By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
From the beginning, the president's most effective establishment critic has been New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who neatly characterizes the Bush administration as "an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist façade." Because he's a renowned Princeton economist who actually understands markets and finance, nobody has more forcefully exposed Bush's lies about his tax plan, Social Security and corporate reform. Naturally, this has made him a bête noire of the right, subject to frequent intellectual and personal attacks by The Wall Street Journal and sleepless Andrew Sullivan, possibly the world's most richly sponsored blogger, who's obviously far more concerned about Krugman's integrity than about his own.
These days, part of the drama of Krugman's writing is seeing just how nuts the Bush presidency will finally make him. When he began writing for the Times, he was clearly not accustomed to the mud-wrestling that's become part of political journalism, but over the nearly two years since Bush took office Krugman's measured Ivy League cool has gradually turned to a boil. His charges have grown more sulfurous -- he accuses the White House of smear campaigns against its critics -- and his rhetoric more openly populist. Writing after the election, he declared, "we're going to have an extended sojourn in the political wilderness" (and he never really stuck me as a "we" guy). Krugman's even begun chiding the rest of the press for its feebleness in exposing Bush's lies. Little by little, he's becoming the Angriest Economist in the World, bound so tightly with tension and anger -- and competitiveness -- that he's even begun lashing out weirdly at allies. A few weeks ago, he mocked Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley for his tardiness in noticing Bush's lies, when all along Kinsley has actually been one of Krugman's key rivals at exposing the president's dishonesty.
Still, such minor eruptions look positively healthy compared to what Bush has done to Gore Vidal's head. In a long, sneery 7,000-word piece for London's Observer that's been widely distributed on the Internet, Vidal describes the Bush-Cheney "junta" as "Hitlerian" and says the president deliberately didn't stop the 9/11 terror attacks so that he would have an excuse to conquer Afghanistan, partly in the service of Unocal's oil plans. Now it's easy to see why such a theory appeals to Vidal's aristocratic narcissism. After all, his interpretation of American history has always focused on the very elite that he himself was born into, thereby putting him (unlike the rest of us slobs) at the center of our national history. This is his own version of power worship.
Trouble is, Vidal's explanation of 9/11 is unconvincingly loony -- a grab bag of anti-American insults, self-contradictions and bogus pieces of "evidence." (To think he had the gall to insult Oliver Stone for distorting history!) While it's possible that Vidal thinks he's being amusingly provocative -- this has always been one of his vices -- such rubbish from a famous writer actually helps Bush by making his critics seem not merely unserious but unhinged. Indeed, like nearly all conspiracy theories, Vidal's account of our president's diabolically hidden schemes is actually bad politics -- it distracts us from all the hideous policies that are being enacted in plain sight. After all, we hardly need to inflate George Bush into a 007-level archvillain in order to make him worth bashing. He's plenty bad enough just as he is.