In Tucson Shooting Fallout, Rightbloggers Find a New Public Enemy #1: Paul Krugman
If you've quit paying attention to the Tucson shooting case, first of all, congratulations. Here is what you've missed: The nearly-assassinated Democratic Congresswoman is getting better, and the public discussion of her shooting is getting worse.
There's just too much nonsense being circulated to cover here, so we'll focus on a relatively narrow but instructive development: How rightbloggers have promoted to their primary object of hatred -- above even the despised Obama, at least for the moment -- mild-mannered economist Paul Krugman.
Krugman's column suggested a connection between the new rightwing tradition of talking about killing one's political opponents -- see here for some hair-raising examples -- and the Tucson shootings. "There has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords," wrote Krugman. "One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has."
Krugman mentioned Michelle Bachman's "armed and dangerous" comments which, readers of last week's column may recall, were elsewhere defended as relatively harmless, even though Bachmann had also said that "Thomas Jefferson told us, 'Having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.' And we the people are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country," which could be taken as an invitation to armed resistance.
Still, Krugman's was not the most tightly-reasoned column ever written, and could have been challenged with a reasonable rebuttal. But rightbloggers were unable to muster a reasonable anything. Their responses were mainly insults, dudgeon, and bullshit.
"Paul Krugman Is an Idiot," said Going to the Mat. "Krugman is an Asshole," said Crazy Conservative. "Paul Krugman is a bald faced liar!," said SBVOR ("Click the image of the lying bastard & read the rest"), etc.
"Paul Krugman, Buffoon," said Power Line's John Hinderaker. Hinderaker claimed that "we now know that Loughner's murders were not political" (though he felt compelled to add that the assassin's "friends describe him as left wing").
Hinderaker also defended Bachmann's comments, insisting they didn't mean what Krugman said they meant -- "when liberals quote sentence fragments," he informed readers, "they are usually misleading when they aren't out-and-out fabricated." Unsurprisingly Hinderaker's Bachmann fragments did not include the bit about a new American revolution. Also, he said Krugman is "a vicious hater," "incapable of doing even the most rudimentary research," "Bachmann is infinitely better informed than Krugman," etc. How Krugman ever won that so-called Nobel Prize, John Hinderaker will never know.
"Krugman knows that people such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are not racists, bigots or purveyors of hate," wrote Desert Conservative. "Yet, he writes just the opposite." Desert Conservative didn't say how he knew this about Krugman's state of mind; maybe he tapped Krugman's phone. (Previously DC wrote, "TUCSON SHOOTER CLOSER TO KRUGMAN THAN TEA PARTY OR CONSERVATIVE GROUPS.")
At the close of one of his columns, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer rather paroxysmally accused Krugman of psychological problems ("The origins of Loughner's delusions are clear: mental illness. What are the origins of Krugman's?"). Krauthammer, a trained psychiatrist, has been doing this sort of thing for years; sometimes he also complains about other people who casually impute mental illness to politicians. (You have to admire his nerve, if nothing else about him.)
Weirdly, the accusation of madness was one of only two brief references Krauthammer made to Krugman. Doesn't matter -- Krauthammer's quick slur was cheered by rightbloggers as if it were a speech by Edmund Burke.
"A devastating knockout of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman," cried Peter Wehner of Commentary. Wehner's colleague John Steele Gordon added that Krugman was "intellectually lazy" and "intellectually dishonest," and even called him "the Joe McCarthy of our times," echoing William Kristol -- which probably confused both Commentary's and Kristol's readers, as most of them probably think McCarthy was a great American hero.
Some sort of prize should go to Matthew Sheffield, who at the Washington Examiner literally compared Krugman to Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (of "God Hates Fags" fame). Unnamed liberals who say "conservatives and libertarians bear at least some responsibility for creating a 'climate of hate,'" Sheffield explained, are just like Phelps, who believes that "God literally hates people who engage in homosexual conduct."
Um, how? Maybe because Sheffield disagrees with both assertions -- we had a hard time parsing his argument, even after he sought to strengthen it by comparing Phelps' statements with Krugman's. Here's an example:
KRUGMAN: When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?
PHELPS: God appointed the Afghanistan veteran to avenge himself on this evil nation.
Sheffield also wrote, "Read any random left-wing website and you'll see countless rants about how Democrats need to be more like Alan Grayson," without giving any examples and in contradiction to the results of a simple Google search , which shows rightbloggers far more obsessed with Grayson than liberals. Maybe literal meaning is actually beside the point, and Sheffield's whole column is meant as a new type of surrealist prose-poetry.
Lachlan Markay of NewsBusters said he'd written a letter of complaint about Krugman to the public editor of the New York Times. Since even Markay seemed to realize there was little hope that the Times would run it as an Op-Ed, he reproduced it for his readers. In it, Markay complained that Krugman had referred to Michele Bachmann's "armed and dangerous" remarks as "eliminationist rhetoric," which Markay called an "egregious error" that the Times must correct.
The public editor's assistant politely rebuffed Markay, which (as those accustomed to internet crybabies might expect) led to a complaint from Markay that "the response really does not address any point made in my initial email." Markay also speculated that, since the response was not as personal as he might have wished, the Times may "have received so many letters in response to that column (or other Krugman columns) that Brisbane's office had to draft a form letter on the topic" (a charge repeated by others as fact).
The idea that the Times' public editor gets lots of crank letters, and doesn't respond personally to all of them, seems not to have crossed Markay's mind. Such faith is touching, especially in a media critic. We wonder if he accepts annual Pulitzer nominations from his boss in lieu of raises.
When President Obama gave his well-reviewed, conciliatory speech in Tucson, setting aside partisan blame for the shooting, Tom Maguire called out the important part: "We heard Krugman seemingly tossed under the bus early in the speech," he said.
Later, when one of the Tucson shooting victims was arrested for threatening a Tea Party leader, W.C. Varone knew who to blame: "Paul Krugman inspires Arizonan." "It would seem that Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, Clarence Dupnik and other left-wingers have created a 'climate of hate' and are thus responsible for Eric Fuller's violent threats and arrest on Saturday," said Ruth Ann Dailey. "Perhaps responding to the hateful, violent rhetoric from Krugman, [Chris] Matthews, [Bill] Maher, [E.J.] Dionne, and Olbermann, Tucson shooting victim and hard-left activist, J. Eric Fuller, was arrested..." said Bill Hennessy. Well, at least Krugman's not talking the rap by himself.
We're moved to ask at this point: Why are rightbloggers so bent out of shape? You'd think they'd be calmer than this; after all, they regularly assure their readers, and themselves, that the public agrees with them that conservative chest-thumping didn't motivate the Tucson shooter.
Yet they're still so tightly wound that a single, relatively mild column by a donnish academic spurs them to outsized fits of rage. Hell, even the normally ultra-glib Instapundit has been talking so much about the alleged "blood libel" against conservatives that he's starting to sound like Meir Kahane.
Laying aside the possibility of guilty consciences (you've read them -- do you think they have consciences?), our best guess is that they're just very frustrated. Since the whole Tea Party thing got going, they've been having a blast, talking about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants, about inconvenient politicians swinging from lampposts, "break their windows, break them now," etc.
It's been real horrorshow for the rightwing droogies, but now they find themselves obliged to behave, lest they attract suspicion. The strain tells. Sure, they love playing the victim, but man does not live by blood libel alone -- sometimes a patriot's got to blow off steam. And just because some Democrats got shot up, they can't.
Maybe this also explains their hard-on for Krugman. Lots of people have been giving them a hard time, but from Krugman it's worse because he's the ultimate liberal authority figure: Not only is he a Nobel laureate, a Times columnist, and a Hollyweird guest star, but he acts like a goddamn teacher -- his speech is mild, he doesn't shout, and he allows himself to be pictured in scarves like this was Hogwarts or something.
They like to talk about being oppressed by jack-booted Obama thugs, but what really drives them nuts is the idea of being sent back to study hall, and forced to submit to the authority of some fruity thinker just because he supposedly knows more than they do. Which, come to think of it, may explain their politics about as well as anything else does.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.