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Krugman and the Rhetorical Wars

August 7, 2009

I hold Paul Krugman in the highest regard. Still, his tendency to assume that political opponents (i.e. Republicans) couldn’t possibly be in good faith occasionally disappoints me. Perhaps it is true that movement conservatism succeeded in the 80s and 90s through an appeal to southern racism. Perhaps, as Krugman argues in this morning’s New York Times column, it is also true that racism undergirds the outrage of birthers and town hall mobsters alike. Still, Krugman’s ad-hominem attacks serve only to inflame partisan passions, rendering genuine debate impossible. Why not focus on your opponent’s arguments, and assume good faith, even if you cannot realistically expect it?

Better yet, let the mob speak for itself before hazarding a guess as to their motives. If the anti-Obama fervor amounts to a thinly veiled racism, it should not take much to discover this, and, in so doing, discredit the protesters decisively. Or perhaps the public would discover that, devoid of slogans, the mob is unable to articulate a coherent argument against health care. This would also be a victory. Either way, simply labeling them racists — even if that charge is true — does little to advance the cause of reform and much to reinforce partisanship.

Perhaps it is simply inevitable that the rhetorical wars, in which all is fair, continue.

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