I don’t much care for Paul Greenberg’s opinions, as regular readers of this blog know. It’s not that he is a horrible writer or undeserving of his Pulitzer Prize. He’s a very fine writer and Columbia University is free to pass out Pulitzers to whomever it wants, especially to one who apparently was willing in the 1960s to defend civil rights in a most uncivil part of the country, the South.
There’ s just something about his tone, call it Arkansas Delta arrogance, a peculiar mix of experience-over-ideas conservatism and Southern sensibility and the kind of condescending charm that a man at war with the modern world passes off as genteel sophistication.
At least that’s how his prose rubs me.
In any case, Greenberg was at it again this morning in the Joplin Globe. After three nice introductory paragraphs about the upcoming campaign season, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote:
Some candidates eventually prove great presidents — a Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt– and win eternal honor, or at least deserve to. Others are more like Jimmy Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Now, let’s take a minute to consider those two sentences, which discredit two alive-and-well Democratic presidents and praise a long-dead one.
First the dead one: FDR is one of those Democratic presidents that even some Republican-minded folks occasionally like to praise. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Tea Party Republicans only because they are ignorant of his many compromises as our president, particularly admired Roosevelt’s leadership:
His strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.
Or consider Reagan’s calling Roosevelt, “an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times.”
Ah, that must be what Mr. Greenberg means by praising the man who gave us America’s social safety net: Roosevelt was an American giant and inspirational leader.
Okay. But I’ve never met a conservative Republican who had a good word to say about what Roosevelt’s domestic policies actually accomplished. In fact, the entire modern conservative movement materialized in opposition to the New Deal and morphed into its current unseemly fanaticism while the New Deal was giving birth to its first child, the Great Society.
So, it’s hard for me, a non-Pulitzer winner, to understand what Greenberg can possibly mean by including Roosevelt in his list of “great presidents,” but I am sure he has his reasons.
And one of those reasons must be to contrast the mythical and historically sainted FDR with two of Mr. Greenberg’s favorite demon-Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
Carter’s name seems to pop up whenever Greenberg needs to stick a Pulitzer-blessed screwdriver in the eye of Mr. Obama, like last summer, when he wrote:
Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.
Never mind that Greenberg, like all Republicans sympathizers, has it all wrong about Carter’s so-called “malaise speech.” (You can read why here or read the speech yourself here.)
Sure enough, Greenberg once again wielded his Obama-hater weapon, Mr. Carter’s presidency, along with the former president’s sidekick, Mr. Malaise:
The stubborn unemployment rate that refuses to subside, a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing, a Great Recession that won’t go away. No wonder there’s a sense of that old devil Malaise in the air. Again the word stagflation is heard in the land, and some of the leftier economists say a little inflation (which has a way of becoming a lot) would be a fine thing. As in the Carter years? Please.
The not-so-subtle implication here is that unemployment, the national debt, and the Great Recession are Mr. Obama’s doing. Never mind the facts; Mr. Greenberg has a job to do.
Now, this is going to be the strategy to attack Mr. Obama, as we move toward November of 2012. Just yesterday, Jeb Bush, who received praise for telling GOP presidential candidates to stop “ascribing bad motives” to Obama, nevertheless ascribed bad policies to him:
He’s made a situation that was bad worse. He’s deserving of criticism for that.
But facts are not just stubborn things, they are eternal obstacles to the kind of revisionist nonsense that Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Bush are trying to peddle.
Rather than going from bad to worse, things have gone from worse to, well, not-as-bad.
Jobs were bleeding from the Bush-sized wound in the economy (Greenberg’s “Great Recession that won’t go away”) at an alarming rate when Mr. Obama assumed office. And it took some time to stop the bleeding and close the wound. But it did stop and the wound is healing, albeit agonizingly slow.
And what healing is happening has come despite fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have en masse not only refused to help Democrats restore the economy to normalcy, but have steadfastly obstructed any efforts to do so.
And Mr. Greenberg’s “alarming to crushing” national debt is also an inheritance from Mr. Bush and years of Republican governmental malfeasance, based on unfettered free-market theology, which Greenberg enthusiastically endorsed in 2006.
The recession is responsible for much of the ongoing yearly deficits, but particular and deliberate policies of the previous administration—those famous Bush tax cuts and wars—are also to blame for the shortfall and for the accumulation of massive debt.
Greenberg the war hawk was also an enthusiastic believer at the time in the power of the Bush tax cuts to heal the economy, all without ever mentioning the resulting deficits and debt. In fact, I searched in vain for a bad Greenbergian word about deficits and debt under the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Even though now, in the Age of Obama, Greenberg clearly sees and writes about ”a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing,“ he apparently didn’t see it as either alarming or crushing when policies that caused most of it were being debated and adopted by his fellow conservatives.
Thankfully, The New York Times, put it in a form that even a conservative columnist with a self-described disdain for the theoretical can understand:
So, Mr. Greenberg and other like-minded Obama-haters can take their shots at the current president via comparisons with Jimmy Carter and FDR, but some of us still have a working-relationship with the evidence, with those obstinate, unyielding, and fussy facts.