The Big Lie: President Obama’s tenure has been marked by a failure to fulfill his own promises to grow the economy and cut the deficit, while squandering his historic opportunity to lead the world.
The Truth: President Obama’s critics must fictionalize his record in order to justify supporting Republicans who have failed in every way the president has succeeded.
How do you attack a president who prevented a Great Depression? A president who saved the auto industry and passed student loan, credit card and health care reform while securing trillions in deficit cuts? How do you bring down a president who oversaw the capture of Osama bin Laden and the destruction of most of the leadership of al Qaeda? A president who ended one war and convinced the nation to responsibly end another?
If you’re a former John McCain adviser with a huge crush on Paul Ryan, you simply make up a different president to attack.
Historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson has done just that in his screed featured on the cover of this week’s Newsweek. What amounts to a a free Romney campaign ad was clearly intended to balance Michael Tomasky’s factually accurate lashing of Mitt Romney published by Newsweek last month. Ferguson’s article is a tour de force of the same tired bromides that have been used to bash the president since the day he took office, along with a cavalcade of falsehoods.
The chief arguments presented by Ferguson are recycled Republican clichés. First, he blames the president for job losses that began in January 2008, when Hillary Clinton was still the frontrunner in the Democratic primary. Second, he upbraids Obama for predictions and promises made before anyone—including the Bush Administration — had any idea how deep the financial crisis would become. But I haven’t seen a single right-wing critique of this President that doesn’t rely on faulty predictions from early in 2009 as the crisis was unfolding. Suddenly the fact that the Bush economy was worse than anyone expected is this president’s fault.
What makes Ferguson’s attack particularly contemptible is his willful deception about the Affordable Care Act, insinuating that the President broke his promise to pass health care reform that would not add to the deficit. His reform doesn’t. It cuts the deficit by billions. Rebutting criticism by Paul Krugman, Ferguson said he had deliberately referred to just one part of the bill, intentionally misleading the reader. This admission of trickery prompted economist and Berkeley professor Brad Delong to issue a demand to Newsweek and the Daily Beast: “Fire his ass.” Delong went on to say that Harvard should examine whether Ferguson has the moral character to teach at the university.
In fact, Ferguson’s laundry list of complaints against the president reeks of intentional deception. He uses shady, conflicting measures of the deficit. He ignores massive green energy investments in the stimulus program. He intentionally portrays China surging growth and enormous population, which mean that its economy will inevitably outgrow ours, as a failure by the president.
Meanwhile Ferguson ignores the crucial role played by his hero, Paul Ryan, in destroying the two best opportunities for a “grand bargain” to bring down the deficit even more. Ryan voted against the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations and reportedly nixed a deal the President had tentatively struck with Speaker Boehner during 2011’s ridiculous debt limit charade. While berating the President for doing nothing to cut the deficit, Ferguson cynically lambasts him for “steep cuts to the defense budget.”
In his dizzy look at Obama’s foreign policy, Ferguson mentions neither the sanctions the President has placed on Iran, nor a certain infamous name: Osama bin Laden. As if he were his own straight man, Ferguson then writes: “Remarkably the president polls relatively strongly on national security.”
Ferguson also regurgitates the “You didn’t build this” attack on government’s role in the economy. But this is merely an interlude before his final ode to Paul Ryan. “There is literally no one in Washington who understands the challenges of fiscal reform better,” Ferguson drools, accepting at face value Ryan’s plan to gut government to pay for tax breaks for the richest, while his budget does nothing to cut the deficit.
Yet Ryan is our savior, Ferguson assures us. How does he know? When they first had dinner to discuss the debt crisis, he recalls fondly, “Ryan blew me away.” Maybe as he was blowing Ferguson away, the Congressman gave the Professor the missing details of his budget — including the trillions in deductions he would have to eliminate to achieve a semblance of reality.
But why would we ever trust Niall Ferguson, who has been wrong about every economic issue that matters since the President took office?
In response to the Newsweek piece, James Fallows apologized on behalf of his alma mater Harvard. Jonathan Alter said that Newsweek, the magazine where he worked for 28 years, had “disgraced itself.” Alex Pareene of Salon quipped:”Getting every single fact wrong in a magazine cover story is a great way to get everyone’s attention.”
But Newsweek itself has not yet responded, except to tweet Ferguson’s response.
A dishonest attack like Ferguson’ is to be expected in an election year. But a national news magazine should check the facts in a broadside cover attack on the president. And Professor: If you’re going to write Paul Ryan fan fiction, why not keep it in your diary where it belongs?
Image credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster