Right on the Edge

Interview with Paul Krugman


In April 2003, as TV screens repeatedly showed images of Saddam Hussein’s statue toppling in Baghdad, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was publishing a column that proved to be right on target. “One has to admit that the Bush people are very good at conquest, military and political,†he wrote. “They focus all their attention on an issue; they pull out all the stops; they don’t worry about breaking the rules. This technique brought them victory in the Florida recount battle, the passage of the 2001 tax cut, the fall of Kabul, victory in the midterm elections, and the fall of Baghdad.†“Conquest and Neglect,†the column published April 11, 2003, is among the new material that appears in the recently published paperback edition of The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century (Norton), Krugman’s masterful indictment of the Bush administration and the radical revolution designed to change forever the political landscape of America. During a recent trip to Austin, Krugman met with the Observer. The following is an excerpt of the interview:

Texas Observer: The paperback version of your book ends with a quote from John Dean’s Worse Than Watergate: “I’ve been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy.†Where are we right now?

Paul Krugman: We’re right on the edge between those two possibilities. Things have shifted quite a lot over the past few days. On the one hand, the ruling party really doesn’t believe in democratic norms. They’ve been trying to rig the election in a number of ways, and they’ve rolled out that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for the terrorists, in effect. That’s a deeply undemocratic thing, and if they win, they will try to institutionalize that. On the other hand, if they lose and the records are opened—it’s pretty obvious that it will be devastating. So it’s a weird moment. You feel like people are noticing the nakedness of the emperor—finally—but either just at the last minute or maybe not quite in time.

What happened here after 9/11 was this adulation for the leadership that completely swamped any rational perception of who these guys were and what they were like. [The first presidential] debate had an effect partly because it was as if for the first time in three-plus years, people were able to see without the shroud of glory.