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And They Called It... | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

And They Called It...

My new Think Again column revisits the terrible “problem” of liberal academia, and it’s here.

Bob Kuttner gave Kabuki Democracy a nice review in The American Prospect here.

And the Jewish Journal of LA reviewed it here.

And CSPAN’s Book TV will broadcast a talk I gave at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC this Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 1. More info here.

Lotta reviews tomorrow, but now here’s Reed:

Inflation and Puppy Love: The House Committee Circus Comes to Town
By Reed Richardson

And so it begins. The new Republican majority has settled into control over the House and started holding hearings. And if yesterday’s proceedings are any indication, it will be a long two years for the White House and the American public.

Over at the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ron Paul kicked off the proceedings with what looked to be a libertarians-only kaffeeklatsch, scheduled under the oh-so-subtle question of “Can Monetary Policy Really Create Jobs?” And just to make sure he got the answer he wanted, Paul brought in from the dusty corners of the academic world some guy named Thomas J. DiLorenzo who mainly has a beef with Abraham Lincoln but who has also referred to our central banking system as “the Fed and its legalized counterfeit operations” and characterized TARP as “appointing the U.S. Treasury Secretary as the nation’s first financial dictator.” Welcome to the new reality of Capitol Hill. 

But that was merely the undercard to the main event, a separate panel where the rest of the GOP Budget Committee members got to hector Fed Chairman Bernanke and try their darnedest to inflate the inflation boogeyman again. All of it as part of their quest to undermine the Fed’s quantitative easing program, which, sadly, passes for the only kind of economic stimulus left to the administration in the current political climate. Of course, this fear-mongering just doesn’t resonate as well when recent business news headlines about US inflation read thusly:

“U.S. Consumer Prices Excluding Food, Fuel Record Smallest Gain on Record”

Undaunted, new Committee Chairman and purported GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan wasn’t about to let a little thing like core inflation standing at historically low levels stop him. He just knows that inflation is too sneaky to be trusted, so he’s advocating that we pre-emptively attack it now, sort of Bush Doctrine-style, before it’s too late and “the cow is out of the barn.” (Uhhh, cow?! Typical Midwestern elitist, can’t even get his farm idioms straight.)

To further prove his point, the Cassandra-like Ryan waved a copy of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, which featured the ominous headline “Inflation Worries Spread.” Never mind that this little piece of theater was just that—the article underneath the headline actually focused on inflation concerns in emerging markets overseas and noted that “in contrast to emerging markets, inflation in the U.S. remains low.” But good luck reading about that disconnect in the news recaps of the hearing. Even the Journal ended up burying this nugget in a photo caption in this morning’s story

Not to be outdone, GOP Congressman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma actually verbalized his concern that the economic recovery might arrive too quickly for Bernanke to pull back the inflationary reins in time. I guess he didn’t get his party’s talking points about all the economy stifling and job killing going on right now thanks to Obama’s “socialist” policies?

Of course, if the conservatives on the GOP Budget Committee actually got their way, the odds for that fast-moving recovery would disappear faster than a moderate Republican’s chances of surviving the 2012 primary season, replaced instead by a likely slide back into recession. Kind of like the austerity-driven economic slump that the Tories have inflicted upon the UK right now. But according to Ryan’s principles, suffering through a few extra years of painful economic stagnation would be worth it if it meant we will have avoided a fractional devaluation of the dollar, a supposedly grevious sin that he puts in what he thinks is the proper context by saying:

“There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency.”

Really? I’ll admit I’m no history expert, but I would submit that, though the Weimar Republic’s runaway prices were bad, the regime that followed it pretty conclusively proved that hyperinflation is not the most insidious thing a country can do to its citizens. But hey, Ryan’s probably right, because everywhere I turn I read that he is a smart guy, a thinker and a voracious reader; it’s an embarrassing outpouring of intellect fluffing that, for some reason, always brings to my mind this classic exchange from A Fish Called Wanda:

WANDA: You think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?

OTTO: Apes don't read philosophy.

WANDA: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.

But wait there’s more! The House Energy and Commerce Committee met yesterday as well, and it too had no truck with administration personnel trying to do things and help people and whatnot. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson bore the brunt of it, as several GOP Congressman, including Committee Chairman and man-made climate change skeptic Rep. Fred Upton, castigated her agency’s finding that elevated carbon dioxide levels are endangering the public and, thus, should be regulated. The gall. At times, the back-and-forth got so contentious that today’s New York Times story on the hearing noted:

Jackson was subjected to more than two hours of questioning, some of it hostile, about proposed limits on emissions from factories, refineries, power plants and vehicles.

What’s interesting is that the original version of the Times story, posted online yesterday, characterized the questioning as “hostile and disrespectful” (italics mine), but was subsequently changed to read as above without an explanation or an acknowledgment. (The original version of the story’s first few paragraphs still can be found here.) 

So some Times editor had second thoughts and pulled his or her punches on the “disrespectful” thing. But why? Is it a fear of pissing off the new majority in the House or because, in the Beltway press calculus of Capitol Hill sins, disrespectful ranks above the polar opposites of hostile and obsequious?  Certainly all three were on display in the committee room yesterday, sometimes within the span of a few minutes, as this exchange, captured in the Times article, demonstrates:

A third Republican questioner, Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska, asked Ms. Jackson facetiously if she liked puppies. She started to answer that she did, provided that they were properly housebroken. Mr. Terry sharply interrupted, saying he was only mocking the gentle questions that Democrats were asking to elicit rehearsed answers.

Asking a snide, off-topic question about puppies (and then not even having the decency to listen to the full answer!) seems, to me, to take a pretty hostile and disrespectful attitude to both Jackson and the public, whose time he wasted. But then for a seven-term Congressman to try to excuse this stunt as a protest of what has to be a 200-plus-year tradition of asking friendly, leading questions of ideologically compatible witnesses is more than disingenuous, it’s stupid.

Not as stupid, perhaps, as the GOP-run committee calling on Sen. James Inhofe to testify as an expert witness on the climate, but, unfortunately, that’s the level of policy seriousness we can expect over the next two years. And it’s important for both the public and the media to grasp that. The oncoming whirlwind of similar House committee skirmishes won’t really be about helping the American people or looking forward to fix problems. Instead, it’s going to be all about pompous grandstanding and reflexively probing White House decisions to find any soft spots in the administration’s armor that can be exploited for political gain. In short, a circus, but now more than ever, the last thing our country needs is to be run by a bunch of clowns.

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