By way of background: Obama says that Republicans favor dirtier air and water. Paul Ryan calls that a petty characterization of an honest policy disagreement. Paul Krugman says that some Republican policies would lead to dirtier air and water (presumably in exchange for some offsetting benefits) and Ryan ought to be man enough to say so.
This is a fair point, I think. There is nothing dishonorable about believing that under current regulations we overclean our air and water, and if that’s Ryan’s view he should own it. Though perhaps Ryan would prefer to respond — also fairly — that he and/or the GOP favors different kinds of regulation that might not leave the air and water dirtier after all.
In any event, Krugman can never be fair for long. Here he is complaining about Ryan’s rhetorical style and defending his own:
If I say that Paul Ryan’s mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries, that’s ad hominem. If I say that his plan would hurt millions of people and that he’s not being honest about the numbers, that’s harsh, but not ad hominem.
And you really have to be somewhat awed when people who routinely accuse Obama of being a socialist get all weepy over him saying that eliminating protections against pollution would lead to more pollution.
Except that, you see, at least as far as I can tell (and do correct me if I’m wrong) Paul Ryan (whose “weepiness” is the primary subject of Krugman’s blogpost) has never accused Obama of being a socialist. So (unless I’m mistaken) what Krugman’s engaging in here is best characterized as neither harsh nor ad hominem but, well, lying.
1) Typically for Krugman, he’s left himself just a tiny bit of wiggle room. His entire post is a complaint that Paul Ryan won’t admit that the GOP favors less environmental regulation and hence a fortiori dirtier air and water. Then Krugman tacks on a closing about “people” who accuse Obama of being a socialist while getting all weepy, etc., etc. —- without explicitly saying that Ryan is one of those “people”. This leaves him just enough room to deny, if necessary, that he had Paul Ryan in mind when he wrote this summary paragraph to his post about Paul Ryan.
2) I’m sure Krugman doesn’t think he’s lying, because Krugman proceeds always and everywhere from the axiom that anybody who disagrees with Paul Krugman is responsible for anything said by anybody else who disagrees with Paul Krugman, so that if anybody anywhere has ever called Obama a socialist, then Paul Ryan owns that accusation. This seems to be Krugman’s favorite rhetorical device. How many times has he told us that “The Right” or “The Republicans” or “The Usual Suspects” are being inconsistent because some of them prioritize deficit reduction while others prioritize tax cuts?
So now I’m wondering: Suppose I were to observe that persistently seeing all of one’s adversaries as avatars of a monolithic conspiracy strikes this layman as a classic symptom of paranoia. Would that be ad hominem? Or would it be harsh but fair?