This is difficult. But how can I hold my tongue? There's no one I like better in this profession than Mickey Kaus, no one who's been kinder to me. But Mickey seems to have come down with a bilious fever of special pleading. Perhaps it's a milder form of West Nile Virus? I don't know. I just hope he recovers quickly.
Mickey deals with two issues on his site today: 1) Bill Clinton's comments about the war-on-terrorism blame game and then 2) this on-going matter about Paul Krugman and the OMB.
Let's try to deal with the introductory matters as quickly as possible. Clinton said the Bush administration -- which made such a fuss about 'responsibility' -- is quick pass the buck to him whenever anything goes wrong on their watch in the war on terrorism. On the contrary, says the former president, when our soldiers got killed in Mogadishu he didn't try to pin it on the first President Bush.
The Wall Street Journal said this was a lie, carting out the old right-wing canard that Clinton denied the soldiers the proper weapons, thus leaving them vulnerable and getting a number of them killed. The Journal editorialists are either too ignorant, too stupid or too dishonest to know that, as Mickey rightly points out, this charge is false. But Mickey goes in for an equally bogus, though more subtle, canard: that is, that Bush I went in purely to secure humanitarian relief and it was Clinton who later went in for (horribile dictu!) NATION-BUILDING.
This argument manages to be both accurate and also bogus. Here's why. The situation in Afghanistan is now beginning to get very dicey. Karzai's getting more dependent on US military protection; warlords and even sub-warlords (mere capos, in mafia terms) are starting to challenge him; things are getting tough. Imagine if we'd had a turnover of administration a couple months after we drove the Taliban from power. The old administration might say, hey, we fought a kick-ass war. Everything was going great and now you get into the nation-building phase and everything falls apart!
This would be a stupid argument since phase A rather inevitably leads to phase B, and B is in the nature of things the complicated phase.
The Somalia case isn't quite so clear cut. But not far from it. It was always going to be a rather simple matter to get in to a Somalia, rather more difficult to get out. The logic is elementary. You go into Somalia to force a degree of peace so that you can deliver some food. And then you see that when you leave it's going to degenerate back to the status quo ante. What do you do then?
This isn't to say that the Clinton team handled it perfectly, only to note that Bush made the feel-good decision to hand out the food, with the knowledge that he wasn't going to be around when the tough decisions had to be made later. You can imagine where Clinton might have felt like Bush left him holding the bag. Because, in a sense, he did.
Yet if you follow the logic of Clinton's remark, he must be saying that criticizing Bush in this way would have been invalid, unfair, and false, since clearly he's insisting the current administration's criticisms of him are invalid, unfair, false, etc.
But enough of these details.
It seems to me you can slice this a number of ways. But Clinton's point hardly seems unreasonable. One might look on this whole brouhaha and latch on to the Bush administration's penchant for blaming everything on Clinton. But Mickey latches on to Clinton's response to that penchant for buck-passing and finds it to be yet another sign of the former president's "alarming, mendacious self-pity."
Is there any logic to this statement? Or is it simply that one is supposed to look at such statements and see signs of the former president's "alarming, mendacious self-pity"? That's the storyline and why buck it? Seems mighty like the latter to me. Almost to the degree of parody.
Now to Krugman.
To get the whole story, the whole back and forth, go to Mickey's site. But the essence of the matter is that the Bush OMB came out with a statistic which vastly understated the role of the Bush tax cut in creating the deficits projected over the next ten years. Krugman called this a lie. They called it an honest mistake, which they say they later corrected. Again, if you want the details (of which there are many), go to Mickey's site. Mickey has latched onto Krugman's hide like a mountain tick, demanding apologies or recantations or clarifications. Perhaps a special Mass or a ritual sacrifice.
Krugman can defend himself. So can the Times.
If I had been writing the piece I might not have said "lie." I'm not sure. Here on TPM sometimes I cut to the chase like that. In print, I often hold back. I'm not sure which is better.
But indulge me in a thought experiment.
Let's imagine we're dealing with the Clinton administration. The Clinton OMB puts out false numbers which just happen to exculpate the administration on a major public policy issue. In congressional testimony another administration economics official -- not the head of the OMB -- grudgingly concedes that the numbers are probably incorrect. Later, the White House is called out by a conservative think tank for using false numbers. Still later, folks at the White House go on to their website and simply change the number without telling anybody.
Here we have the same set of facts, just change the administrations.
Is it even remotely conceivable that if this were the Clinton OMB that Mickey would so bend over backwards to see the whole thing as just an honest mistake? When the honest mistake is so helpful to the administration? When it goes uncorrected for weeks? Of course, not. The question answers itself.
I think it's possible that it was an honest mistake, quite possible. But calling it a 'lie' hardly seems an unwarranted conclusion. It's a bit sharp, but hardly something that itself requires some sort of retraction.
The only explanation I can see is that since it's the Bush administration (and Paul Krugman on the other side) Mickey wants to hold open every door, make every excuse, refuse to draw any adverse conclusion. Precisely the opposite of what we see him do in the other case involving Bill Clinton. When it comes to the Bush administration, Mickey is so permissive you'd think he were Peter Edelman (that's a little welfare reform humor, there). The contrast is blinding.
P.S. As long as we're at it, did Mickey get taken in by the OMB representative's claim that they had made the correction to their numbers "weeks ago." [Note: from here on it gets mind-numbingly detailed. So only keep reading if you want to see the Bush administration caught in another lie.] The OMB came out with the erroneous statistics on July 12th. On July 31st, OMB flack Trent Duffy wrote the Times and claimed, among other things, that they had corrected the mistake "weeks ago."
I've never been great with numbers (those two Ds in high school math dramatize the point). But I think that means they corrected their mistake no later than July 17th, right? July 17th is also the day when Council of Economic Advisors chairman, Glenn Hubbard conceded that the number was probably wrong during congressional testimony.
So first it seems like maybe that's what they're talking about. But Duffy's letter to the Times is pretty clearly talking about a revised press release, since he refers to how the "first press release mistakenly [itals added]" screwed up the numbers. Now here's the problem. The people who really caught the OMB ought were the worthies at the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. They put out their paper on July 26th and in that paper they said the OMB "has yet to issue a formal correction on this matter." If OMB had really put out a retraction why didn't the folks at CBPP know about it? Did they get it wrong too? Like Krugman? Or is Duffy's July 31st letter to the Times itself a lie?
As long as we're all being sticklers, let's find out exactly when the OMB made the correction.