Brooks and Krugman

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “Clinton’s Imagination Problem.”  He sniffs that her coal gaffe and predictable policy prescriptions for Appalachia illustrate her campaign’s failure to connect with voters.  In the comments “Rocco” from California had this to say:  “She should have said the truth – we as a nation need to stop embracing 19th Century energy and move forward with 21st Century technology. Guess what – when Henry Ford invented the car, blacksmiths and horsemen were put out to pasture. That’s life. Stop pandering like knucklehead Trump who “loves the coal miners” and wants to “reopen the mines”.”  Prof. Krugman considers “Truth and Trumpism” and says don’t believe the peddlers of centrification or fall for false comparisons.  Here’s Bobo:

In March Hillary Clinton told a CNN interviewer, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” That was a true but dumb thing to say in advance of the West Virginia primary. So this week Clinton went on an apology and listening tour through Appalachia.

She heard tales of loss and renewal. Then she gave a speech proposing an agenda for the region. It was a perfectly serviceable speech. Yet you can see in it some of the reasons the Clinton campaign has not exactly caught fire.

The core problem is that she sounds like a normal Democratic candidate in the noble tradition of Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey, but she doesn’t sound like an imaginative candidate who is responding with fresh eyes to situations today.

This year it seems especially important to show voters that you see them and know them, and can name the exact frustrations in their lives. Clinton’s speech was filled with the flattery that candidates always offer their audiences — “Appalachia is home to some of the most resilient, hard-working people anywhere.” But the political rhetoric was conventional and she didn’t really capture the texture of life.

She didn’t really capture the way economic loss has triggered a series of complex spirals, and that social decay is now center stage. A few decades ago there were 175,000 coal jobs in the U.S. Now there are 57,000. That economic dislocation has hit local economies in the form of shuttered storefronts and abandoned bank buildings.

Everywhere there are local activists trying to rebuild, but it’s hard to hold off the dislocation, distrust and pessimism. Birthrates drop. Family structures erode. Life expectancy falls. People slip between the cracks and inevitably drug use rises. According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, between 1999 and 2009, per-capita consumption of oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl tripled. By 2009 West Virginians were annually filling 19 painkiller prescriptions a person.

Heavy opioid use often slides over into heroin use. Heroin overdose deaths tripled between 2009 and 2014. In those years the state had the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

It’s not surprising that there’s so much drug use in towns where there’s so little to do. But the root of this kind of addiction crisis is social isolation. Addiction is a disease that afflicts the lonely. It is a disease that afflicts those who have suffered trauma in childhood and beyond. And once the social fabric frays it’s hard for economic recovery to begin. I ran into employers in Pittsburgh who had industrial jobs to fill but they couldn’t find people who could pass the pre-employment drug test.

Clinton did gesture toward some of these truths, saying, “They’re dying from suicide, but I thought Bill really put his finger on it. He said, ‘You know what they’re really dying of? They’re dying of a broken heart.’” But her policy ideas don’t exactly respond to current realities.

She vowed to “take a hard look at retraining programs.” She’d expand tax credits to encourage investment. She’d get tough on trading partners who are trying to dump cheap steel. These are the normal, sensible ideas candidates propose, but they are familiar and haven’t exactly done much good.

A daring approach might have been to use the speech to propose a comprehensive drug addiction and mental health agenda. That would have grabbed the attention of all those Americans whose families are touched by addiction and mental health issues — which is basically everybody.

A more imaginative approach might have been to unfurl a vision to reweave social fabric, the way David Cameron has in Britain. In areas of concentrated poverty, everything is connected to everything else — job loss, family structure, alcoholism, domestic violence, neighborliness. It would be nice if America, too, had creative politicians who could put together a comprehensive agenda that nurtures social connection, rather than just relying on economic levers like job-training programs that have consistently disappointed.

A more timely approach would have noted this fact: That for all of American history, people have moved in search of opportunity, but these days we’re just not moving. The number of Americans who move in search of jobs has been declining steadily since 1985.

Place-based federal anti-poverty programs discourage mobility; if you move in search of opportunity you risk losing your benefits. The government could offer mobility grants to help people get their families from one place to another. It could set up migration zones — helping people find housing and connection in places where jobs are available.

Clinton’s speech was not bad by any means. But she could have offered something inspiring and audacious — to tackle mental health problems, to reweave community, to make America the daring mobile place it used to be. She could have grabbed the nation’s attention.

This is a country seriously off course. A little creativity is in order.

Oh, FFS Bobo…  Hasn’t Trump been “creative” enough for you?  And it was your crowd of lunatics that drove the country onto the rocks.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. So let’s talk about what can and probably will go wrong in coverage — but doesn’t have to.

First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency in suggestions that the startling outcome of the fight for the Republican nomination somehow means that polls and other conventional indicators of electoral strength are meaningless.

The truth, however, is that polls have been pretty good indicators all along. Pundits who dismissed the chances of a Trump nomination did so despite, not because of, the polls, which have been showing a large Trump lead for more than eight months.

Oh, and let’s not make too much of any one poll. When many polls are taken, there are bound to be a few outliers, both because of random sampling error and the biases that can creep into survey design. If the average of recent polls shows a strong lead for one candidate — as it does right now for Mrs. Clinton — any individual poll that disagrees with that average should be taken with large helpings of salt.

A more important vice in political coverage, which we’ve seen all too often in previous elections — but will be far more damaging if it happens this time — is false equivalence.

You might think that this would be impossible on substantive policy issues, where the asymmetry between the candidates is almost ridiculously obvious. To take the most striking comparison, Mr. Trump has proposed huge tax cuts with no plausible offsetting spending cuts, yet has also promised to pay down U.S. debt; meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton has proposed modest spending increases paid for by specific tax hikes.

That is, one candidate is engaged in wildly irresponsible fantasy while the other is being quite careful with her numbers. But beware of news analyses that, in the name of “balance,” downplay this contrast.

This isn’t a new phenomenon: Many years ago, when George W. Bush was obviously lying about his budget arithmetic but nobody would report it, I suggested that if a candidate declared that the earth was flat, headlines would read, “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” But this year it could be much, much worse.

And what about less quantifiable questions about behavior? I’ve already seen pundits suggest that both presumptive nominees fight dirty, that both have taken the “low road” in their campaigns. For the record, Mr. Trump has impugned his rivals’ manhood, called them liars and suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with J.F.K.’s killer. On her side, Mrs. Clinton has suggested that Bernie Sanders hasn’t done his homework on some policy issues. These things are not the same.

Finally, I can almost guarantee that we’ll see attempts to sanitize the positions and motives of Trump supporters, to downplay the racism that is at the heart of the movement and pretend that what voters really care about are the priorities of D.C. insiders — a process I think of as “centrification.”

That is, after all, what happened after the rise of the Tea Party. I’ve seen claims that Tea Partiers were motivated by Wall Street bailouts, or even that the movement was largely about fiscal responsibility, driven by voters upset about budget deficits.

In fact, there was never a hint that any of these things mattered; if you followed the actual progress of the movement, it was always about white voters angry at the thought that their taxes might be used to help Those People, whether via mortgage relief for distressed minority homeowners or health care for low-income families.

Now I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.”

Trump support in the primaries was strongly correlated with racial resentment: We’re looking at a movement of white men angry that they no longer dominate American society the way they used to. And to pretend otherwise is to give both the movement and the man who leads it a free pass.

In the end, bad reporting probably won’t change the election’s outcome, because the truth is that those angry white men are right about their declining role. America is increasingly becoming a racially diverse, socially tolerant society, not at all like the Republican base, let alone the plurality of that base that chose Donald Trump.

Still, the public has a right to be properly informed. The news media should do all it can to resist false equivalence and centrification, and report what’s really going on.

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One Response to “Brooks and Krugman”

  1. John in NY Says:

    Social Connection; place based anti-poverty programs; drug and mental addiction clinics; That’s Brooks’ answer. To generations of banjo playing, tobacco chewing toothless bible thumping evangelicals working for the Company (BTU, Massey-Ferguson, CHK, Koch Ind., Arch, Patriot et al) Republicans have sold them the bill of goods that social engineering is a commie plot. Them New Yorker’s they’ve heard you know who I mean Cruz, they got this dang fool idea that book learning is what u need. Nah I’ll hang a rebel flag out and skip skool and drag sister Kate out to the back wood. Gawd it’s gonna be fun.
    I just want them to clean up their toxic waste without Federal taxpayer money. White trash will never vote for Hillary so why bother?

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