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A Climate of Slander

From the Scrapbook

Jan 24, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 18 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The undisputed gold-medal winner, however, as you may have guessed from the illustration on the previous page, is New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. As you can tell by the cover art from the British edition of his book, Krugman is an authority of sorts on what he calls a “climate of hate.” He thinks there was an “upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election” that “culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.” (Oddly, he skips in silence over the years covered by his 2003 book The Great Unravelling.) Then in 2008, he writes, “you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again.” It meaning political murder.

Speaking of 2008, a New Yorker profile of Krugman last March described the party he threw on Election Night that fall for his Princeton colleagues:

“The econ department, the finance department, the Woodrow Wilson school,” [Krugman’s wife Robin] Wells says. “They were all very nervous, so they were grateful we were having the party, because they didn’t want to be alone. We had two or three TVs set up and we had a little portable outside fire pit and we let people throw in an effigy or whatever they wanted to get rid of for the past eight years. One of our Italian colleagues threw in an effigy of Berlusconi. I put out some coloring paper and markers so that people could write stuff on it and throw it into the fire. People really felt like there was stuff they wanted to shed!”

So maybe Krugman isn’t delusional about a “climate of hate.” As they used to say in the non-Prince-tonian precincts where The Scrapbook was reared, “a fox smells its own hole.” ♦

The Weakest Linc

Rhode Island is a small state—-indeed, it’s the smallest in the nation—but when it comes to “colorful” public officials, it holds its own against the giants. There’s ex-Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, fresh out of federal prison. And there’s ex-Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D), Teddy’s son, whose personal demons, comic malapropisms, well-publicized meltdowns, and all-purpose unfitness for public office lent him a certain renown until his recent retirement. The late Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) used to insert funding for extrasensory perception research into defense appropriations—he sought the advice of Uri Geller on Cold War strategy—and then-Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) was so estranged from his party that he wrote in the name of George H.W. Bush, instead of voting for George W. Bush, for president in 2004. 

Alas, The Scrapbook notes with a pang of regret, Chafee—appointed to his seat on the death of his father, veteran senator John Chafee, in 1999—was defeated for reelection in 2006; and his successor, Sheldon Whitehouse (D), while a reliable partisan hack, is decidedly dull by comparison. But there’s good news: Chafee was elected governor of Rhode Island this past fall, running as an independent, and by the standards of historic eccentricity, he’s off to a flying start.

This past week, for example, he announced a blanket ban on state employees and department heads appearing on radio talk shows, the first time any governor of any party in America had issued such a wide-ranging gag order on public officials. 

Talk radio shows, Chafee complained through a spokesman, are “ratings-driven, for-profit” enterprises, and talking to them is a waste of state resources during economic hard times. But of course, what he failed to mention is that radio talk shows, even in Rhode Island, are predominantly (although not exclusively) conservative in tone, and that Chafee has a well-advertised contempt for them. Nor, for that matter, did he forbid state employees to talk to Rhode Island’s dominant newspaper, the Providence Journal, which could accurately be described as a circulation-driven, for-profit enterprise. 

All in all, a curious gesture: an obvious double standard at play, and counterproductive as well. Chafee’s predecessor appeared regularly on local talk shows to publicize his initiatives and answer questions from listeners, and the practice seems to have done him (and the state) no harm. No one would expect Lincoln Chafee to subject himself to everyone in the Ocean State with a microphone, or appear with talk show hosts (such as the aforementioned ex-Mayor Cianci) who are especially antagonistic. But by bumptiously expressing an all-purpose disdain for a popular segment of the media and restricting freedom of speech for thousands of his constituents, Governor Chafee’s tenure shows promise of an entertainment value way out of proportion to Rhode Island’s size. ♦

Anderson Cooper’s Oil Spill

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