Imagine you’ve got a drinking problem. And imagine this conversation with your spouse:
Spouse: Dear, you’ve really got to do something about your drinking. You’ve been in three auto accidents this week, you’ve lost your job, and you’ve been trying to beat the children, though you keep passing out before you can get to them. I want to help you figure out how to get this under control.
You: You’ve got a fair point there. But let me point out that it would also be a good idea to redecorate the living room.
Spouse: Well, maybe so, and it’s something we can talk about at some point. But right now, I’d really like to focus on the drinking issue.
You: Doesn’t that strike you as imbalanced? Here we’ve got two issues on the table, and you want to focus 100% on one of them and 0% on the other. Why are you being so one-sided?
Spouse: Well, but I feel like there’s some urgency about the drinking thing, and I’d like to prioritize it.
You: Apparently, you’re fanatical on this issue. I don’t see how I can continue to take you seriously.
Spouse: Well, actually I’m trying to get you to focus on a very serious issue.
You: Yes, but by focusing exclusively on that issue, you’re betraying your fanaticism. Clearly, I’m the one who’s willing to address our problems, and you’re the one who’s just out to score debating points.
You: Not only that, but I’ve got a Nobel-prize winning economist who agrees with me!
How does that make you feel? I feel that way a lot when I read the news lately. Arguably, our country faces a spending crisis. The Republicans claim they want to deal with that crisis. (There’s some legitimate question about how sincere they are, but they at least say they want to deal with it.) The Democrats say: Okay, but let’s also talk about raising taxes. Maybe they’d also like to talk about redecorating the Rotunda; this seems roughly as pertinent. In other words, the Democrats attempt to deflect attention from the crisis (or the alleged crisis) by insisting that we talk about some other thing at the same time — and then they insist that the Republicans, by insisting that we focus on the issue at hand, are “betraying their fanaticism”. And they’ve managed to find a Nobel-prize winning economist willing to parrot this nonsense almost daily on the pages and webpages of the New York Times.
Now, I realize the above is at best a stylized version of the facts. Surely “the Republicans” hold a great diversity of views, and some Republicans have even argued that we have a crisis of debt as opposed to a crisis of spending, which would actually render tax policy relevant. But by and large, what we’ve got is a bunch of people who are trying to call attention to what they believe is a spending crisis, another group of people who, in order to avoid addressing the issue on the table, are trying to talk about something else entirely, and a Nobel prize winning economist who keeps insisting that any reluctance to change the subject is a sign of fanaticism or unseriousness or something.
In other words, Krugman counts you as serious only if, no matter what serious issue is on the table, you attempt to deflect attention to the federal debt. You are required, in other words, to suffer from Deficit Attention Disorder.
So here’s my suggestion: Every time the Democrats argue for raising the minimum wage or changing the tax code or reforming the military, the Republicans should nod their heads sagely and respond that this is indeed an important issue, but it can’t be looked at in isolation, and should certainly be tied to the question of whether Paul Krugman should shave his beard. And every serious attempt to address these issues should be deflected into a discussion of Krugman’s beard, together with a reminder to the public that unlike the one-sided fanatical Democrats who are trying to focus on one thing at a time, the Republicans are so fair and broadminded that they’re capable of talking about several things at once. Instead of Deficit Attention Disorder, they could adopt a stance of Beard Attention Disorder, which is about equally defensible. Maybe they’d finally get some respect from the New York Times.