Lessons from the Great Depression I
Neurological Evidence of Money Illusion

New York Times Crashed-and-Burned Watch (Adam Nagourney/Peter Baker Edition)

Shut it down. Shut it down now.

Shorter Adam Nagourney and Peter Baker:

We lied about George W. Bush for eight years--pretended he was a competent president running a rational administration when we were dining out on stories of his and his administration's fecklessness all across Washington--and now that we have a competent president running a rational administration, we're going to lie in the other direction for the next eight years.

Todd Gitlin:

"Enervating": The president was "not...fiery and inspirational," write Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney in the morning NYT. "Placid and unsmiling, he was the professor in chief, offering familiar arguments in long paragraphs -- often introduced with the phrase, 'as I said before' -- sounding like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom where students are restlessly waiting for the ring of the bell.

"This was Mr. Obama as more enervating than energizing."

In one Baker-Nagourney sentence, even a compliment is only a prologue to a dig that, come to think of it, might help explain why they're so petulant:

He showed his usual comfort with a wide array of subjects, even as he excluded the nation's big newspapers from the questioning in favor of a more eclectic mix.

My italics but their pique. Take that, Barack Obama, you pompous pedagogue, stringing together whole sentences and indeed paragraphs as if Americans were entitled to hear a line of reasoning. Take that if you dare to exclude "the nation's big newspapers" even as they prove less big every day.

Contrast, for a moment, NYT coverage of George W. Bush's first press conference, on Feb. 22, 2001, a month into his first term. Bush, wrote Frank Bruni in the operative clause of his lede, "sought to redirect public attention to, and amass public support for, his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut."

That is, Bush had a political goal and pursued it. He was purposeful. His style of pursuing it wasn't Bruni's prime subject. The fact that some of his statements made no sense, or worse, was not worthy of notice.

Take a look at the transcript of Bush's press conference. Here's one exchange in the midst of a discussion of Iraq sanctions:

Q. How would you characterize sanctions that work, sir?

MR. BUSH. Sanctions that work are sanctions that, when a -- the collective will of the region supports the policy. That we have a coalition of countries that agree with the policy set out by the United States. To me, that's the most effective form of sanctions. Many nations in that part of the world aren't adhering to the sanction policy that had been in place. And as a result, a lot of goods are heading into Iraq that were not supposed to. And so a good sanction policy is one where the United States is able to build a coalition around the strategy.

This wasn't just a syntactical and logical mishmash. It was a clue--a mighty revealing one, as it turned out--to the mind of George W. Bush. Note: When pressed, Bush defined "work" as "agree with the policy set out by the United States." Things are good when they go our way. Effectiveness means toeing the American line. Long before September 11, George W. Bush was displaying his definitive assumption about how to rule. But that tree fell in the forest when Frank Bruni wasn't paying attention. Rather, Bush's press conference, Bruni wrote,

offered Mr. Bush an opportunity both to be heard over the din of questions about the Clinton pardons and to test his dexterity in front of scores of reporters with something of a safety net beneath him. "To test his dexterity." From what Bruni wrote, Bush must have passed the test, since the fact that Bush's answer about sanctions overtly made no sense (though covertly signaled something important) was not deserving of notice.

But at least when George W. Bush stood tall in the White House we didn't have any of that persnickety, fussy, lugubrious, pompous, professor stuff, and the nation's watchdogs fidgety students weren't bored out of their gourds "waiting for the ring of the bell."