The last line in Krugman's Saturday post, "The Soft Bigotry of Low Deficit Commission Expectations", was so stinging that it distracted me from something arguably equally important. That line (about the Catfood Commission):
The kindest thing we can do now is pretend the whole thing never happened.
But the bulk of the post highlighted something else that's just important in its own way:
[A]nyone can come up with some good deficit-reduction ideas; I can come up with a dozen even before I've had my morning coffee. Brainstorming is easy.
What the commission was supposed to do was something much harder: it was supposed to produce a package that Congress would give an up and down vote. To do this, it would have to produce something much better than a package with some good stuff buried in among the bad stuff; it would have to produce a package good enough to accept as is.
And it didn't do that. Instead, it produced a package that may have had some good things in it, but also, remarkably, introduced a whole slew of new bad ideas that weren't even in the debate before. A 21 percent of GDP limit on revenues? Cutting the top marginal rate to 23 percent? Sharp reductions in the government work force without, as far as anyone can tell, a commensurate reduction in the work to be done? Instead of cutting through the fog, the commission brought out an extra smoke machine.
Krugman sees the Catfood Commission quite clearly at one level. That last line put it perfectly. However, Krugman misses it completely at another level: He thinks it's a bug, when of course, it's a feature. What better way to advance rightwing ideas no one was even seriously thinking about during a Democratic Administration and a Democratic Congress? Rightwing ideas such as those Krugman just enumerated in that very same paragraph.
Sure, they have only the vaguest relationship to deficit reduction, and introducing them like this out of the blue does nothing to fulfill the
supposed purpose cover story of Catfood Commission. So what? The cover story was only essential for getting the Commission launched. It remains useful of course, for continuing to bludgeon folks with the co-chairs' failed potpouri. But no one has to take it seriously when it no longer suits them--any more than deficit chickenhawks have to take themselves seriously when it's time to cut taxes on the rich & the super-rich.
If this is confusing to anyone, that's precisely the point. Conservative economic policies aren't supposed to make sense. They're supposed to make dollars. Billions and billions of them. Policies that make sense and/or honest deliberative processes that remain grounded broadly supported public principles will almost invariably emerge with a strong "liberal bias", the same way that majorities of self-identified conservatives will support a majority of welfare state programs. Confusion must be introduced at multiple points at multiple levels in order to come out with any sort of "acceptable" conservative policies.
It is, in fact, the same principle of sowing doubt and confusion that Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway document in their recent book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, but with one crucial difference: In science, the standards of conduct and proper procedure are far better established, and the so the generation of spurious doubt and confusion is much more obvious, and much more clearly identifiable. But the game is fundamentally, at bottom, still the same. Create confusion, create uncertainty, create delay, introduce false issues, introduce false solutions, shift the debate, introduce wild accusations, etc., etc., etc.
Get serious. That's the way the game is played.