Man Without Qualities

Monday, January 12, 2004

The Awful Truth

Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman surely does not savor the irony of his new column - The Awful Truth - being nothing but his parroting charges of Paul O'Neill and endorsing the man himself - a man whose resignation Herr Doktorprofessor only recently described as "long overdue" while preening himself for sensing early that Mr. O'Neill was utterly wrong for the Treasury office. And that is not all. Herr Doktorprofessor kicked Mr. O'Neill as hard as possible at the moment the departing Secretary was most down by repeating this gem:

What's wrong with Mr. O'Neill? He built his business reputation by reversing efforts to transform Alcoa into something more than an aluminum company, instead refocusing on the core business and engaging in ruthless cost-cutting. This is all very well - but overseeing world financial markets is nothing at all like running a large, very old-economy, command- and-control corporation (or, for that matter, working the details of the federal budget).

It wasn't "courage" that Herr Doktorprofessor found wanting in Paul O'Neill - that quality was never mentioned. It was smarts. And talent. And, most of all, Mr. O'Neill just had bad credentials. Herr Doktorprofessor also severely lambasted Mr. O'Neill for having the temerity to differ with Bono (!) on the question of Africa's economic needs. Yes, Bono knew better. Then there was Herr Doktorprofessor's chastisement of Mr. O'Neill for the Treasury Secretary's embarrassing and ignorant failure to understand the nation's currency - as well as the needs of the Brazilian economy and currency. Herr Doktorprofessor also felt it imperative to point out that Mr. O'Neill didn't understand the seriousness and significance of the Enron fiasco - and we all know that Herr Doktorprofessor thinks Enron was more important that 9-11! We were assured that Mr. O'Neill was at best a sucker and apologist for American crony capitalism. He was also disingenuous. And visionless. And insensitive to the poor. He was one of those who refuse to learn from the past, and thereby condemn others to repeat it. And a doubletalking foe of Social Security. A man who had not honored his promise to sell his Alcoa stock until given a "sharp prod" (like one gives cattle) by Salon. Yes, Herr Doktorprofessor assured us that Mr. O'Neill was saying all the wrong things: "I don't know if anyone in the financial markets still takes Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill seriously, but his extravagant statements on behalf of a strong dollar - he recently declared that if he changed his mind on the subject, he would hire Yankee Stadium and a brass band to announce it - are the opposite of helpful." Not content with all that, Herr Doktorprofessor assured us that Mr. O'Neill was also inconsistent. And - just to paint the lily - that Mr. O'Neill "has been a less than enthusiastic team player" - in representing the Administration, which is not exactly desired behavior in a cabinet member.

But not now! Herr Doktorprofessor now assures us that the point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. Who knew that being a disgruntled, discharged employee was a good credential? Thank goodness the Sage of Princeton is here to get the job done. Yes, it seems that Herr Doktorprofessor now thinks that Mr. O'Neill really knew what was going on - and not just at Treasury, but also in matters of national security - see, it all follows from an article published by someone at the* Army War College! [Correction: Krugman does not say that O'Neill attended the College. Krugman cites to a separate College article. The italics phrase before * has been corrected.] Not like that old, clueless, doubletalking, disingenuous O'Neill who was willing to compromise his beliefs, but couldn't even figure out the basics of his own department and somehow was always saying the wrong thing - the thing that was the opposite of helpful - that inhabited all those old columns. No. No. The new Paul O'Neill has "courage" and is at the top of his game! Aware! Smart! Insightful! Incisive! Credentialed! Truthful! Invaluable!

Paul O! We hardly knew ya! Come to papa!

Yes, the "awful truth" comes out in this column. But it's the awful truth about Herr Doktorprofessor's intellectual dishonesty and willingness to mold his public evaluations of others to suit his own agenda. And that's not a truth that is revealed here for the first time.

And on top of all that, Luskin nails him on that irrelevant throw-away line on unemployment at the end of the column - the one that leaves the reader wondering why it's there, buried in several other decoy lines - as being an attempted sneaky little stealth-correction of Herr Doktotptofessor's prior error.



An astute reader points out that the Army War College must be a very odd place indeed. Herr Doktorprofessor has already proved by algebra that an article published by that revered institution is sufficient in matters of national security to second guess and know better than the Secretary of Defense and other high officials actually charged with such matters. [Correction: The italics phrase has been corrected.] Yet Herr Doktorprofessor also believes that attending the Army War College isn't much of a credential for being Secretary of the Army. We know this because former Secretary of the Army Thomas White also attended the Army War College. Yet Herr Doktorprofessor was not impressed when he wrote of Secretary White during his tenure:

[W]hy does this administration, which is waving the flag so hard its arms must hurt, leave the Army ? the Army! ? in the hands of a man who is, at best, a poseur?

At best, a poseur! And Mr. White also attended the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, and graduated in 1974 with a degree in Operations Research! Cuts no ice.


Gollum's got nothing on Paul O'Neill when it comes to having two inconsistent, competing personalities struggle for possession of one's being. Now Mr. O'Neill is telling everyone:

"People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq."

Gee, I wonder why people are trying to say that kind of thing?

So many exciting questions! Has anyone been checking just how much time Mr. O'Neill spends these days talking to puddles? Or has he been using Mr. Suskind as a puddle-surrogate? Will the new Krugman/O'Neill love affair survive longer than Britney Spears' marriage?

Everybody is just on pins and needles!

And then there's this:

O'Neill told the "Today" show he was guilty of using some "vivid" language during his hundreds of hours of interviews with Suskind for the book. "If I could take it back, I would take it back," he said of the blind man quote.

Asked if he plans to vote for Bush in November's presidential election, O'Neill said he "probably" would. "I don't see anyone who is better prepared or more capable," he told NBC.

STILL MORE UPDATE: And about that Army War College paper.

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