The Passive-Aggressive Pundit Fight Between Paul Krugman and David Brooks

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman may not want to call out David Brooks by name, but that won't stop him from tearing down his latest ideas in a thinly-veiled rebuttal.

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New York Times columnist Paul Krugman may not want to call out David Brooks by name, but that won't stop him from tearing down his latest ideas in a thinly-veiled rebuttal. If you compare the liberal economist's Monday column with his conservative colleague's Friday column—it's hard to see it any other way. Paging editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal: Do your columnists need to have a talk?

The source of today's tension stems from the two writers' varying views on Paul Ryan's budget: Brooks thinks it's a constructive albeit flawed plan; Krugman thinks it's an unmitigated disaster. It shouldn't surprise  anyone that the liberal professor and moderate conservative disagree but the winking references to Brooks in Krugman's column are just too salient to miss.
First off, there's the structural similarities of the two columns: Brooks sets the mold, Krugman follows. On Friday, Brooks began by condemning President Obama's sharp criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal. "President Obama is an intelligent, judicious man who can see all sides of an issue. But every once in a while he tries to get politically cute, and he puts on his Keith Olbermann mask," reads Brooks's opening line. He says Obama took the "low road," using "every 1980s liberal cliche in the book" to criticize Ryan. The column made waves and registered on the lowest scale ("bitter") on Politico's Brooks-O-Meter.
Enter Professor Krugman on the response to President Obama's address today. "The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage," writes Krugman. "The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie," i.e., David, how about you cry about it a little more?
The serve goes to Brooks who defends the specifics of Ryan's budget, saying it doesn't represent a real "chasm" between the president's budget. "In 2013, according to Veronique de Rugy of George Mason University, the Ryan budget would be about 5 percent smaller than the Obama budget, and it would grow a percent or two more slowly each year," wrote Brooks. He says Obama "exaggerated" the difference between his budget and Ryan's, taking cheap shots about college student financial aid and Alzheimer's research.
But right on cue, Krugman defends the president's characterization of the plan. "The [Ryan] proposal is exactly as President Obama described it: a proposal to deny health care (and many other essentials) to millions of Americans, while lavishing tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy — all while failing to reduce the budget deficit," he writes.
If the structural back-and-forth weren't enough to draw Brooks's attention, Krugman took on the next best thing: Centrism. As most Times readers know, the paper's conservative columnist is endlessly criticized as a RINO for not being conservative enough. Interestingly, the type of appeals to the center Brooks is known for are directly targeted in Krugman's piece:
The “centrists” who weigh in on policy debates are playing a different game. Their self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties — even if these reasonable people don’t actually exist. And this leaves them unable either to admit how moderate Mr. Obama is or to acknowledge the more or less universal extremism of his opponents on the right. 
A few lines down, Krugman gets to how he really feels about these "centrist" commentators: "you can see the problem these commentators face," he writes. "To admit that the president’s critique is right would be to admit that they were snookered by Mr. Ryan, who is the same as he ever was." Next time Paul, you know you could just e-mail your fellow colleague, right?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.