There’s been a recent outbreak of Blogger Warz!! between two of my favorites, Greenwald and Krugman. It’s good reading, so I won’t bother excerpting (ok maybe a little). Greenwald wrote an article discussing Obama advisor and current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, and a recent paper he published regarding preferred methods of government propaganda. Greenwald:
Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.” He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.” Sunstein’s 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story‘s Daniel Tencer.
Greenwald rightly notes that if it was a Bush Administration official proposing these things, we’d be pissed. Things start to get hot, however, when later in the article Greenwald makes note of the recently uncovered relationship between “independent health care modeling expert” Jon Gruber and the Obama Administration, namely a $400,000 contract to provide cost estimates on the impacts of various reform proposals. This is a guy who is an MIT health economist, technical expert and leader in the field. It’s definitely a good thing that lawmakers are relying on technical experts to help craft new laws that will have sweeping impact on society. But he has repeatedly failed to disclose his financial ties to the current reform effort, even as he advocates for it (op-eds, NYT, WaPo, etc) and is in turn held out as a technical expert by senators, administration officials, etc, trying to sell their plan.
Krugman leaps to Gruber’s defense (and his own), not because the guy’s actions were particularly defensible, but because the revelations have the potential to be politically damaging in this final hour of healthcare reform. (These shady things are supposed to come out after the fact, not during!) He closes with this:
And here’s the thing: by claiming that there’s a huge scandal when nothing worse happened than insufficient care about disclosure, Greenwald and the people at FDL are actually reducing our ability to call foul on real corruption. After all, if everything is a scandal, nothing is a scandal. One of these days, perhaps soon, we’ll have a genuinely corrupt administration again — but when whistleblowers try to call attention to the misdeeds, you can be sure that there will be claims that “even liberals said that Obama did things just as bad or worse.” The crusade against Gruber is getting really destructive.
As I had hoped, Greenwald responded to Krugman this morning, and pretty much dismantled his argument with the Vulcan logic we’ve come to expect.
For me, this is the nub of the matter. I couldn’t disagree more with Krugman’s claim here, as he has it exactly backwards. What will make it impossible to effectively call out wrongdoing by future corrupt administrations (by which Krugman seems to mean: Republican administrations) is the willingness of some people to tolerate and defend corruption when done by “their side.” The next time we have what Krugman calls a “genuinely corrupt administration” which, say, secretly pays people they’re holding out as “independent” experts, the administration’s defenders will say: “how can you possibly object to our doing this when Obama did it, and not only did you fail to object then, but you defended it?”
I don’t expect Krugman will respond further to this, if for no other reason than it will continue to give oxygen to the controversy. In many ways this dispute epitomizes the burgeoning grudge match on the left between those who are Democratic true believers, and those who are willing to cry foul no matter who is in charge. I’m sympathetic to both sides (which I previously would not be, had we not just lived through the Bush administration) and am curious what others think about this. Here’s those links again:
Marcy Wheeler rebuttal, responding to claims from Krugles that she’s a scandal-monger