Friday, August 04, 2006

Our Shrill Public Discourse

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been called "the shrill one" since the early days of the George W. Bush administration. It's meant as a badge of honor, signifying that Krugman hasn't been afraid to speak up plainly in disagreement with President "Uniter, not a Divider."
There is a blog devoted to shrillness, and it's called (not surprisingly) Shrillblog. Its latest post is headlined, "55% of Americans are Shrill and Unbalanced." You get the idea.
Helpfully, the blog offers this backstory headlined, "The History of the Shrill."

I guess it started, I think, with that extremely strange and not-very-analytical Svengali of the Bush Social Security reform plan, Peter Ferrara, who wrote back in 2001 about "the fierce, shrill, and unreasoned denunciations of allowing workers the freedom to choose a personal-account option for Social Security may impress the gullible... and denounced:

..the highly irascible Paul Krugman...

That was, I think, the start of a very peculiar meme: a piling-on of critics of Bush--especially of Paul Krugman--whose sole criticism was that he was "shrill." The critique was neither that he was a bad economist, nor that his accusations that the Bush administration was lying about a whole bunch of stuff were incorrect (indeed, one of Paul's most vicious critics, Andrew Sullivan, gloried in the fact that Bush was lying about his tax cut. (See http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/05/yes_andrew_sull.html.) So if you wanted to attack Krugman, but could not attack him because his analytics were right, and could not attack him because his accusations of Bush administration dishonesty were correct, what can you do?
The blog chronicles the growing ranks of those who eschew Washington etiquette that prefers euphemism to plain speaking in pointing out that Bush actually doesn't know what he's doing when it comes to the Iraq debacle or diverting Social Security to private accounts or telling his incompetent appiontees they're "doing a hell of a job."
And the ranks of the shrill are now... impressive indeed. Even the truly cowardly are now shrill. Only the bought-and-paid-for have not joined the ranks of the highly critical who have been driven into shrill unholy madness by the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and disconnection from reality of George W. Bush and his administration.
Of course, with two-thirds of the country thinking we're on the wrong track, the shrillness of our public discourse is truly deafening.

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