Today Paul Krugman is often lionized as the most influential leftist columnist in America. A fact which says less about the Left in America and more about censorship in the US mainstream press and how complacent we all are in accepting it. Don’t get me wrong; Paul Krugman has some very interesting things to say and has issued a number of devastating critiques of the Bush administration over the years. I often learn something new from Krugman’s weekly column in the New York Times and his periodic appearances on Al Franken’s radio show. Krugman synthesizes the most devastating economic critiques of the latest Bush debacle into a nice handy snippet that I can digest weekly. I’m grateful that he is out there inserting his voice into American political fray. Somebody needs to dissect the economic folly of Bushonomics, and Krugman yields that scalpel with more scathing skill than anyone that I know.
Nonetheless, we should be cognizant of what Krugman represents. He is an “acceptable critic” to use Noam Chomsky’s terms. Howard Zinn talks about how in the US press, only choices C and D are presented to the US, whereas choices A and B have been eliminated from public discourse. It is OK to let a highly respected academic economist occasionally vent his spleen in the New York Times, the most august of the bland US press. He doesn’t really represent anything too radical. He is even useful. He inserts an occasional reality-check on the fantasy-land of the Bush Administration budget proposals.
Somebody does need to stand up and tell Americans that the current budget deficit and trade imbalance is turning America into a “banana republic” as Krugman terms it and inform Americans that a national health care system would actually cost the same or less as the ridiculous privatized system that we have today.
Nonetheless, Krugman hardly represents the left, or at least the left as I know it, and shouldn’t be mistaken for the left. Unfortunately, American newspapers have such a limited (or as Chomsky would say “censured”) perspective, that Krugman seems to be only voice that most Americans will ever hear, so he gets mistaken for the American left. Mainstream political opinion has shifted so far to right that the standard bearer for the left has become a man who believes that well-designed free trade policies and a globalized economy are the answers to global poverty. When someone like Naomi Klein or Amy Goodman should represent the left, the American public is presented with a Princeton economist who’s views are so “acceptable” that they hardly ruffle the waters. When an Ivy League economist who wrote the standard text on international trade represents the left, then you know that there is something wrong with the state of America. Krugman, reportedly, was on the short list of possible Clinton appointees for the job that eventually went to Robert Reich. That fact alone should indicate how mainstream of a voice he represents.
I have never read Le Monde Diplomatique published in Paris, but the monthly versions published in Latin America present more leftist ideas that any of the mainstream US newspapers. Latin American newspapers are hardly models of good reporting–their coverage of world events is even worse than the US press–but they are far better at representing leftist viewpoints in their respective country than the US press. England is hardly a bastion of leftism in the world, but London’s The Guardian and The Independent do a much better job of presenting the leftist viewpoints of England, than any mainstream newspaper found in the US. The viewpoints of the American left expressed in Z Magazine, In These Times, or even a more staid rag like The Nation hardly ever percolate into the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, or Chicago Tribune. In contrast, the rightist tenets expressed in the Weekly Standard and The National Review are often echoed in the columns of the mainstream American press. A mainstream magazine like Newsweek can have a weekly column by an arch-conservative like George Will, but it has nobody to represent the left. Newsweek doesn’t even attempt to represent the left in its columns, and Time and the US News and World Report are even worse in this regard. The best that Newsweek offers is an occasional liberal remark from Anne Quindlen.
It has become a truism in American politics that the US press is a bastion of liberalism, and therefore biased. Possibly US newspapers are too liberal, but what is “liberalism”? In most of the world, the word liberal is equated with free market economics. In other words, a liberal properly belongs on the right in political terms. When I read the columns of the so-called “liberals” in America, they seem to be pretty far to the right as far as I am concerned. They rarely
present any of the viewpoints found in Z Magazine, Democracy Now, Flashpoints, In these Times, Dollars and Cents, Mother Jones, The Catholic Worker, and the local peace and justice papers and Independent Media Centers. During the time of FDR, the word “liberal” came to be seen as representing the left and many of the liberals in FDR’s administration were stanch fighters for leftist agendas, but today, American liberalism rarely takes a stand for social justice and the rights of the working class. It has become the staid defender of the complacent American middle class. It is more likely to stand up for the rights of Hollywood than the lower class. America has a vibrant and articulate left, but its views rarely percolate beyond the pale of the blogosphere and the independent media scene.
In this sorry state of reporting, an Ivy League economist has become a proxy for leftism in the American press. This is not to say that we don’t need academics like Krugman to interject opinions based upon research and serious study into American mainstream discourse. Sadly, it seems that only an economist is being allowed in the arena. Americans would be much better served by having an occasional scientist or sociologist represent the “respectable” critique of the current administration, rather than an economist. Even more than an occasional economic reality check, America desperately needs a scientific and sociological reality check. We have nobody like George Monbiot in London’s The Guardian pointing out that we need to reduce our CO2 production by 90% by the year 2030 if we want to avoid a climatic disaster. Sadly, the realities of global warming and increasing social inequality rarely grace the front pages (or even the columnist pages) of American newspapers.