I rarely agree with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but he spoke the truth when he wrote yesterday on his blog at the paper that the notion of President Obama appointing him to the post of treasury secretary was a “bad idea.” The economy is in bad enough shape as it is without exacerbating our problems by putting a doctrinaire liberal like Krugman in the position once held by Alexander Hamilton. But what is interesting about the question of Krugman’s future plans is not so much the negligible merits of the proposal but the idea that anyone other than the columnist and a few of his devoted readers who signed a petition to the effect ever considered it for a moment.
It is to be expected that those who have attained the lofty status held by the Times’s op-ed gods live in something like a bubble. That is especially true for those columnists who regularly appeal to the ideological prejudices of the paper’s core readership, as Krugman does. It is to be imagined that some of (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) the former Enron advisor’s fans really do believe he should be running the country’s finances. But it takes a special kind of egotism, if not hubris, for a writer—even one with a position at Princeton University and a Nobel Prize—to take such babblings seriously enough to write a straight-faced post about why they wouldn’t deign to sit at the cabinet table with the president of the United States. The result is a self-parody that provides a cringe-inducing explanation about why he thinks he is too important to accept the position. Even Krugman’s greatest admirers had to be left scratching their heads.
It is always a bad sign when a writer bothers to respond publicly to their hate mail. Criticism, even of the unreasonable kind, goes with the territory and those who whine on-line or in print about people writing mean things to them are self-indulgent bores. But it is even worse when a columnist starts writing about his fan mail in a manner that telegraphs their belief that no praise and no public responsibility or honor is too great for them.
Being an op-ed columnist at the Times is a pretty big deal — one I’m immensely grateful to have been granted — and those who hold the position, if they know how to use it effectively, have a lot more influence on national debate than, say, most senators. Does anyone doubt that the White House pays attention to what I write?
This is an appalling read but this sort of thing is more than merely a testimony to his self-infatuation. One has to have a healthy ego to write opinions but a degree of humility is just as essential. If Krugman were to write that it is a lot more fun writing about policy than making it, he’d be on firm ground. But to speak of himself in a manner which leads us to believe he thinks he’s too valuable to the country at the Times to consider going to the president’s rescue shows that the frayed cords that tethered his ego to reality have completely unraveled.
I disagree with Krugman’s liberal ideology and think most of his ideas are wrong but anyone—even a conservative with whom I agreed all the time—who wrote about himself in this manner would have demonstrated such terrible judgment so as to cause me to doubt whether I should really bother to pay attention to him anymore.
I don’t know how regularly the folks in the White House peruse Krugman’s columns and blogs, but I’m willing to bet they all had a good chuckle when this piece was forwarded around the West Wing. One wonders whether Krugman is so far gone as to be unable to hear its echoes around the country.