Friday, December 26, 2014

When Pangloss Attacks

When two Democratic pundits write essentially the same column about what a great year it's been, you're tempted to don your tinfoil Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and ponder whether the game's afoot.

 In this episode, the detective travels back in time and comes face to face with a villain even worse than Professor Moriarty: the dreaded Doctor Pangloss!

You might remember Doc P from Voltaire's Candide, which satirizes phony glass-half-full optimism in the face of every unspeakable catastrophe known to man. Pangloss literally spans the globe to find the bright sides to the Lisbon earthquake, to the Inquisition, to Western hemisphere plunder and genocide, and all the wars and diseases and famines in between. If you can't find something to be glad about in any crisis or cataclysm, that's your problem. If you think life sucks, you've simply been listening to the political enemies of the feel-good State.

Today's Panglossian scourge is brought to you by Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Michael Grunwald of Politico. You might think one guy is plagiarizing the other, but that would be totally unfair. They're both simply aping the talking points mouthed by President Obama and his cohort in the neoliberal echo chamber: life is good, and America is exceptional, and the naysayers are evil for telling you otherwise. Sure, things may seem dire to millions of us, but that's mainly because the Republicans will tell any lie to make Obama look bad. If you'd only pay attention and turn off Fox News once in awhile, then you'd hear the choirs of angels getting louder all the time.

Your misery is all in your head. So let them gaslight you into meek submission through some message-disciplined tandem columnizing:

All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do.
Yet if you look back at what actually happened over the past year, you see something completely different. Amid all the derision, a number of major government policies worked just fine — and the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.
Start with Ebola, a subject that has vanished from the headlines so fast it’s hard to remember how pervasive the panic was just a few weeks ago. Judging from news media coverage, especially but not only on cable TV, America was on the verge of turning into a real-life version of “The Walking Dead.” And many politicians dismissed the efforts of public health officials to deal with the disease using conventional methods. Instead, they insisted, we needed to ban all travel to and from West Africa, imprison anyone who arrived from the wrong place, and close the border with Mexico. No, I have no idea why anyone thought that last item made sense.(Krugman, Tidings of Comfort.)
Let’s face it: The press has a problem reporting good news. Two Americans died of Ebola and cable TV flipped out; now we’re Ebola-free and no one seems to care. The same thing happened with the flood of migrant children across the Mexican border, which was a horrific crisis until it suddenly wasn’t. Nobody’s going to win a Pulitzer Prize for recognizing that we’re smoking less, driving less, wasting less electricity and committing less crime. Police are killing fewer civilians, and fewer police are getting killed, but understandably, after the tragedies in Ferguson and Brooklyn, nobody’s thinking about that these days. The media keep us in a perpetual state of panic about spectacular threats to our safety — Ebola, sharks, terrorism — but we’re much likelier to die in a car accident. Although, it ought to be said, much less likely than we used to be; highway fatalities are down 25 percent in a decade. (Grunwald, Everything Is Awesome!)
What’s more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength — 5 percent growth in the last quarter! Oh, and not that it matters very much, but there are some people who like to claim that economic success should be judged by the performance of the stock market. And stock prices, which hit a low point in March 2009, accompanied by declarations from prominent Republican economists that Mr. Obama was killing the market economy, have tripled since then. Maybe economic management hasn’t been that bad, after all. (Krugman, Tidings of Comfort)
Come to think of it, the 62 percent of Americans who described the economy as “poor” in a CNN poll a week before the Republican landslide in the midterm elections were also wrong. I guess that sounds elitist. Second-guessing the wisdom of the public may be the last bastion of political correctness; if ordinary people don’t feel good about the economy, then the recovery isn’t supposed to be real. But aren’t the 11 million Americans who have landed new jobs since 2010 and the 10 million Americans who have gotten health insurance since 2013 ordinary Americans? It’s true that wage growth has remained slow, but the overall economic trends don’t jibe with the public’s lousy mood. And the public definitely does get stuff wrong.( Grunwald, Everything Is Awesome!)
Finally, there’s the hidden-in-plain-sight triumph of Obamacare, which is just finishing up its first year of full implementation. It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign against health reform — which has played up every glitch, without ever mentioning that the problem has been solved, and invented failures that never happened — that I fairly often encounter people, some of them liberals, who ask me whether the administration will ever be able to get the program to work. Apparently nobody told them that it is working, and very well. (Krugman, Tidings of Comfort)
The steps we took nearly six years ago to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  Over the past 57 months, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.
Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth since the ‘90s.  America is now the number one producer of oil and gas, saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  The auto industry we rescued is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year alone.  And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China.  We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people. (Barack Obama, weekly address, 12/20/14)
All events are linked together in the best of possible worlds; for, after all, if you had not been driven from a fine castle by being kicked in the backside for love of Miss CunĂ©gonde, if you hadn’t been sent before the Inquisition, if you hadn’t traveled across America on foot, if you hadn’t given a good sword thrust to the baron, if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from the good land of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be sitting here eating candied citron and pistachios.(Pangloss, Candide.)
Krugman and Grunwald both like to portray themselves as "pragmatic progressives" who admonish us to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this best of all possible worlds. They are neoliberal shills, of the type Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has termed "radical" in their own passive-aggressive way. They are corporate Democrats whose m.o. is to regularly call out both the right and left for "extremism." They deflect attention from White House corruption and plutocratic ownership of the government by effortlessly cherrypicking instances where GOP shills were wrong (Ebola, climate change, the child immigrant invasion, Obama's alleged hatred of big business), and using this mendacity  to prop up the Wall Street Dems. And to prove what stand-up guys they are, they always honorably add the qualifier that Democratic initiatives have been more tepid "than we would have liked". But what's a president to do in the face of such blind hatred and nihilism?

In short, lesser evilism is all they've got. 

They're of the type that will defend their political party, right or wrong. They're of the type that can condemn Bush-era torture out of one side of their mouth and gloss over Obama-era drone assassinations with the other.

As a matter of fact, Grunwald (who then worked at Time) gained notoriety last year when he Tweeted "I can't wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange."

He later apologized for the Tweet, but whined that just one ill-conceived message should not be grounds for condemnation. One Tweet, he said, isn't who he is -- the same way that "torturing some folks" isn't who America is. He also fumed that only right-wing libertarians should have a problem with Obama's drones, that all criticism of the White House -- be it that of the GOP against environmental regulations or that of progressives against security state overreach -- is similarly deranged.

Friedersdorf analyzed this authoritarian, Obamabotic mindset, so eerily reminiscent of Bush's crazed message to the Iraq War critics: "You're either with us or against us."
It is nevertheless worth dwelling on his tweet a moment longer, because it illuminates a type that is common but seldom pegged in America. You see, Grunwald is a radical ideologue. It's just that almost no one recognizes it. The label "radical ideologue" is usually used to describe Noam Chomsky or members of the John Birch Society. We think of radical ideologues as occupying the far right or left. Lately a lot of people seem to think that The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald is a radical (often they wrongly conflate the style with which he expresses his views with their substance). 
But Grunwald graduated from Harvard, spent a decade at the Washington Post, and now works as a senior correspondent at Time. How radical could someone with that resume possibly be?
Extremely so.
For Krugman's part, he entirely avoids addressing such Obaman civil liberties atrocities as drone strikes and surveillance on Americans and the war on whistleblowers and suppression of the free press. His latest contribution to the established order (besides his serial shilling for the Affordable Care Act, that is) has been to join in the anti-Putin chorus, without even seeing fit to mention that the neocons in the Obama administration helped foment a coup against the democratically-elected Ukraine government. Robert Parry over at ConsortiumNews has some good takedowns of Krugman's descent into party-line propaganda here and here.

Parry is right. The sycophantic "liberal" columnists in our midst are starting to exude a distinctly totalitarian aroma. Krugman and Grunwald lack the basic honesty to admit that the economic growth (aka corporate profits) is due largely to speculative bubbles enabled by the further whittling away of Wall Street regulation, as well as by the brutal war on workers: demands by the elite bosses for increased labor output at stagnating or reduced wages. Neither liberal pundit saw fit to mention the ever widening income disparity, or that orders for durable goods fell for the third month in a row, or that home sales are declining.

The disease of Panglossitis is infecting and suffocating us.


Pearl said...

It is interesting that the majority of comments to Krugman's rosy column defended Obama and blamed the Republicans and fell for the usual urge to support the democrats based on imaginary progress. However, although there were very few honest responses, many of them were put in the NYTimes recommended column with the yellow seal.
Are the NYTimes editors more liberal now than Krugman and adorers? One can only dream.

Pearl said...

It's a Wonderful Life, Comrade via @sharethis

From Truthout. Interesting comments from readers including myself.

Bert Gold, Frederick, Maryland said...

41 million people lack health insurance in this exceptional nation in the best of all possible worlds.

Yes, in America real wages are stalled or falling:

US Manufacturing remains in decline:

But, sure, I understand that those rose colored glasses distort everything. Especially for sheeple.

Denis Neville said...

Christmas is a sad season for the poor.

“How unbearable at times are people who are happy, people for whom everything works out.” - Anton Chekhov

Valerie Tweedie said...

All I know is that the practices of investment bankers which caused the economic meltdown are still allowed, thanks to Obama sitting on his hands in the year after he was elected. Which means we will have another meltdown, probably not in the so distant future. Extraordinary rendition (torture) is worse under Obama than it was under Bush and Obama is pushing for the T.P.P which is going devastate small businesses and wreck the economies of all the small countries caught up in the TPP net. Regulation is down, the safety net is torn and the country has become more self-righteously selfish.

From where I sit, the world has gotten worse under Obama, not better.