Monday, February 11, 2008

Who's Tricky Now? Krugman Says Obama Supporters Almost "Cult of Personality"

In his column today in the New York Times the usually prescient economist Paul Krugman stands on the border of the “Nixonland” he so despises: “a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo. . . the land of smash and grab and anything to win.”

Calling his column “Hate Springs Eternal,” he warns that the Obama campaign is on the brink of becoming a “cult of personality.” Sandwiching this broadside between attacks on Nixon, on one side, and against the Bush political machine on the other, he leaves no doubt where the hate comes from: Republicans and the Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

“I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here,” Krugman writes, “most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. . . What’s particularly saddening is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of “Clinton rules” [by which]— pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.”

Krugman makes a good point. Too often in politics small flaws real or imagined are trumped up into major character defects, signs of deviance, or markers of outright evil. Sometimes this turns into outright demonization. As he claims, that was done to Al Gore and many others, including the Clintons. Is he now doing it to Obama and his supporters?

The key ingredients of unwarranted demonization are these: first, the leveling a very serious charge that someone is immoral, deviant or evil, and second, doing so without care for the consequences or providing the evidence.

"Cult of personality” is, indeed, a very serious charge. It's a claim of deviance, if not evil. Yet there's no evident consideration of the consequences for the people he is lumping together in his attack, really not just the Obama campaign, but its supporters as well. Nor is any evidence provided-- none.

Krugman seems content to use techniques that might make “Tricky Dick” Nixon smile. In saying Obama supporters are "dangerously close" to becoming a "cult of personality"--rather than saying they're already there-- Krugman can pose as issuing a warning rather than engaging in an attack--if only the misguided would come to their senses. Second, he suggests the charge must be true because others are also saying it--but he not only provides no evidence, he doesn't even tell us who said so.

Other assumptions also abound, such as Obama supporters are "happy with the Clinton rules." Or his implication that Obama supporters may not support Clinton if she's the nominee because they only care about "hero worship." Where is the evidence that has Krugman so worked up?

I would even go further to suggest that Krugman also stigmatizes Republicans as a group here, as if only Republicans are capable of demonizing Democrats through character assassination.

To read Krugman’s article in full and judge for yourself please go to: Hate Springs Eternal. To express your views to Mr. Krugman go to: E mail Paul Krugman.

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