Jonathan Bernstein on Substance in GOP Debate

Jonathan BernsteinThe circus was not in town. No personal insults, no demeaning taunts, no candidate bragging about his… well, you know. Instead, thanks in part to some solid questioning from Jake Tapper and CNN’s other moderators and a strategic recalibration from Marco Rubio after his collapse in recent primaries and caucuses, we had what passes for a serious policy debate on the Republican side.

It was not impressive…

They weren’t all terrible all the time. Rubio and Kasich do know their stuff in several policy areas, and Cruz actually did give a solid defense of international trade. But over and over, there’s just very little substance on the stage. For a major political party’s candidates for president of the US, it’s a sorry show, even if they did stay out of the gutter this time.

—Jonathan Bernstein
Posers on Parade as Republican Debate Veers Toward Substance

Both Sides Do It: Paul Krugman Included

Paul Krugman - Both Sides Do It!A major complaint of liberals about mainstream news coverage is that it falls into a “Both sides do it!” narrative. So we see reporting like, “The Republican Party has stated that they will not consider any Obama replacement for Justice Scalia. But it is also true that Democrats have blocked Supreme Court nominations in the past.” While everything said there is true, it creates an equivalence that is false. In fact, blocking a nominee is categorically different from blocking all nominees. One pundit who has done a great job of calling out this kind of nonsense is Paul Krugman.

But the reason that false equivalence continues on, despite its obvious intellectual dishonesty, is that those who use it actually believe it. And Krugman is aware of this. He’s written about it many times. And it is widely understood. The news industry is filled with people who are committed to the idea that the Democrats and the Republicans are equal and opposite — by definition. These are people for whom it is easy to say, “Both sides do it!” And this is because they don’t see themselves on either side. They see themselves in the “sensible center,” where they are unbiased — just telling the facts.

Both Sides Do It!

So it was interesting to see yesterday that Paul Krugman is having his own “Both sides do it!” moment. He wrote, Trade and Tribulation. In it he argues that freer trade has largely been a good thing and that we would all be richer if only the political landscape were different. Well, I’ve been arguing the same thing for years. That is pretty much what I wrote in my poem and it’s what I’ve said many other times, like last year, No Trade Deals Until Our Economy Is Fixed. My point is that I don’t care what great things trade deals will bring if the great things aren’t shared.

Donate to Sanders!Krugman is making more or less the same argument, but being part of the power elite, it doesn’t have the kind of urgency that it does to, say, Bernie Sanders supporters. But I’m glad to hear Krugman say, “The elite case for ever-freer trade, the one that the public hears, is largely a scam.” But who are the presidential candidates who are saying this? Well: Sanders and Trump. But they also think that things like NAFTA were bad, which Krugman apparently disagrees about. I don’t know why. The same political system that makes trade deals today a bad idea made them a bad idea in the 1990s.

But there were only two people mentioned by name in the piece: Sanders and Trump. Krugman mentioned Trump’s continued use of Chinese currency manipulation. According to Krugman this just isn’t happening, but as Dean Baker pointed out, “China’s stock of reserves is more than $2 trillion above what would be expected if it were just managing its reserves for standard purposes.” But regardless, Krugman thinks Trump is wrong, and he said so.

On the other side of wrong, Krugman points out, “Sanders is demagoguing the issue.” How did he do this? By making an overly broad attack on “Hillary Clinton’s free-trade policies.” Wait for it: on Twitter. So Krugman is involved in his own false equivalence. (Well, he actually spends a whole paragraph on Sanders and a single sentence on Trump; if it comes down to Trump vs Sanders, will Krugman make a protest vote?!) But I’m sure that Krugman doesn’t think he is involved in this “Both sides do it!” business. Because in this case, he is the one in the “sensible center.” It’s just that his sensible center seems to include the entirety of the Democratic and Republican establishments.

“Clinton Is Losing!” Hysteria

This is what happens to people when their hysteria gets the better of them. I wrote about this yesterday regarding Hillary Clinton herself. But does Krugman really disagree with Sanders? I don’t think so. If Krugman and Sanders sat down together, they would largely agree. I don’t think that Sanders is against freer trade when it benefits everyone. But trade agreements without strong unions who are intimately involved in the negotiations is madness.

But it doesn’t matter what the substance is. We all know that Donald Trump is a demagogue, so Krugman doesn’t even have to mention that. When Sanders’ rhetoric gets a touch wild, Krugman is there to point out that he too is a demagogue — never forget that Sanders supporters! Meanwhile, pay no attention Clinton demagoguing the Sandinistas on national television. Both sides do it! It’s just that Clinton isn’t on a “side.” And remarkably, Krugman finds himself on the same non-side!

Morning Music: Fenêtîks (Phonetics)

Fenêtîks (Phonetics)I am sad to report that the second Jules and the Polar Bears album, Fenêtîks (Phonetics) is not as good as its predecessor. It’s not Jules Shear. The songs are as great as ever. I’m sure the record company went to the band and said, “The first album didn’t sell well, so let’s add a bunch of synthesizers!” Not that they needed the push. A very young Stephen Hague was just waiting to do that. And clearly, Shear himself was kind of clueless about production. But he did learn that less is more, and it isn’t surprising that he went on to be one of the main people behind MTV Unplugged.

Another problem is throughout Fenêtîks (Phonetics), there just seems to be too much production. And that is just a problem when you the core of band is one of the greatest living songwriters. So I’m going to offer up a song that actually sounds more typical of Got No Breeding, “Fate.” There are some others that are strong — or at least that’s how I remember them. But not much off this album is available on the internet. So we are stuck with “Fate.” And that isn’t bad, because the song really does work.

The melody is attractive, if perhaps too forceful. And the lyrics are typically clever, with things like, “You cut off your nerves just to spite your love.” Check it out.

Anniversary Post: Girl Scouts of the USA

Juliette Gordon Low With Early Girl ScoutsOn this day in 1912, the Girl Scouts of the USA were formed — although they were then called Girl Guides. Let me just start by saying how much I love that. They should have been called, “Girls Taking Charge.” We could use a lot more of that. Not to mention cookies, but I digress.

For a long time, I thought that the Girl Scouts were just the female equivalents of the Boy Scouts. But then I learned otherwise. Since 2011, they have been open to transgender girls. Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts will fight tooth and nail to avoid entering even the 20th century. You can find out some of my thoughts on the Nazi Youth Boy Scouts in, Why Boy Scouts Have Always Bothered Me. But I have a different opinion of the Girl Scouts.

The thing is, I wish it weren’t done in terms of gender. When I was a boy, I heard about what the Boy Scouts were doing and what the Girl Scouts were doing. And not surprisingly, what the Girl Scouts were doing sounded like more fun. (I’m probably remembering the Cub Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls — I’m not that clear about all the distinctions.)

Of course, I’ve always preferred to hang out with the girls. I don’t wish to hammer this to death (and after all these years, if it isn’t dead, it never will be), but so much of male culture is based on the idea of proving that you aren’t gay that I’m not interested. Would it be asking so much for male culture to accept that there are different kinds of men — far removed from sexual orientation. If other men have hangups and secretly think that they are gay, they really should get some help with that. But barring that: just stop acting like idiots!

Here’s a funny thing: the two most clearly healthy heterosexual men I’ve ever known — men who love women and are loved in return — are both kind of, well, effeminate. I’m not saying that typically masculine men are latent homosexuals; I’m just saying that they are boring. Really boring. Deadly boring. Like: I’m in fear of life boring.

Women don’t tend to have this problem. This isn’t to say that women are perfect. But it isn’t surprising that the Boy Scouts are a dysfunctional organization that teachers noxious lessons to boys and the Girl Scouts is mostly a force for good — generally a group that doesn’t look back on itself a generation and cringe. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Afterword: Girl Scouts and Women in General

Let me note that it is always a bad idea to leave men alone. We really need women around to humanize us. Otherwise, we don’t behave well. As Donald Trump would say, “Really! It’s true!”