Buchanan and Press, September 22, 2003: Interview with Paul Krugman

SYNOPSIS: A very contentious Krugman interview where Pat Buchanan lies to his viewers about what Paul writes in The Great Unraveling and self-righteously rehashes the Enron non-scandal (Krugman had disclosed that he was on the Enron advisory board in the article Buchanan is talking about!), but Paul handles him pretty well

PAT BUCHANAN, CO-HOST: Good evening. Iím Pat Buchanan. We begin with another suicide bomb attack at the U.N. compound in Baghdad. Two people are dead, including the bomber, 19 more are injured. A U.N. representative said security is deteriorating to the point where they simply cannot get their job done.

PRESS: Our first guest tonight is ďNew York TimesĒ columnist Paul Krugman. We spoke to Paul just a little earlier and I asked him if he really believes that President Bush deliberately misled Americans into going to war in Iraq.

PAUL KRUGMAN, ďTHE NEW YORK TIMESĒ COLUMNIST: Iím afraid so. Itís pretty clear that we were led to believe that there was an imminent threat when there was no imminent threat. That we were given constant innuendo, that Iraq had something to do with September 11 and we went to war on the basis that it was urgent and now weíve-turns out weíve committed about half our Army and untold tens of billions of dollars to something that really, whatever case you can make for it, was not the urgent matter that the administration pretended.

PRESS: But the new line is-and I heard it this morning, by the way, on national radio from Rush Limbaugh is, it doesnít matter whether or not we found any weapons of mass destruction. Everybody agrees Saddam Hussein was an evil person and weíre better off without him.

KRUGMAN: There are a lot of evil guys in the world and thereís a lot of bad stuff that happens in the world. And the U.S.-even the U.S. has limited resources. What weíre planning to spend in Iraq over the next couple of years, the part they told us about, and Iím sure there is more we havenít heard yet, is equivalent to our total foreign aid budget for about 15 years. Itís probably enough to save the lives of 100 million children if we were willing to spend it on fighting tropical diseases, providing clean water. Was this the best use of all that money? And thereís the national security aspect. Again, Iíve talked to some military types off the record and theyíre crying. They say weíre degrading the quality of our Army. Weíve got 16 of the Armyís 33 combat brigades bogged down in a role, which is not really what theyíre suited for. Yes, by all means we want to get rid of evil guys. But was this the prime, most important thing we needed to do in a world full of trouble?

BUCHANAN: All right, Mr. Krugman, in your-page five of your book you talked about us facing revolutionary power like Robespierreís reign of terror and the Third Reich.

KRUGMAN: I never said that.

BUCHANAN: I wonder-well, you said totalitarian regimes of the 1930ís and only one came into existence...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... in the 1930ís that I am aware of...

KRUGMAN: Well...

BUCHANAN: ... who are you talking about? Because I followed on the next page and you mention the Heritage Foundation, and what I want to know is are you serious?

KRUGMAN: Come on, if you actually read what I said there, I said that Kissinger was drawing parallels about the difference-the quote from Henry Kissinger that I rely on was drawing parallels between the difficulties that established regimes accustomed to stability have in dealing with powers that really are out there to change the system, that donít accept...

BUCHANAN: Revolutionary powers.

KRUGMAN: Thatís right. And it doesnít-I also say thereís not a moral equivalence. So donít try and throw me...

BUCHANAN: All right...

KRUGMAN: ... on the defensive here.

BUCHANAN: All right...

KRUGMAN: These are very radical people.

BUCHANAN: Whoís radical? You mentioned Grover Norquist...

KRUGMAN: Right.

BUCHANAN: Are you serious?

KRUGMAN: Yes.

BUCHANAN: I mean youíre talking about the Third Reich in Robespierre and Grover Norquist?

KRUGMAN: Is that really the best you can do, Mr. Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: No, is that the best you can do?

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: No. Come on...

BUCHANAN: You mentioned Norquist, I didnít.

KRUGMAN: ... letís not try to pretend the book is saying something it doesnít. Right.

BUCHANAN: Did you mention Norquist?

KRUGMAN: I said very clearly that itís not about moral equivalence. What it is about is that these are very radical people. When Grover Norquist, the most powerful lobbyist in Washington is closely associated...

BUCHANAN: You have to be kidding.

KRUGMAN: No...

BUCHANAN: The most powerful lobbyist...

KRUGMAN: All right...

BUCHANAN: Have you heard of the NRA? Have you heard of APAC (ph)?

KRUGMAN: Come on-closely associated with the Republican leadership says that his goal is to shrink the U.S. government down to a size where you can drown it in the bathtub. Then you know that something very drastic is happening and that all...

BUCHANAN: All right...

KRUGMAN: ... of the pretense of moderation, compassionate conservatism is just not the real thing.

BUCHANAN: All right, Mr. Krugman, I donít care if Grover Norquist says he wants to get this down to the U.S. post office and get rid of the entire federal government. Bill knows, I know, everybody in this town knows that Grover Norquist is the guy who runs around with a tax-no new taxes pledge, some people sign it, some people donít. He has no real power in this town and for you to talk about revolutionary power and then use terms like the Heritage Foundation, moderate conservative and Grover Norquist...

KRUGMAN: Oh my God...

BUCHANAN: ... the tax cutter, is a little absurd.

KRUGMAN: Well, all right. Letís-you know, I thought we were going to have a discussion here, but letís talk a little bit about Tom DeLay.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

KRUGMAN: Right. I mean one of the things I say in the book is when I talked about Tom DeLay and some of his positions, I got letters from liberals saying oh, arenít you overreacting a bit? Iím not interested in what some crazy guy in Congress has to say. The important point to realize is that the people who have these really very extreme radical views who really donít like the country the way it is today are not some crazy guy. This is the House majority leader, right?

BUCHANAN: All right, one follow up-one question, Bill. Can you name a single major social program from the new deal of great society that George Bush, in power three years, has completely abolished, one of those major agencies heís abolished?

KRUGMAN: No he hasnít, but he has starved the federal government to revenue. Weíve got a $500 billion deficit, of which about 60 percent is the direct result of his tax cuts. He has made it very clear that thereís no way heís going to reclaim that revenue. You ask, where are we going to make up that deficit, because even the federal government has to pay its way. The only-you know Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are where the money is. This is an administration thatís bait and switch. Thatís what happened in the Iraq war. Thatís what happens on the budget. They tell you one thing, but then the bill comes down and their intention is that ordinary, middle-class Americans will end up paying it.

BUCHANAN: Coming up-more with Paul Krugman. Should Congress give President Bush the 87 billion he wants for the mission in Iraq? Weíll ask Mr. Krugman what he says the economy-why he says the economy is headed for a meltdown if the president is re-elected. Thatís next on BUCHANAN & PRESS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN: Tomorrow on BUCHANAN & PRESS, itís actor Rob Lowe. This season the star of ďWest WingĒ switches from the White House to the law. BUCHANAN & PRESS will talk to Rob Lowe tomorrow right here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Weíre back with Paul Krugman, ďNew York TimesĒ columnist, an oasis of sanity, in my judgment at ďThe New York TimesĒ and got a new book out called ďThe Great UnravelingĒ. Paul, I want to talk to you about the economy now. Last Saturday morning I was privileged to join a group called the International Council of Shopping Centers out in Half Moon Bay, California. Ahead of me on the program was a very noted California economist, Donald Straszheim. Mr. Straszheim told these shopping center moguls from around the world that the last three years of economic performance is the worst by any president in this country since Herbert Hoover and the depression. Do you agree with that assessment? And if so, why isnít there more outrage?

KRUGMAN: Well, OK. I mean certainly in terms of jobs, heís exactly right. I mean itís a near lock now unless thereís a miracle between now and next November that George Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to finish a term with fewer people working than when he started and thatís-so and thatís what matters. Jobs is the most important thing and the job performance is just terrible. I think the lack of outrage-I think thereís actually quite a lot more outrage than people realize. Itís simmering, but theyíve had a lot of excuses. Thereís a war on. Terrorists are responsible for the job destruction in this country. Itís-it takes some time and of course, we are a rich country. People started off with a lot of reserves of savings, but itís actually very nasty. I think that the unemployment numbers you see actually seriously understate the amount of damage thatís being done to ordinary families right now.

PRESS: Letís tie the two together. Because we started out talking about Iraq and now weíre talking about tax cuts. Can we afford the cost of occupation in Iraq and the Bush tax cuts at the same time? And if Democrats propose rescinding the tax cuts, arenít they really just going in front of the American people and saying here we are, we are Democrats, we want to raise taxes again.

KRUGMAN: Well, Iím not-Iím going to leave the political dilemmas to other people. Itís tricky, but one thing to point out is that for the most part, ordinary Americans didnít get much of a tax cut. The typical families had a few hundred dollars. The-about a third of the tax cuts have gone to people making more than $300,000 a year. So weíre really not ó you can roll back a lot of the tax cuts without really have much impact at all on ordinary families. The short answer is no, canít afford it. Roughly speaking, crunch through it all, say that weíre going to have an economic recovery, but take into account the fact that the baby boomers are out there and will be demanding their Social Security and Medicare...

BUCHANAN: Mr. Krugman...

KRUGMAN: The federal government is about 25 percent short of the revenue it needs to provide the services we now expect from the federal government. And Iíve...

BUCHANAN: Mr. Krugman...

KRUGMAN: ... heard nothing realistic from the administration about how theyíre going to make up that gap.

BUCHANAN: Itís the deficit. OK. Let me read you a quote of yours, Mr. Krugman. You said, even as George Bush stunned reporters by declaring that-quote - ďwe have found the weapons of mass destructionĒ, the Republican National Committee declared that the latest tax cut benefits everyone who pays taxes...

KRUGMAN: Right.

BUCHANAN: ... and that is simply a lie.

KRUGMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BUCHANAN: Didnít you just say that the-certain folks only got small taxes...

KRUGMAN: No, I said...

BUCHANAN: ... of a hundred-or to a couple of hundred dollars?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: What Iím asking you is, didnít virtually everyone get a tax cut?

KRUGMAN: Well, about a third of the population got nothing at all.

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: Come on.

BUCHANAN: Are these taxpayers...

KRUGMAN: I said the typical...

BUCHANAN: Are these taxpayers...

KRUGMAN: Yes, theyíre taxpayers...

BUCHANAN: ... that didnít get a tax cut?

KRUGMAN: Yes. Actually, it turns out that many people who pay payroll taxes, but donít pay income taxes got nothing and it turns out even eight million people who pay income taxes got nothing. No, this was just flat a lie...

BUCHANAN: All right...

KRUGMAN: Might I suggest you do some homework before you go after me on that one?

BUCHANAN: All right, well let me suggest you do some homework when you compare Bush, his six percent unemployment with the-Herbert Hoover, who got us up to 25 percent. It is true that Mr. Bush added from four to six percent unemployment, but that is hardly the worst situation since the Depression, since Jimmy Carter gave us 21 percent interest rates, 13 percent inflation and up to 10 percent unemployment...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... seven percent when he ran.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... so how do you compare it with the Depression?

KRUGMAN: Unemployment is a statistic, which can change its meaning over time. The real question-the things you want to look at is job loss, duration of unemployment, stress on families. Now actually the worst year since the Great Depression was 1982, not right now, but it was brief. This is three years of grinding steady job loss. Weíre-the amazing thing is weíre almost two years into an alleged recovery and weíre still losing jobs and that is the source of the extraordinary...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: OK. I accept those facts that 1982 was the bottom. OK. Let me ask you this, though, Mr. Krugman, youíre very good at attacking Mr. Bush as he lies, he distorts, et cetera. Let me ask you about your personal situation. You took $50,000 from Enron while sitting on an advisory board for Enron and writing...

KRUGMAN: Oh God...

BUCHANAN: ... ďFortuneĒ magazine...

KRUGMAN: I wrote a piece...

BUCHANAN: Is that true?

KRUGMAN: Yes, I wrote a piece saying the markets were great using Enron as an example and declared the connection. Now, look, I was a pretty highly paid business consultant speaker in those years. I was not writing for ďThe New York TimesĒ. William Kristol of ďThe Weekly StandardĒ was on that board...

BUCHANAN: Right.

KRUGMAN: ... for two years, received $100,000. This was not-again, Iím really kind of disappointed. Is this really the best you can do?

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: Canít we talk about the substance of your arguments?

BUCHANAN: No...

KRUGMAN: Did I ever...

BUCHANAN: ... you go after peopleís character and motives and he lies and he distorts and so and so. Grover Norquist is a revolutionary and Heritage Foundation...

KRUGMAN: Well...

BUCHANAN: I think we can call you on some of these. Would you apologize right now for writing that piece on Enron when youíre getting $50,000, when you see how those folks got...

KRUGMAN: When the piece begins by saying full disclosure, Iím a member of an Enron advisory committee and then I said, gee, itís really interesting. I went there and saw the market at work. OK, this is-by the way, this is one of the points I make in the book. The response of these people to substantive criticism of their policies is to send the attack dogs after the critics.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: When you call people liars...

PRESS: I want to follow up on that...

BUCHANAN: ... thatís not substantive criticism.

PRESS: I want to follow up on that, Paul, because you have been called Americaís most dangerous liberal columnist. I wish had that title, frankly, but youíre the one whoís got it. So, what happens when you take on this White House? Have you heard from anybody at the White House?

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... called you?

KRUGMAN: Ari Fleischer tried to call me during the campaign and when I called the number back, it was out of service. The-I hear indirectly. They have-there are whole Web sites devoted to stalking me. I mean itís a pretty amazing thing. I am not sure how many columnists could function under that level of scrutiny. Itís...

BUCHANAN: Oh come on...

KRUGMAN: ... and of course, I get massive, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: You mean-well hold it. I have to interrupt. Mr. Krugman, you canít function because somebodyís got a Web site...

KRUGMAN: Hey, I am functioning.

BUCHANAN: Look, we all have Web sites devoted to us, Mr. Krugman. Maybe you deserve it as well as I do.

KRUGMAN: Well thatís fine. As I said, I think I am functioning. But itís-look-itís-I have to say considering the amount of hate mail, the amount of attacking I get, I think Iím holding up pretty well. Damn few serious errors really popping up.

PRESS: Keep on...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... trucking Paul Krugman. Thank you for joining us...

KRUGMAN: Well, thanks a lot.

PRESS: ... and the book is ďThe Great UnravelingĒ. Good to have you with us.

BUCHANAN: OK. Coming up-author and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. Will the California recall place take place on October 7 as scheduled? Will Gray Davis survive or will he be terminated? This is MSNBC.

Originally broadcast, 9.22.03