused with the Democrats. Between Jan. 2003 and Jan. 2007 the GOP controlled EVERYTHING: The White House, Senate, US House, a majority of governerships and state assemblies. Plus they had a majority on the Supremen Court.

  23. Lee Muller

    Between 2001 and 2006, the Democrats submitted budgets that would have run deficits of $650 billion a year.
    As soon as they got power in 2007, they double the deficits with more welfare spending.
    In 2008, they ran deficits of about $1.2 trillion. We still don’t have the final total, yet.
    Right now, Democrats are threatening to run a $2.5 trillion deficit in 2009.


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