A Willful Ignorance
By PAUL KRUGMAN
According to The New York Times, President Bush was genuinely surprised to learn from moderate Islamic leaders that they had become deeply distrustful of American intentions. The report on the "perception gap" suggests that the leader of the war on terror has no idea how badly that war â€” which must, ultimately, be a war for hearts and minds â€” is going.
Mr. Bush's ignorance may reflect his lack of curiosity: "The best way to get the news," he says, "is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff." Two words: emperor, clothes.
But there's something broader going on: a sort of willful ignorance, supposedly driven by moral concerns but actually reflecting domestic politics. Surely it's important to understand how others see us, but a new, post 9/11 version of political correctness has made it difficult even to discuss their points of view. Any American who tries to go beyond "America good, terrorists evil," who tries to understand â€” not condone â€” the growing world backlash against the United States, faces furious attacks delivered in a tone of high moral indignation. The attackers claim to be standing up for moral clarity, and some of them may even believe it. But they are really being used in a domestic political struggle.
Muslims are completely wrong to think that the U.S. is engaged in a war against Islam. But that misperception flourishes in part because the domestic political strategy of the Bush administration â€” no longer able to claim the Iraq war was a triumph, and with little but red ink to show for its economic plans â€” looks more and more like a crusade. "Election Boils Down to a Culture War" was the title of Mr. Fineman's column. But the analysis was all about abortion and euthanasia, and now we hear that opposition to gay marriage will be a major campaign theme. This isn't a culture war â€” it's a religious war.
Which brings me back to my starting point: we'll lose the fight against terror if we don't make an effort to understand how others think. Yet because of a domestic political struggle that seems ever more centered on religion, such attempts at understanding are shouted down.
I was watching Crossfire when Tucker Carlson said that Krugman was accusing his enemies of a vast conspiracy. I should have known better than to take him seriously.
The right hates Krugman for one simple reason: he's right. Consistantly and clearly on both economics and politics. And they cannot stand it. More importantly, they cannot touch him. He is a tenured professor at Princeton and perpetually short-listed for a Nobel Prize. They can't get him fired, because, quite frankly, he doesn't need to work for the Times. He has a job and is quite good at it.
So he has unlimited freedom to say what he wants. The odds are good that he could win both a Nobel and Pulitzer in one calendar year. Compared to the ignorant hacks on the right, Krugman actually knows how to use facts coherently. He is a politician's worst nightmare, an opponent you cannot harm. If he were to lose his column, he could syndicate. If they forced him from Princeton, he'd have a job in a day. So all they can do is discredit him and they're failing badly at that.
It also helps that he's in the mainstream of his profession. More of his peers agree with him than disagree. So they can't even dispute his qualifications. The fact that he's quite modest and calm also helps. His only distinctive feature is that he is an excellent writer. He writes clearly and cleanly and doesn't hide behind jargon.
When we look back at the Bush era, Krugman will get a lot of credit for his writing on Bush.
posted by Steve @ 7:52:00 PM