Paul Krugman: The Emperor is naked


Richard Moore

 Right on the Edge 
By Barbara Belejack 
The Texas Observer 

Monday 22 October 2004 
Paul Krugman talks about the war, the election, and the nakedness of the 

In April 2003, as TV screens repeatedly showed images of
Saddam Hussein's statue toppling in Baghdad, New York Times
columnist Paul Krugman was publishing a column that proved to
be right on target. "One has to admit that the Bush people are
very good at conquest, military and political," he wrote.
"They focus all their attention on an issue; they pull out all
the stops; they don't worry about breaking the rules. This
technique brought them victory in the Florida recount battle,
the passage of the 2001 tax cut, the fall of Kabul, victory in
the midterm elections, and the fall of Baghdad." "Conquest and
Neglect," the column published April 11, 2003, is among the
new material that appears in the recently published paperback
edition of The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New
Century (Norton), Krugman's masterful indictment of the Bush
administration and the radical revolution designed to change
forever the political landscape of America. During a recent
trip to Austin, Krugman met with the Observer. The following
is an excerpt of the interview:

Texas Observer : The paperback version of your book ends with
a quote from John Dean's Worse Than Watergate: "I've been
watching all the elements fall into place for two possible
political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the
Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that
will take the air out of democracy." Where are we right now?

Paul Krugman : We're right on the edge between those two
possibilities. Things have shifted quite a lot over the past
few days. On the one hand, the ruling party really doesn't
believe in democratic norms. They've been trying to rig the
election in a number of ways, and they've rolled out [the
idea] that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for the terrorists,
in effect. That's a deeply undemocratic thing, and if they
win, they will try to institutionalize that. On the other
hand, if they lose and the records are opened-it's pretty
obvious that it will be devastating. So it's a weird moment.
You feel like people are noticing the nakedness of the
emperor-finally-but either just at the last minute or maybe
not quite in time.

What happened here after 9/11 was this adulation for the
leadership that completely swamped any rational perception of
who these guys were and what they were like. [The first
presidential] debate had an effect partly because it was as if
for the first time in three-plus years, people were able to
see without the shroud of glory.

TO : But does the Democratic Party finally get it?

PK : Howard Dean gets it, and it's been interesting to watch
him. Having lost the nomination he's been transformed bit by
bit from an iconoclast that the party wants to distance itself
from, to an effective spokesman for the Kerry campaign. But I
still think there are a lot of people who don't want to face
up to it.

People have no idea just how rich the rich have gotten.
They're more likely to get agitated over the idea that some
congressman is getting a few-thousand-dollar junket, and it
doesn't register with them that some plutocrat is getting a
vastly larger tax break that is going to crimp the ability to
provide [government] programs.

The Congressional Budget Office has basically validated
everything that critics have said about Bush's tax policies.
Sure enough, the tax cuts are bigger as a percentage of income
the further up the scale you go. And if you put that together
with the CBO's estimates of incomes, you find out that a third
of the tax cuts went to the top one percent of families. That
will grow over time because the estate tax repeal hasn't fully
kicked in yet. The top one percent of families got more tax
cuts than the bottom 80 percent of families. We know from
other estimates that people earning more than a million a year
received more in tax cuts than the bottom 60 percent of
families. It really is very heavily elitist, very tilted.

TO : One of the things we learned from the first
debate-according to the president-is that the Taliban is no
longer in existence.

PK : Afghanistan is really a shameful thing. I was in favor of
our going in there: Al Qaeda is based in Afghanistan, the
Taliban is sheltering them, they attack us, we go in.... The
International Security Force wanted to extend their operations
beyond Kabul, and they were willing to put in more soldiers.
And the United States basically said, "No, we want to do our
search and destroy operations outside Kabul. We don't want you
guys to spread out." But we didn't put in enough soldiers to
secure the country. And so the warlords are back, and the
Tailban is back.

This business about the Taliban not being in existence-it's
one of those things where you're wondering what is happening:
Was he just being casual, and what he meant to say is that we
overthrew them, or does he really not know?

In the first debate, Bush said that when Kerry voted to
authorize force [in Iraq] he saw the same intelligence Bush
did-which may not be a lie. What we know is that important
intelligence was withheld from the Senate. They were never
told that most of the aluminum tube story was garbage. They
were never told that the Niger uranium purchase story was
garbage. So, important intelligence was withheld. But we don't
know whether Bush ever knew any of that, or looked at it....
I've heard that Bush didn't know just a few months before the
Iraq war that there was a difference between Sunnis and

What's interesting and sad is how predictable so many things
were. This whole arc has a nightmare feel to it: You see it
all happening, you see how it's going to happen, and not
enough people will believe you. And then it just keeps going
along. If people would step back and think to themselves,
"What happened to America, the great superpower, over these
last three years?", they would be wondering why we can't get
rid of Bush, why we have to wait another couple months. They
managed to get us trapped in this completely hopeless
situation, for which there's no outcome that in some sense
won't look like a big defeat for the United States. The only
question is, how big? And a bunch of people will have died for
a mistake.

TO : The day after the election, what's the column if Kerry

PK : Do not be magnanimous in victory. I hope the people
around him understand that this is not politics as we know it.
It's not, "OK, well, we won an election. After the election
we'll get together and work in a bipartisan way to help the
country." They didn't work in a bipartisan way when the United
States was attacked. They immediately saw it as a way to
achieve political dominance. Kerry has got to understand that
he has a window of opportunity to expose what's going on and
to rock these people back to the point where we can try to
reclaim the normal workings of democracy. Unless there's a
true miracle and the Democrats take the House-which is
extremely unlikely-it's going to be very bitter political
civil war from Day One. The House leadership will try to
undermine Kerry. I'm sure they'll try to impeach him almost
immediately. On anything.

We can go on and on about Tom DeLay, but the point is Tom
DeLay is not an aberrant thing. He's not an accident. The
whole thrust of where we've been going for a couple of decades
in this country has been towards putting someone like Tom
DeLay in a position of great power. So, my column to Kerry, my
open letter to him if he wins, will be: Do not be magnanimous.
You need to expose and dismantle this machine.

TO : Assuming they don't shred everything beforehand.

PK : They can't shred the people. The biggest thing would be
to end the reign of terror in the agencies, so that the CIA
and the Treasury Department-the civil servants-can talk about
what actually happened. It's obvious that there was intense
pressure placed upon the agencies to come up with the
conclusion that [the Administration] wanted. But very few
people are willing to say that, because these guys play rough.
There's a lot of funny stuff involving the Justice Department,
where officials who've criticized Ashcroft's handling of
stuff-which is disastrous, right? Not a single successful
terror prosecution [but] a lot of grandstanding-have found
themselves subject to internal investigations. If we can get
to a point where these people can speak freely, it will matter
a lot. Homeland Security: I want people to be able to talk
freely about the timing of terror alerts. You can draw a chart
and it's obvious that terror alerts increase when Bush is down
in the polls and vanish when he's up in the polls. But we need
someone to go on the record and say that they've been used as
a political tool.

TO : In writing about the cult of personality surrounding the
president, you mention the 27 photographs of him that appear
in the 2005 Budget.

PK : I actually went to check and looked at a budget from the
Clinton years. It's a rather dry-looking thing with charts and
tables. The Bush budget is very much short on charts and
tables-it's better not to think about what would be in them.
But it has these themes, uplifting themes of various kinds and
each of them is illustrated with multiple glossy color photos
of Bush doing presidential-type things. Obviously you see him
standing in front of a giant American flag talking about
homeland security, but you also see him hiking along a
mountain trail, comforting the elderly, helping children learn
how to read. It really does look like something from a
Communist country. You know, I joked when I wrote about it
that they forgot the photo of him swimming the Yangtze River.
It's very un-American, but it fits in with Operation Flight
Suit-that kind of stagecraft, that glorification of the
individual leader. What I wrote at the time of the carrier
landing is that in the American tradition, the president is a
civilian-even if he's a former general. The president does not
appear in uniform; he's not a generalísimo; he's not a hero.
That's why the Constitution says the president is the
commander-in-chief: to make it very clear that civilian
authority, not military, runs the country. And then here we
are doing these things that are really something that you
would expect to see in a banana republic.

TO : What's the column if Bush wins?

PK : I don't really want to think about that. The problem is
there are different ways he could win, too.

TO : Jimmy Carter has already written an op-ed in The
Washington Post saying that the basic international conditions
for a fair election are not there in Florida.

PK : We're within inches of having most of the world, actually
all of the world, and quite a few Americans, believing that
we're no longer a functioning democracy. That could happen a
month from now. Moderates and liberals made a terrible mistake
in 2000. Their attitude was well, this was very bad, but the
right thing to do was to basically gloss over it and pretend
it's okay. That just encouraged these guys. It should have
been a mobilizing point. Instead, everything we really know
about the voting looks worse this year.... Sometimes it's a
little soothing to read history. I have developed a big taste
for the novels of Alan Furst, who writes these historical
thrillers set in the thirties and forties in Europe. I think
the very darkness of it-the fact that we know that it all came
out okay, makes you sort of feel better. The other book I read
in the last couple of weeks was Rubicon, a new, rather
well-written story about the fall of the Roman republic. You
find yourself doing that sort of thing. Me and Robert Byrd.

© : t r u t h o u t 2004 

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

"Global Transformation: Whey We Need It And How We Can Achieve It", current 
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      Reichstag fire."  
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