Paul Krugman Reveals the Character Flaw that Really Should Disqualify Someone for President

As much as we would prefer to have a presidential campaign that is focused on the dire issues facing the country, chances are that the news media will instead focus on personalities and character. Paul Krugman suggests in his Friday column that, if that must be the case, we should focus on character. But he does not mean whether someone cheats on their spouse or would be lovely to have a beer with, the character trait that is most important is intellectual honesty, which Krugman defines as "the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course."


Doesn't seem like such a tall order, and yet, as Krugman notes, it is in very short supply these days. Krugman:

As you might guess, I’m thinking in particular about the sphere of economics, where the nasty surprises just keep coming. If nothing that has happened these past seven years or so has shaken any of your long-held economic beliefs, either you haven’t been paying attention or you haven’t been honest with yourself.

Times like these call for a combination of open-mindedness — willingness to entertain different ideas — and determination to do the best you can. As Franklin Roosevelt put it in a celebrated speech, “The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

What we see instead in many public figures is, however, the behavior George Orwell described in one of his essays: “Believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.” Did I predict runaway inflation that never arrived? Well, the government is cooking the books, and besides, I never said what I said.

Ideology will always be with us, in politics and in personal lives for that matter, but somehow ideology needs to be coupled with a mind that is open and willing to rethink when facts suggest we make an adjustment in our thinking. Doesn't seem like too much to ask, somehow. Part of the reason admitting you might have been wrong about something has become so hard in today's poltiical climate lies at the feet of the press, "because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis," Krugman writes. "Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride."

Contrast Clinton's so-called "flip-flop" with Jeb Bush's insistence that “I’m my own man” on foreign policy. If that were true, why is he using the same policy advisers as his older brother and showing zero signs of having learned anything from W's utter failure in Iraq. Being your own man usually means thinking things through for yourself, assuming you are capable of that. 

Throughout the Republican party, there is a pervasive tendency to never ever admit being wrong about anything—climate, health care, runaway inflation that never came. And yet, as Krugman writes, "Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office."

Ending on a dire note, he writes: "Suppose, as is all too possible, that the next president ends up confronting some kind of crisis — economic, environmental, foreign — undreamed of in his or her current political philosophy. We really, really don’t want the job of responding to that crisis dictated by someone who still can’t bring himself to admit that invading Iraq was a disaster but health reform wasn’t."

He's talking to you, Jeb.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close