The Politics of Fear

For someone so manifestly intelligent when it comes to economic analysis Paul Krugman I find him remarkably unconvincing once he strays into other areas, certainly in his most recent column, Divided They Stand. Krugman concedes that Hillary Clinton has lost the nomination before making the obvious point that Barack Obama has to win over Clinton’s supporters. He suggests that Clinton’s latest gaffe over the assassination of RFK is a faux scandal manufactured by the Obama supporters—which it manifestly wasn’t, the editorial board of his own Clinton-endorsing New York Times excoriating her remarks and the non-apology apology that followed it.

Krugman’s reaction is instructive for he is a manifestly intelligent and thoughtful person, and if his judgment is being corrupted then it is not difficult to imagine the effect the campaign has been having generally. The point he is making is that (us) Clinton supporters can take down Obama in the general election so you have to be nice to us.  He then projects a general sense of disgust at Hillary Clinton’s remarks into a vast conspiracy orchestrated by Obama supporters, despite the marked efforts of the Obama campaign to be restrained in their criticism (and the efforts by the candidate to praise her).

As I said in a previous article, there is no reason at all why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be treated with sympathy and compassion. However, her remarks are part of a pattern and they were not a momentary lapse—they were repeated over months—those remarks were deliberated and placed for a reason. Many have been saying that there may have been an over-reaction, that her previous remarks caused people to take these remarks out of context (see, e.g., Cole). I don’t think so.

The remarks show no rational evidence of a wish by Clinton that Obama should be assassinated—that is a silly strawman. The revulsion is over the Clinton campaign exploiting the fear associated with the issue for political advantage, and this is entirely rational. The Clinton campaign, since they were overtaken by the Obama campaign, have been exploiting fear at every turn, starting with the ‘3am’ advert, and here they were clearly trying to do the same, raising the spectre of Obama’s assassination, to associate his candidacy with violence and unpredictability and to subliminally scare people into choosing the good ‘ol safe and trusty brand. The only way it is possible to meaningfully judge someone’s actions is by looking at their previous actions, so it makes no sense at all to say that people judging current actions by past actions may be distorting things. This makes no sense at all.

If Paul Krugman really has the unity of the Democrats at heart then perhaps he may stop trying to fuel the grievances of the Clinton supporters with sloppy articles.

[Am I stating the obvious here? Or am I missing something—either way please leave a comment and let me know.]

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