Paul Krugman has a typically bombastic new column titled The Focus Hocus-Pocus
. His thesis:
the notion that the Obama administration erred by not focusing on the economy is hardening into conventional wisdom. But I have no idea what, if anything, people mean when they say that. The whole focus on “focus” is, as I see it, an act of intellectual cowardice — a way to criticize President Obama’s record without explaining what you would have done differently. [Emphasis added]
Using "focus" as a vague way to attack the President...Why does that ring a bell?
Back in 2006 a similar claim was widely
repeated in the media
, i.e. the Iraq war had caused us to lose focus on the important
war in Afghanistan. For instance, this NY Times editorial
from August 2006 concludes:
Americans are coming to see the war in Iraq as something apart from the war against 9/11-style terrorism — and a distraction from it. The war in Afghanistan has always been an essential part of that larger struggle. That makes it a war that America simply cannot afford to lose.
A couple months after that, you had a NY Times
columnist making the same sort of argument:
Iraq is a lost cause...Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a war we haven’t yet lost, and it’s just possible that a new commitment of forces there might turn things around.
The moral is clear — we need to get out of Iraq, not because we want to cut and run, but because our continuing presence is doing nothing but wasting American lives. And if we do free up our forces (and those of our British allies), we might still be able to save Afghanistan...
Given the way the Bush administration relegated Afghanistan to sideshow status...
Who was that columnist pushing the focus argument vis a vis Afghanistan? None other than Paul Krugman
. Indeed, this argument became so popular on the left that it eventually was voiced by one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Here's Barack Obama in early 2007:
And sure enough, here's how Obama's argument was covered by the NY Times
Senator Barack Obama said today that the United States should shift its focus from the war in Iraq to a fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [Emphasis added]
Obama even used the focus argument
in an attack on the Bush administration during his surprise visit to Afghanistan in 2008:
[youtube 4NQG48BA-VQ nolink]
Paul Krugman and his newspaper had no problem with this argument at the time. How can he possibly argue that the same argument is "intellectual cowardice" when applied to Barack Obama's choice to focus on health reform instead of the economy throughout 2009?
And let's not pretend that Krugman's Iraq war argument was somehow more serious than the one about health reform. The war in Iraq had been going on for more than three years when Krugman argued we'd lost focus, making his complaints the soul of post hoc analysis. By contrast, there were many congressmen
, even liberal economists
urging President Obama to drop ObamaCare and focus instead on the economy within months of his taking it up. Many of these complaints came before anyone knew it would be a year long effort costing roughly the same
as the entire Iraq war.
If the focus argument is an "act of intellectual cowardice" then Paul Krugman and the entire editorial board of the NY Times
are intellectual cowards for making the same argument about Iraq. On the other hand, if the focus argument is justifiable, then Krugman's tendentious attack on Evan Bayh should be seen for the partisan clap-trap it is.