Underestimating the Task and the President (or Krugman At It Again)
Does the difference between analytical and emotional intelligence confuse you? Then read Paul Krugman’s piece today. It explains perfectly, albeit inadvertently.
Entitled “Getting to Crazy,” it’s a column-long scold. It takes Republicans, Republican sympathizers, and even insufficiently proactive neutrals to task for allowing one of our two ruling parties to stray from reason and common sense.
As a matter of analysis and economics, the column is factual and accurate. It reiterates the “extraordinary concessions” in the President’s best debt-reduction offer—a deal “overwhelmingly of spending cuts, [with] draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility.” It describes this offer as “far to the right of what the average American voter prefers” and even “what the average Republican voter prefers.” Then it notes that “the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency—any Democratic presidency[,]” citing both the Clinton and Obama experiences.
Next Krugman’s piece notes that the GOP would have considered rejected Democratic offers on health care and Social Security a “conservative triumph” if pushed through by Republicans. Finally, it debunks, for the umpteenth time, Reagan’s supply-side voodoo economics (that tax cuts pay for themselves).
All these things are true, accurate and not without insight. They put Krugman’s high analytical intelligence on routine display.
But then comes the column’s tone. It epitomizes the frustrated professor wagging his finger in a slow student’s face.
Right in the title, Krugman calls the GOP crazy. He writes of the “culpability of those who are only now facing up to the G.O.P.’s craziness.” He chides Republicans for their “fanaticism.” And he concludes that, if “you’re surprised” by the general failure to pressure Republicans “to show any kind of responsibility . . . you were part of the problem.”
Now, imagine you are arguing with someone face to face. You desperately want to convince that person that his political ideology and/or lack of understanding is destroying the country you both love.
Do you start off by calling him crazy, a fanatic? Do you accuse him, willy nilly, of being responsible for what crazies did because he either (1) wasn’t smart enough or (2) didn’t pay enough attention?
I don’t think so. You don’t win an independent, free voter to your side by name-calling, blaming, and scolding.
That’s where emotional intelligence comes in. Krugman’s high analytical intelligence lets him see causes, effects and consequences that might escape others. But his apparent complete lack of emotional intelligence may explain why lesser minds than his (Summers and Geithner) ended up in charge of the Obama Administration’s economic policy.
In a recent essay, I called this low emotional intelligence Krugman’s “blind spot.” His piece today makes that a fair description, beyond cavil.
Why spend so much ink on a single pundit’s foibles? Three reasons. First, Krugman has a huge megaphone. With Bob Herbert and Frank Rich gone, he is the pre-eminent voice on the left in the mainstream media today. Second, with his Nobel Prize, he is, by far, the pundit most able to skewer economic lies and myths with panache and credibility.
The third point follows from the first two. Krugman’ tremendous influence over so many still-rational minds brings with it corresponding responsibility. His repeated failure to acknowledge the extraordinary difficulty of the President’s task and the President’s extraordinary emotional intelligence could deprive the President of the support he needs to bring our nation home.
The President’s task is not to show the right way, which Krugman has done brilliantly and many others (perhaps less so), time after time. The President’s task is to get people brainwashed to the wrong way to change their minds. He can’t do it with guns or force. We tried that once, and we are still fighting our Civil War 146 years after the guns fell silent at Appomattox.
Nor can the President (or Krugman) do it with scolding, berating and name-calling. If they worked, we’d be home already. Ever since the 2007-2008 primaries, both parties and their internal factions have had an orgy of such indulgences, with the GOP and its unprecedented propaganda machine leading the way. As Sarah Palin might ask, “How’s that scoldy, name-callin’ thing workin’ out for ya?”
It isn’t and it won’t. Analytically, Krugman is quite right in calling the GOP’s right wing “crazy” and “fanatical.” But saying the obvious won’t help. And saying it to the people who minds need changing will only hurt. Something real has to jar the true believers out of their spell and their complacency.
At the moment, there seem to be only two alternatives. Either the President’s brilliant but subtle exposure of the GOP plans as lies, extortion and misplaced priorities (making the rich richer) will change enough minds to change our politics. Or some catastrophe, such as an actual default or a double-dip, will have to do the job.
As an educator, Krugman should know this. It’s called “experiential learning.”
Thirty years of highly effective propaganda have convinced around a third of our people that government is the problem, not the solution. As I’ve pointed out, that calumny is contrary to most people’s own personal experience, certainly my own. But they just don’t see. If default comes and their pension, disability and health care stop cold, it may suddenly dawn on them that government is not the evil force they have been brainwashed to think it for thirty years. That’s experiential learning.
Whether it will take that or something less drastic remains to be seen. But only someone with the President’s off-the-scale emotional intelligence can make that call. Analytical intelligence simply won’t do the job, as Krugman’s column today amply (but inadvertently) demonstrates.
I would not trust myself to make the call, far less Krugman. If we try to teach the crazies the old-fashioned way, with daily lessons, scolding and finger-wagging, we will have become a banana republic long before the lessons have concluded. That’s why I will support the President even into the economic maelstrom of default. For as bad as that result will be (and I know exactly how bad), I cannot foresee it as worse than continuing to let one-third of our population worship false economic gods, including Grover Norquist, and block any sensible action of government.