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Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Krugman Attacks Daschle, Dean

In what we can only describe as a "blue on blue" friendly fire incident, Professor Krugman today criticizes prominent Democrats Daschle and Dean for a lack of patriotism. We are suprised by the Professor's position, but persist in our reflexive disagreement.

The earnest Professor's latest effort, "The Last Refuge", foreshadows disaster from the opening:

...Last week John Kerry told an audience that "what we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States."

Surely this is a topic that Mr. Kerry would prefer to avoid, although we have not. Quickly, then - as a Presidential aspirant, Mr. Kerry is under a special obligation to comport himself in a manner appropriate to the office he seeks. His "regime change" comment is an amusing Democratic Cocktail Party quip. However, it is simply not appropriate for a responsible leader of the presumably Loyal Opposition to draw an equivalence between the Constitutionally selected George Bush and the genocidal tryant we seek to remove from power. By fortunate coincidence, Mr. Kristof explains:

One of America's most historic and bipartisan traditions is to do an execrable job explaining itself to the world. The average Fortune 500 company is far more sophisticated at getting its message across abroad than the U.S. government has been.

To its great credit, the Bush administration gets this....

"By improving the way you get your message across, you have the ability to save lives," notes Jim Wilkinson, a former White House press official who is running the Central Command's P.R. campaign. And he's absolutely right: the battle for global opinion is less dramatic than the one in Baghdad but no less important.

And John Kerry, as a prominent Democrat, has a role to play in that battle. The coalition is attempting to depict itself as liberators of Iraq, and reassure the world that we do not come as conquerors. For a person in Kerry's position to suggest, even in jest, that we are no better than Saddam is wrong.

We have seen the damage a sharp tongued and unrestrained Defense Secretary can do with quips such as "old Europe". If Mr. Kerry lacks the discipline and judgement to restrain his own wit, perhaps he could campaign for a different position, and abandon the role of national leader to which he seems to be ill-suited.

Right, then - what about Prof. Krugman's criticism of Daschle and Dean? Somehow, the topic of the column veers to "patriotism", which the Professor defines thusly:

The biggest test of a politician's patriotism is whether he is willing to sacrifice some of his political agenda for the sake of the nation. And that's a test our current leaders have failed with flying colors.

My goodness. The Times has recently noted that Hispanics are demographically under-represented in our nation's armed forces. Surely, the Professor is aware of this, just as he must be aware that a handful (OK, a BIG handful) of Democrats led by Sen. Daschle oppose the bipartisan effort of 55 Senators to bring the nomination of the Hispanic Miguel Estrada to a final vote. Confirming Mr. Estrada as a Federal judge might be an inviting sign to our nation's Hispanics; evidently, Prof. Krugman believes that Mr. Daschle fails this simple test of patriotism by rigidly clinging to his own agenda in defiance of the evident national interest and bipartisan consensus.

Similary, Mr. Dean comes under implied attack for continuing his Quixotic anti-war efforts. Mr. Krugman seems to believe that simple patriotism requires Mr. Dean to conform to the position held by an overwhelming majority of Americans, and sacrifice his own agenda to unite behind the President.

I disagree, of course - responsible disagreement is a vital part of the American experience. Consistent with that, I support the right of Professor Krugman to define Daaschle and Dean as lacking in patriotism.

OK, I hear the Carvilling from some careful readers (note: "Carvilling" is like "cavilling", but you keep spinning long after credibility is gone) - the good Prof never mentioned Daschle or Dean. You got me! But his logic certainly applies to them, now doesn't it? Anyway, let's see who he did mention:

...Republicans immediately sought to portray this remark [Kerry's quip] as little short of treason. "Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief at a time when America is at war," declared Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Notice that Mr. Racicot wasn't criticizing Mr. Kerry's choice of words. Instead, he denounced Mr. Kerry because he "dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief" — knowing full well that Mr. Kerry was simply talking about the next election. Mr. Racicot, not Mr. Kerry, is the one who crossed a grave line; never in our nation's history has it been considered unpatriotic to oppose an incumbent's re-election.

I will swarm to Mr. Racicot's defense. First, as an unelected party hack, he can be held to a lower standard than Presidential aspirants. Next, consider the clear text of Kerry's remark: "what we need now", emphasis added. Given Kerry's personal history of armed, violent confrontation, perhaps Mr. Racicot was worried that Mr. Kerry proposed to take it to the streets immediately.

OK, enough fun. Mr. Racicot managed to miss a six inch putt iwth his press release. However, the full text is better, and conveys the notion that it is Sen. Kerry's judgement, not his patriotism, that is at issue.

Prof. Krugman also takes aim at Tom DeLay, who criticized Kerry's decision to put his personal Presidential ambition ahead of the national interest with the pithy "America before New Hampshire". Since DeLay did not criticize Kerry's patriotism, this seems to be an odd rebuttal.

Finally, we have Kerry himself saying that "''It is possible that the word `regime change' is too harsh. Perhaps it is.''

So, do we all agree? Kerry and I think he was out of line. I disagree with Prof. Krugman's definiton of "patriotism", and encourage Democratic Party leaders to continue with their responsible dissent.

UPDATE: More reaction! From former NYC Mayor (and Dem) Ed Koch: I think Senator Kerry is going to end up on the garbage heap because of his quote attacking the president and, in effect, by using language, which was, we need a regime change here at home, and that the president, in effect, has embarrassed us by the way he has conducted himself internationally."

Senator John Edwards: the senator used a "poor choice of words."

A Republican flack: "We're not accusing him of being unpatriotic. He went back on his word not to go negative in his campaign while our troops are getting shot at in Iraq. He's clearly putting his political ambitions ahead of the foreign policy of the U.S. against Iraq," said Jim Dyke, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

"His willingness to say what he did reveals a lack of principles and judgment to be president."

Hmm, that makes me sound like a Republican flack too.

UPDATE 2: I cannot keep a straight face, as TAPPED delivers this:

"Now would be a good time for all the Democratic presidential contenders to put out statements supporting John Kerry's comments calling for "regime change" in the U.S."

Yes, gents (and ladies), the kool-aid is by the door. Drink hearty!

Hmm. Upon further reflection, is this an attempt to eliminate the entire field, thereby clearing the way for Hillary!?

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