"You, sir, are an idiot"

The knives come out when conservatives argue with each other about tax cuts and Keynes. Meanwhile, the liberals just stand back and gape

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 30, 2009 10:27PM (EST)

I had the pleasure this morning of appearing on Warren Olney's "To the Point" public affairs show, broadcast every weekday morning on Santa Monica's KCRW. The topic was bipartisanship and the stimulus plan, and the guests included David Sirota, fast emerging as one of the more prominent left-wing critics of the Obama administration, Bruce Bartlett, the former Reagan and George H. W. Bush administration staffer who made a high profile turn against George W. Bush in 2006, and Peter Ferrara, a conservative economist who also served under Reagan and the first Bush.

The show is already archived and available here. I mention this not because I acquitted myself particularly well on the program, but because of a rather startling exchange between Bartlett and Ferrara that, in my view, exposes some of the trauma the Republican Party is currently struggling with.

Ferrara had just made a fairly typical hardline defense of tax cuts as the only appropriate policy for dealing with the current economic contraction, along with a withering attack on the stimulus plan. As is all too common when economists hold forth in a politically charged atmosphere, there was an undercurrent of scorn in Ferrara's voice -- as if all the economic issues in question had already been settled decisively, and anyone who thought differently was a fool. Except he didn't say that, explicitly. I was holding my breath, imagining it was going to be my job to counter his arguments. But Olney returned to Bartlett, who delivered the following broadside (beginning at about the 30 minute mark in the hour-long show.)

I think that anybody who follows Peter's advice is an idiot, just as he is. He has no idea what he is talking about. He is just reading the Republican Party's talking points.

And that was just the beginning of his evisceration.

Ferrara sounded none too happy when he let fire with his own rejoinder:

Well, I take Bruce's name-calling as an admission that he has no substantive response -- the economics that I'm talking about here have been proven over and over again, and the Keynesian economic approach that he is talking about has been proven a failure, in the 1930s, in the 1970s, and in the 1990s.

It was clear to me, at least, that Ferrara thinks anyone who supports Keynesian economic policies is an idiot, but he refrained from spelling it out.

So what does it all mean? Think about it, two men who both served under Reagan and the first Bush, were going at each other hammer-and-tongs with apparently little love lost. And the topic was tax cuts versus Keynesian economic policy! Could there be a better demonstration of how history and economic collapse has undercut Republican solidarity?

I'm just sorry to say that my own defense of Keynesian economics could not quite match up in excitement to what preceded me. But I think it all still made for some great radio.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew LeonardFOLLOW koxinga21LIKE Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Economics Globalization How The World Works