Paul Krugman on the Good News the GOP Does Not Want You to Know
Sadly, the Ebola-stricken surgeon from Sierra Leone has died in the Nebraska hospital, but by and large, the "great American Ebola freakout of 2014 seems to be over," Paul Krugman writes in his column Monday. So, what is there to learn from that panic? Krugman thinks he knows, but whether policy makers and conservative so-called thinkers who only want to take potshots at and hack away at the federal government at all costs will learn anything is anyone's guess.
Krugman gives some background:
When the freakout was at its peak, Ebola wasn’t just a disease — it was a political metaphor. It was, specifically, held up by America’s right wing as a symbol of government failure. The usual suspects claimed that the Obama administration was falling down on the job, but more than that, they insisted that conventional policy was incapable of dealing with the situation. Leading Republicans suggested ignoring everything we know about disease control and resorting to extreme measures like travel bans, while mocking claims that health officials knew what they were doing.
In just a few short weeks, this despicable, irresponsible fear-mongering has been proven wrong, and surprirse surprise, our health officials actually did know what they were doing. Sometimes, good and responsible public policy based on actual science really works.
This gives Krugman an opportunity to point out other instances where public policy, perhaps despite appearances and conservative naysayers, actually worked, though you'd never know it from the media coverage. (And where are the headlines proclaiming that the CDC and our public health officials were actually right about Ebola?)
Krugman brings up the matter of Solyndra, the "renewable-energy firm that borrowed money using Department of Energy guarantees, then went bust, costing the Treasury $528 million." Conservatives went to town saying this was symptomatic of a corrupt administration. Defenders said one bad investment does not mean the whole idea to invest in renewable energy is bad. And guess what, Solyndra is about to return a huge profit, not that there will be any headlines announcing that.
The question is not whether the Department of Energy has made some bad loans — if it hasn’t, it’s not taking enough risks. It’s whether it has a pattern of bad loans. And the answer, it turns out, is no. Last week the department revealed that the program that included Solyndra is, in fact, on track to return profits of $5 billion or more.
Other Obama administration successes have received little attention, like the biggest one of all, the Affordable Care Act. Anyone read about the new Gallup survey that finds that the newly insured are very satisfied with their coverage? Didn't think so.
The moral of the story?
. . . not that the government is always right and always succeeds. Of course there are bad decisions and bad programs. But modern American political discourse is dominated by cheap cynicism about public policy, a free-floating contempt for any and all efforts to improve our lives. And this cheap cynicism is completely unjustified. It’s true that government-hating politicians can sometimes turn their predictions of failure into self-fulfilling prophecies, but when leaders want to make government work, they can.
And let’s be clear: The government policies we’re talking about here are hugely important. We need serious public health policy, not fear-mongering, to contain infectious disease. We need government action to promote renewable energy and fight climate change. Government programs are the only realistic answer for tens of millions of Americans who would otherwise be denied essential health care.
Conservatives want you to believe that while the goals of public programs on health, energy and more may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure. Don’t believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials, being human, get things wrong. But we’re actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don’t want you to notice.
Note, Ebola remains a terrible problem in West Africa, where the solution is also good policy, science and money for supplies and personnel.