October 29th, 2007

9/11, racism, and history: Krugman and playing the fear card

For quite a while now the liberal/Left position vis-a-vis 9/11 has been that those on the Right are a bunch of namby-pamby fraidy cats, motivated by an unwarranted and pathological fear of terrorists.

Or, alternatively, that the Right is not really afraid but is strategically engaged in a hypocritical and Machiavellian attempt to drum up fear where it needn’t exist in order to increase both their own power and their chances of election, because people trust Republicans more on national defense.

Or perhaps both at the same time, oxymoronic though that might be.

Paul Krugman’s latest riff on this old theme is featured in his column in today’s NY Times. In it, Krugman pronounces that “there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism—it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination.” Well, what a relief!

Quibble if you must over the term itself—I have here, and then again here —but surely it describes an actual phenomenon that is not a figment of anyone’s imagination, and to think otherwise is denial.

This is not a new tune of Krugman’s, however; not at all. He’s the same man who, shortly after 9/11, declared that Enron would come to be seen as a greater turning point in American society than 9/11. Granted, Krugman is (or was) an economist, but that’s a rather extreme case of tunnel vision. The man is nothing if not consistent in his downplaying of 9/11.

Today’s Krugman column also downplays the threat from Iran, partly based on evaluations of its economic capacity—as though it lacked the GDP necessary to obtain and use nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, it does have this ability despite its relative lack of wealth—and, what’s equally important, it may also have the will. And most proponents of bombing Iran do not have the naive goal of “bringing the Iranian regime to its knees,” as Krugman states. They have the more limited goal of undermining its nuclear program if diplomatic and economic means fail to do so.

Krugman likens proposals to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to Israel’s attempt to undermine Hezbollah last summer through bombing. That’s not a good analogy; the proper one is the recent action of Israel against Syria’s nuclear program, which seems to have been successful, at least for the moment.

Krugman is not important in and of himself. But he is important as an indicator of the direction in which a large amount of liberal thinking seems to be heading these days. He’s either a meme-setter or a meme-reflector; it hardly matters which.

And another meme he’s bent on spreading is the “Republicans=racists” one. For example, in today’s column, his parting shot was this:

…the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up—perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.

Here Krugman shows either his own ignorance of history or his reliance on his readers’ ignorance of history. Putting aside for a moment the pejorative and condescending term “lapped up” (yes, the Republican base is just a tool of the propaganda of the “Bushies,” unlike the think-for-itself Leftist base, immune to such machinations on the part of the Democratic leadership), this “fear of dark-skinned people” bit just doesn’t wash, although it’s a favorite self-congratulatory story Democrats often like to tell themselves.

The truth about the history of such “older fears” is that they’ve been more prevalent on the Democrat side of the ledger. Say what you will about Republicans—and Krugman certainly does—their civil rights history is comparatively impeccable compared to that on the other side. Take a look, for example, at the Civil War and its long aftermath.

The distortion of this history is a special pet peeve of mine; I’ve tried here to do my small part to correct the record.

Democrats finally changed their tune in the 1960s, and were instrumental in passing civil rights legislation, but this was not done over Republican opposition. Here are some typical votes from one of those landmark legislations of the 60s—the Voting Rights Act—for those interested in actual, rather than invented, history:

Senate: 77–19 [first number "for," second "against"]

Democrats: 47–17
Republicans: 30–2

House: 333–85

Democrats: 221–61
Republicans: 112–24

You can see that the bill passed by a fairly large margin in both parties, but Republican support was actually greater, percentage-wise, than Democratic support.

It’s true that the South is now fairly solidly Republican, whereas before it was monolithically Democrat. So no doubt many of the descendants of those Democrats who opposed rights for African-Americans back then are Republicans now. But I don’t see the relevance; there’s no guilt by ancestry here. And I don’t see those present-day Republicans trembling in fear of “dark-skinned people in general,” although no doubt some of them do. As, no doubt, do some Democrats.

Bigotry is not the province of any particular party. But, more importantly, it is not—nor has it ever been—a commonplace basis of policy on the part of the Republican Party. If any party holds title to that distinction, it is the Democrats of the past.

Krugman’s title and theme are taken from Democrat FDR’s wonderful “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” speech of 1933. Krugman writes:

Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president—including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination—have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.

Well, it just so happens I’ve written previously about that FDR speech and how it might pertain to the attitudes of today’s political parties. Let me quote rather liberally (pun intended) from that previous post of mine:

Speaking of FDR, it was he who famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The context in which he made that statement is interesting; take a look at his First Inaugural Address, delivered in March of 1933, when the nation faced the Great Depression, the subject matter of FDR’s speech.

FDR does indeed say, “The only think we have to fear is fear itself” (and, by the way, listen to the audio; what a speaker he was!). But this is the message in which his quote was embedded:

“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory…In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties [he follows with a long list of the problems the nation faced at the time]…Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”

Then, as now, the danger of fear is not really fear itself. It is, as FDR stated [emphasis mine], “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.”

I submit that those words define the stance of the Left today far more than that of the Right–in fearing, for example, warrantless NSA wiretapping of calls with terrorist foreign nationals more than the consequences of not using reasonable tools in our arsenal in order to fight an implacable and vicious enemy (and see here if you wish to revisit the complexities of the legal arguments concerning these wiretappings).

And I agree, along with FDR, that “only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” I happen to think the Left fits the definition of “foolish optimist” in denying the dark realities of the present-day Islamist totalitarian threat. The Left, of course, thinks people such as myself to be foolish optimists in denying the dark realities of the threats posed by the would-be dictator…Bush…, and that we are timid and cowering fraidy cats in assuming that people such as Ahmadinejad mean exactly and precisely what they say.

26 Responses to “9/11, racism, and history: Krugman and playing the fear card”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Let’s read between the lines. Iran is not rich so they can’t afford to replace a lot of bombed nuclear facilities.

    Ergo, in addition to the generally good return on bombs invested in use on [more expensive] facilities… there are deeper GDP issues at play…

    Thanks Paul. ;)

  2. DC Says:

    Here is what I was taught as a properly brought up liberal in the sixties: the fundamentalists are racists because they believe in the Bible literally and the Bible accepts slavery and racism. South Africa was a convenient example to point as proof. You also have to go back and check to see which party was more willing to impose sanctions on South Africa. I’ll bet Democrats, so that’s more “proof” of the racism of Republicans–they put profit above all else, so that’s racist.

    Then there is the Jesus wouldn’t be a Republican argument. He glorified the poor, whereas the mean Republicans made their life harder by resisting increasingly progressive taxation. This is racist because the poor were mostly descended from slaves Then there is the environmental racist charge, the NIMBY people make sure the worst environmental problems occur near the poor.

    Now much of these kinds of things can be blamed on Democrats too (Truman A bombed the Japs because he was a racist!, the war in Viet Nam was racist!), but a true liberal is not happy with the Democrats either. Their beef is really with everyone but themselves, but they point to Republicans as being worse. It’s easier to have a specific target to demonize especially if they are seen as being more wealthy.

  3. Thomas Says:

    I agree DC… thats the whole idea behind the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘right wing’… they’re pretty much insults thrown around by progressives…. which after awhile, the insulted picked up and used to describe themselves…

  4. expat Says:

    Robert Redford has been in Germany pimping Lions for Lambs. In today’s Der Spiegel there is a discussion with Redford, historian Heinrich August Winkler, and former foreign minister Joschka Fischer. The latter plays on the fear theme and says that we have been suffering from PTSD. And the general tone of the discussion is that our fears have manipulated and that we have failed to analyze the the situation. In other words, we are poor, dumb, emotional Americans who lack the rationality of their superiors. They fail to mention that the almost unanimous German response to 9/11 was poverty, inequality, blah, blah, blah. Denial, anyone?

  5. Thomas Says:

    “They fail to mention that the almost unanimous German response to 9/11 was poverty, inequality, blah, blah, blah. Denial, anyone?”

    That or ‘inside job’. ;) Insanity anyone.

  6. Trimegistus Says:

    See, I can’t help but think that Krugman et al know they’re being dishonest. The man’s no idiot, after all. He can presumably tie his shoes, feed himself, and write for the Times.

    So when he denies the existence of Islamofascism, he’s not being blind or naive. He’s actively, deliberately, and knowingly trying to deceive his readers. He wants them to ignore the existence of a movement pledged to kill them, and to ignore the efforts of Islamofascist states like Iran to acquire weapons capable of causing millions of deaths.

    Paul Krugman wants you to die.

  7. Americaneocon Says:

    I wrote this today about Krugman’s piece:

    It’s interesting that Krugman completely dismisses the terminology of Islamofascism. Christopher Hitchens noted in his Slate column last week that Islamofascist terminology has been used widely to discuss Islam’s totalitarian tendencies. Hitchens cited Malise Ruthven as the first to use the term in the 1990s, and Ruthven’s current piece over at the New York Review discredits the notion that Islam is a “religion of peace.”

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20800

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    For quite a while now the liberal/Left position vis-a-vis 9/11 has been that those on the Right are a bunch of namby-pamby fraidy cats, motivated by an unwarranted and pathological fear of terrorists.

    I think they reserve that for the grunts of the right nut wing as they call it. For the leadership cadre, in their view, they see post 9/11 actions as more of an Emperor Palpatine instigation of a foreign threat in order to marshall domestic emergency powers that trample upon previous civil rights or institutions.

    This is different from the Machiavellian aspect since I doubt that they have actually read Machiavelli while I can mostly guarantee that they know of the story Lucas Arts wrote.

    it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination.” Well, what a relief!

    There’s a lot of the Leftist dogma you can get from Lucas Arts’ Star Wars and from Star Trek, Neo. Not what they claim so much as the underlying contradictions behind their claims. The archetypes are strangely consistent across story universes.

    It never gets applied to Stalin or how he used the external threat of his former ally to rally Russia and to purge the Russian officer corps of those he found disagreeable. Certain themes are offlimits in the story archetypes.

    either his own ignorance of history or his reliance on his readers’ ignorance of history.

    For sure, since it was the Democrat base, constituency, and politicians who were in favor of extending slavery while it was the Republican base and radical party leadership that wished to end slavery.

    Different reasons were had by all, but such always exist when speaking about “bases”.

    Take a look, for example, at the Civil War and its long aftermath.

    Lynching sort of had to go underground for awhile due to federal troops sent in by non-South sympathetic Presidents. When such measures were removed from the South, Democrats started becoming re-elected due to their ability to crush black voter populations.

    While blacks had nominal legal protection from the radical Republicans (to the extent that Democrats allowed legislation like that) at the federal level, they did not have actual legal protection in the South. Not yet without WWII to resolve the issues that divided people of different cultures. Without war and carnage uniting black and white, the Civil Rights Act would have been stillborn. As with Iraq, you can pass as many laws as you want amid chaos and looting, but there will not be order unless people truly prefer following one law/faction over the status quo.

    In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory

    Yes, the victory of the Left over all the forces of humanity that would constrain their lust for power and wealth.

    Some of the top Leftist leaders actually would feel a twinge of such sentiments, before shutting it down with ingrained doublethink.

    They, as with Gore and Moore, cannot accomplish their aims without power and wealth, yet their platform is that of a revolutionary socialist that despises wealth and power. Speaking truth to power is a distilled form of such an expression of Leftist dogmatic belief, courtesy of the press.

  9. logern Says:

    As to the threat of Iran:

    Mao Zedong was a much more revolutionary figure than Ahmadinejad. China was actively helping insurgencies all over the world that were anti-American, killing Americans in Vietnam, in Korea.

    Mao spoke actively about his great desire to overturn the international system. He even talked about destroying half the world to allow communism to triumph.

    “If the worst came to worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed from the ground.” This is what Mao said.

    So the question about Iran’s rationality rests on this: They’ve been in power for 30 years. What have they done? Iran has followed a pretty rational, national interest-oriented foreign policy…they’ve been fairly calculating. When it has bumped up against the United States, they have worked against us. When they have thought that our interests were in common, as in Afghanistan, they’ve worked with us.…they were the sworn enemies of al-Qaida and they helped the United States depose the Taliban.?

    We allowed Mao to get a nuclear weapon and have used deterrence against them, against the Chinese. We allowed the Russians, the Soviet Union to get nuclear weapons and used deterrence against them. We’ve allowed the North Koreans to get nuclear weapons and have used deterrence against them.

    It used to be that one had to explain deterrence to the left; it has now become something the right does not understand. FAREED ZAKARIA, Editor, Newsweek International

  10. Trimegistus Says:

    Logern:

    China did not export terrorism. A nuclear Iran would be immune to retaliation and thus able to support terrorist activity on an unprecedented scale — rather like the KGB did during the 1970s and 1980s. Remember Aldo Moro and the Baader-Meinhof gang?

    Moreover, deterrence only works against rational opponents. Iran’s behavior has been entirely irrational for thirty years now. Deterrence is the logic of two men sitting in a room holding pistols, each afraid to attack the other. But if one of them keeps waving his pistol around with the safety off, the other man might well conclude it’s time to end it.

  11. sergey Says:

    US did not “allow” Russia and China have nukes, US could do nothing to prevent them develop these weapons. Iran is totally another case: nobody can prevent US to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations. We are not anymore in Cold War era of bipolar world.

  12. Tatterdemalian Says:

    The far left is terrified of Islam; their panic reaction is to desperately avoid giving any offense, and struggle valiantly (by their own definition of “valor”) to appease them, committing suicide as their final attempt to peacefully resolve an insoluable situation.

    The far right is also terrified of Islam; their panic reaction is to slaughter anyone and destroy anything that even vaguely resembles it, eventually declaring one another as traitors to continue the genocide well after the reasons for it are forgotten.

    Only we neocons in the middle are able to face the very real threat with determination instead of panic. That’s what makes us enemies of the left, right, and Islam, all at once.

    The problem with doing the right thing is that you usually end up doing it by yourself.

  13. alcatholic Says:

    Tatterdemalian,

    I think your comment was a very accessible description of the emotional differences between left, right, and neocon, when it comes to terrorism. Almost makes the group sound intellectually dashing.

    I’m curious, though, what you think about PNAC. If I’m not mistaken the Project for a New American Century was a NeoCon group. If you’ll accept that and also this summary of there views:

    http://www.newamericancentury.org

    “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

    PNAC supports a “blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests”.

    what do you think about this aspect of the ideology that seemingly has little to do with Islamofacism.? Is in fact IslamoFacism a rallying cry of NeoCons or just the current tactical enemy?

    If anyone else can discuss this point I would be really curious to understand more.

    Thanks!

  14. Tatterdemalian Says:

    I’m suspicious of any group that talks about justification outside the confines of a courtroom. I do think there is a need for some sort of world-wide government, now that it’s technologically possible, just to keep someone else, like Vladmir Putin, Kofi Anan, or even Osama bin Laden from creating one. Or the PNAC, for that matter. I prefer to take a wait-and-see approach, though, since the US runs the only military powerful enough to enforce any laws made by any such entity.

  15. alcatholic Says:

    I was more curious about the middle east. Maybe the question is whether IslamoFacism is more important than “precluding the rise of a great power rival”?

  16. sergey Says:

    It is virtually impossible to govern the world, but it is possible to police it. This means exactly what PNAC is aimed to do: prevent both anarchy and tyranny, dislodge pirate states and do not allow formation of world-dominating rival state, like world-wide Chaliphate. Since the only ideology with such ambition now is Islamism, this is not enemy of convenience, but the only logical target of choice for PNAC.

  17. alcatholic Says:

    I’m not sure I understand why a Caliphate is the most likely “great power rival.”

    Surely, China is closer to becoming a great power rival than a Caliphate. Or am I missing something? Like a caliphate’s control of oil?

    Oh, I get it. World-dominating. I don’t think that is what PNAC means by “great power rival” but I guess you can make that argument.

  18. Ymarsakar Says:

    I’m not sure I understand why a Caliphate is the most likely “great power rival.”

    A Middle East power bloc would inevitably create an Axis alliance between China and Russia.

    China needs fuel and energy, while Iran needs tech and weapons. A match made in heaven.

    Thus the classic strategy is to divide your enemies up so they don’t get together and become a greater threat.

  19. Tatterdemalian Says:

    China is a world power only in the minds of Communists clinging to their last hope of global Marxism. Only the direct economic intervention of the US, and the plundering of their neighbors, has kept them going this long. China is now reaching a crossroads where they have to either abolish capitalism or totalitarianism, and they’ll be removed as a credible threat either way, because either their industry or their military will be crippled in the process.

  20. elvis Says:

    sorry tattered there is no clear link betrween free market capitalism and democracy. Many nations providing cheap goods for the minority of wealthy nations show this. China can follow its nasty ecomoic and political policies for a long while yet.

  21. alcatholic Says:

    Ymarsaker,

    So the real threat is an axis of China-Russia-Middle East “Caliphate”, and PNAC argues that the US can block the emergence of that rival axis by more overtly and permanently controlling the Middle East.

    So, is the PNAC stuff prominent NeoCon thinking or is it old news?

  22. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “sorry tattered there is no clear link betrween free market capitalism and democracy.”

    I didn’t say there was. Or did you think that anything that isn’t totalitarian is a democracy?

  23. sergey Says:

    China never in its 5 thousand years history have imperial ambitions. It is self-centered, this is hard-wired in its culture and tradition, and even Maoist madness was inable to overcome this Konfutian tradition. This is not arising superpower, 85% of its population live at less than $2 a day. Its political structure is very fragile and can collapse in 15 years. But it can be an ally to Islamists. Russia, too, is too weak for dreams of world domination and can at best hope to retain its status of regional superpower. But Islamist hopes are real, they have not only oil and billions of petrodolars for promoting terrorism, but a receptive audience several thousand millions strong.

  24. sergey Says:

    China is fully integrated in global economy and can not severe these ties without starving its population. It is already too late for it to switch to a closed society like NK. It will eventually follow the path of Japan and South Korea. May be, this is not the road to Western-type democracy, but this course is incompatible with militarization and aggressive expansionism.

  25. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “May be, this is not the road to Western-type democracy, but this course is incompatible with militarization and aggressive expansionism.”

    It all hinges on whether China chooses to support its runaway military leaders when they eventually invade Taiwan, or not. If China pulls its support for the military adventurism, before or during the invasion, the military will either be broken apart by internal conflict, or obliterated by Taiwan’s US-supported military. If all of China gets behind the conquest of Taiwan, then the US will lose all its decades of investments in China overnight, which will suck for us, but hurt China even worse, forcing it into a DPRK-style military dictatorship that will quickly send China into the same abyss.

  26. bunkerbuster Says:

    As a liberal, I see the threat of radical Islamic terrorism as a public safety issue. There is a small, though important, overlapping geopolitical element to the problem, but it is not by any means the defining characteristic.

    Radical Islamists have virtually no military capability. That is why they hold little to no territory, have very little funding and even less political and diplomatic support.

    Ideologically, their program is literally suicidal and deeply unappealling, not only in the West but in every corner of the Islamic world, save the most isolated and/or econcomically downtrodden and chaotic subregions.

    Can any one of you who considers this tiny band of isolated, poorly funded, divided, suicidal religious freaks a signifant military threat please describe a scenario in which they might come to power?

    Is the idea that after seizing power in Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, or Iran, they will then seize power in a second country, then a third and so on, until Europe, then America are surrounded?

    Do neoconservatives really believe that radical Islam offers an ideological blueprint or practice for world domination? Do they really believe the philosophy is capable of sustaining an international empire?

    I have yet to hear any con or neocon or paleocon or whatever explain why in the world they assign so much credibility to a freak show like radical Islam.

    They seem to think that because the freaks can get ahold of WMD, they can pose a significant military threat. Far from it.

    Radical Islam doesn’t rely on terrorism by choice. Terrorism is the only way it can survive as a military organization. The moment radical Islam is called on to govern anything, it will fail forthwith.

    Iran’s theocracy certainly includes elements of radical Islam, and to the extent that it has, it has failed to extend its power in the region.

    To be sure, Iran is now making advances in Iraq, and may well continue to pose an irritant in the region, but is highly unlikely to become an existential threat to the U.S. or Europe.

    Radical Islam will go the way of radical Communism. It will collapse under its own contradictions and I’m guessing it will do so a lot faster than communism did.

    Moderate Islam, of course, is the only force capable of putting the radicals out of the misery and in country after country, they are well on their way to doing so.

    Of course, in places like Iraq, where chauvanism has sewn chaos, radical Islam thrives. But that will be relatively short-lived. Iraqis are already seeing that they don’t need Al Qaeda’s help to kick the Americans out.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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