Paul Krugman’s recent analysis of anti-Obamacare protests makes Philip Kennicott’s idiotic piece in the Washington post look like the work of a genius. Krugman’s reasoning is so baffling, that it won’t do to simply summarize it; one must read it for herself:


There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting… shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.

That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.

This is a puzzling sort of thing to say. Krugman seems to believe that protesters who angrily express their political opinion’s violate the freedom of speech of members of Congress. This is a superfine brand of freedom, in which citizens much be extra careful of how they offer policy criticism to their elected leaders. Perhaps Krugman is unaware that the Constitution ensures freedom of speech for citizens to use against government power, not for government officials to use against citizen power.

Krugman goes on:

Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.

So this is something new and ugly. What’s behind it?

Something new and ugly? As opposed to the fraud-laden community organizing that ACORN does? As opposed to Jesse Jackson rent-a-riots?

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has compared the scenes at health care town halls to the “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000 — the demonstration that disrupted the vote count in Miami and arguably helped send George W. Bush to the White House. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many of the rioters were actually G.O.P. staffers flown in from Washington.

But Mr. Gibbs is probably only half right. Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights.

This reminds me of the Democratic talking point that Sarah Palin read her speech from a teleprompter at the Republican National Convention. Personally, I’m shocked, shocked! to learn that political protests are being organized by political leaders. Seriously, this is really baffling stuff. Does Krugman really mean to imply that non-spontaneous political speech is somehow less legitimate than unplanned political speech?

Krugman goes on to attack the head of one of the grass-roots organizations:

The latter group [Conservatives for Patients’ Rights… is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation; the company eventually pleaded guilty to charges of overbilling state and federal health plans, paying $1.7 billion — yes, that’s “billion” — in fines. You can’t make this stuff up.

Well, not all community organizing efforts can be done by future presidents. I’m left to wonder what impact this has on the legitimacy of the opinions being expressed by protesters.

It’s not like a bunch of ambivalent people sit by the phone waiting for a call to participate in the next Republican protest (as opposed to the homeless people that ACORN pays to protest with cigarettes). Republicans haven’t been able to mobilize this successfully against an issue since the last attempt at health care reform under the Clinton administration. The fact that a healthcare reform bill is being rushed through Congress angers those who distrust government interference in the healthcare system.

I’d love to hear what Krugman thinks of the recent effort in my town to raise property taxes via referendum. It included signs, bumper stickers, individuals (some of whom may well have been of dubious character) who stepped up to the plate to create an organization, donations from well-healed residents (some of whom may well have been of dubious characters), rallies, the orchestrated presence of supporters at town meetings (real instruments of governance here in New England; not simply meet-the-voter gatherings). In my mind, this is the American political system in action. Quite extraordinary, really. But according to Krugman, it’s a sinister projection into our political system — of what, I cannot fathom.

Krugman continues:

But while the organizers are as crass as they come, I haven’t seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

Finally, after attacking protestors’ legitimacy by accusing them of violating other people’s freedom of speech, after attacking their legitimacy by denying that they constitute a grass-roots effort, after attacking their legitimacy by throwing innuendo at one of the heads of an organizing group — after all this, Krugman admits that the actual protesters are expressing real political opinions, but only because it allows him to attack their political opinions and call them racist:

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.

So according to Klugman, people who are comfortable with government subsidies in health care have no basis to object to Obama’s plan, because Klugman stretches common usage to unilaterally define subsidies as a form of “socialized or government run health care.” Klugman seems unaware that “socialized medicine” and “government run healthcare” typically refer to health care systems in other countries that are fundamentally different from ours, not to specific policies in the US health care system.

Moreover, in spite of the inflammatory rhetoric of opposition leaders (inflammatory rhetoric? in politics? Oh, my!), the alleged hypocrisy of those who support limited government subsidies in health care while opposing Obamacare constitutes evidence that they oppose Obamacare because of “who [Obama] is.” Never mind the fact that American voters also vehemently rejected Clinton’s health care reform proposals.

But let’s talk about the phrase: “Who Obama is.” This is an interesting phrase. When I see it, I think “Obama is the president” or “Obama is a not a really good president so far” (just my opinion). But for Krugman, “who Obama is” must be about race. Why? Because there are conspiracy theorists who believe Obama has withheld his birth certificate because he’s not American:

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

Surely this is a non sequitur. Every major conservative publication, including The National Review, The American Spectator — even Ann Coulter, has taken pains to denounce this wacky conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya. In fact, the birther movement was started by a Hillary Clinton-supporting blog called “The Blue State.” As much as Krugman wants it to be otherwise, the Republican right simply is not as crazy as the Democratic left that gave us the 9/11 conspiracy theory, the Diebold-vote-stealing conspiracy theory, the Palin’s-son-was-actually-born-to-her-daughter conspiracy theory. The nuts over at DailyKos even published a defense of Dan Rather’s forged documents! Seriously, these people will believe anything. But to Klugman, the Republicans are racist because he thinks that they adhere to a conspiracy theory baked up by Democrats supporting the current Secretary of State!

You can read the rest of his article if you like. It doesn’t get any better. I think that we have a right to expect better from someone who won a Nobel Prize for his intellectual pursuits. As far as the editors of the New York Times, they’ve shown that they’re not capable of any better.