Tom McGeveran on Niall Ferguson’s “Hit the Road, Barack” cover piece:
Make no mistake about what is happening here. Tina Brown is dressing up Ferguson’s failure as a provocation and conversation-starter. The problem is that this is not the kind of conversation Brown means to start.
Brown’s theory of buzz has been expounded at such length over the years that to hear it again or describe it again would just feel like a PCP hangover. The point is that Brown wants her magazine to be talked about.
But “roundly ridiculed” is a better description of the wide reaction to the magazine yesterday.
Newsweek succeeded in getting pundits to talk about the piece — and the magazine is making sure we know that.
UPDATE: Ferguson appeared on Bloomberg Television this morning and said “the liberal blogosphere has a very tried and tested method of attacking an argument it disagrees with… it seems to me we’re dealing with a very carefully organized campaign to try to discredit the piece by those who are ideologically loyal to the president.”
He also claimed that “Krugman is being disingenuous. And sadly, my old friend Andrew Sullivan does not really understand the issue that well, which is clear from his recent post.”
More interview excerpts after the jump.
Ferguson on whether he’s surprised by the response to his story:
“No because the liberal blogosphere has a very tried and tested method of attacking an argument it disagrees with. That’s what has happened in this case. The first tactic is to ignore completely the arguments of the piece. The second is then to engage in nitpicking and claim to be fact checking when in fact all you’re offering is a series of alternative opinions. And then you round it off by making hysterical calls for the office resignation. This is such a tried and tested method and I was fully expecting it. The usual suspects, led of course by Paul Krugman, have obliged. But they have not addressed any of the arguments I have made in the piece so I will dismiss them pretty briskly today.”On why it makes sense to compare the net cost of the Affordable Care Act vs. the gross cost:
“The critics are the ones splitting hairs. It absolutely clear what the CBO has said, which is the costs of the ACA will not be met by new sources of revenue. They will only be met, in full, if the cost of Medicare ceases to grow at around 4%. In fact, that rate of growth will have to be halved if that is to be the case. You have to distinguish here between the direct sources of revenue created by ACA and the indirect way the CBO says it will not increase the deficit. By the way, if you go to the CBO’s long-term forecast for health spending, just take Medicare from 3% of GDP all the way up if you go to the very end of their forecast in the 2080s, to something around 13%. Either that will require a substantial increase in taxation, which is another thing President Obama pledged would not happen, or it will increase the deficit. I really do not think there is any middle ground there. This is really quite unambiguous. Krugman is being disingenuous. And sadly, my old friend Andrew Sullivan does not really understand the issue that well, which is clear from his recent post.”
On acknowledging that Obama and his team could not have foreseen how bad the economy would be:
“Right. I say that. That is why this is a classic storm in a blogger’s teacup. The point of the piece is not to go through the economic record and say, you see, he did not produce an economic miracle. I think that is not a reasonable standard. The point of the piece is to say, under those very difficult circumstances, how effective was the president as the head of the executive branch. The core of the argument, which not one of my critics has address, is that he did not manage well his economics team. More seriously, he delegated the legislation. He delegates the detail on the key issues: stimulus, health care and financial reform to his own party in Congress. We should really talk about Pelosicare, not Obamacare. That’s the key issue. It’s not about how the economy performed. We all know this was a tremendously difficult inheritance. It is about how he has performed as the leader of the executive branch and I feel it is very clear he has fallen short.”
“What I say that it is not that we should judge him as an economist. We should judge him on the promise of effective leadership and decisive change. If you assess him as a leader, not as an economist, I think it is not an impressive record. That is really the sad truth.”
On how Obama scores as a leader compared to past presidents:
“I think a fair comparison, if you accept the argument that this is more like a depression than an ordinary post war recession, would be how does he compare with Franklin Roosevelt. It is clear if you look at the economy or the boldness of the policy response, that it is not in any way of a comparison favorable to Mr. Obama. Roosevelt had a far more decisive grip on his own party and a far greater mastery of the detail of the New Deal legislation. The other point which we have not touched on is a crucial point: how effective is President Obama as a commander in chief. I think there are two points here which are absolutely crucial. The first is the really serious mishandling of what we have come to call the Arab spring, but is more understood as the general revolution in the Middle East going back to Iran in 2009, if not Iraq with Saddam Hussein. The other point is that there’s not been a coherent strategy on China. The single biggest challenge this country faces is China, which will be a larger economy according to the IMF in four years’ time. That seems to be the things the critics to not want to engage—that there has not been a coherent strategy in the White House. Really, since Barack Obama entered it.”
On whether he believed, before he wrote the piece, that he might risk his credibility as an academic to win political influence:
“It aims to influence because I think the country is in the wrong track. I made it clear in the piece. I was a McCain supporter. I am a friend of Paul Ryan. Naturally, it is an argument I want to make. I do not think you can claim this undermines my reputation because the facts are absolutely clear. Attempts of the likes of Matthew O’Brien to question my fact fell flat on their face yesterday. Not a single error did he identify in the peace. It seems to me we’re dealing with a very carefully organized campaign to try to discredit the piece by those who are ideologically loyal to the president. My advice is to take all of this rather hysterical stuff that you see in the internet with a very, very large pinch of salt.”