It started out as a gag here on the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and soon became a superstition:
Every time the stock market took a little dip, we'd reprint one of Paul Krugman's dour columns from the New York Jaundiced Times about the imminent doom of the American economy.
Almost immediately the market would bounce back and then some. It worked every time.
But we may have overdone it of late. By now the Dow Jones has started to cross into 12,000 territory. A few more Krugman columns explaining how the economy has cooled off and the thing could overheat.
We reprinted one of his columns last Thursday morning and, sure enough, by the end of the day, the Dow ended the day over 12,000 for the first time. AN HISTORIC HIGH! and all that jazz.
Well, sure. The Krugman touch never fails.
The more Professor Eeyore says the economy is going to hell, the more heavenly it gets. Can it be just a coincidence? The Dow seems to surge whenever it sees "Paul Krugman" in a by-line. It must be a kind of Pavlovian reaction by now.
But the last column of his we ran wasn't about the economy. It was about politics. Its burden - and it wasn't a light one to bear - is that folks should ignore the individual candidates in this congressional election and just vote for the party. Anyone who knows something of the good doctor's politics can safely assume he meant the Democratic Party.
Why? Answer: "The really important reason may be summed up in two words: subpoena power." With the power to call witnesses, the Democrats could investigate, investigate, investigate.
As the good doctor explains: "Those who think it's a good idea to investigate, say, allegations of cronyism and corruption in Iraq contracting should be aware that any vote cast for a Republican makes congressional investigations less likely. Those who believe that the administration should be left alone to do its job should be aware that any vote for a Democrat makes investigations more likely."
There you have it, folks. Give the Democrats control of the House or Senate, or both, and you won't have to worry about any legislation of great import being passed - as Dr. Krugman was honest enough to note. Instead, boy oh boy, the country can spend the next couple of years as tied up in investigations as it was during the Clinton Era of Bad Feelings. Hot dawg!
This could be the greatest thing since sliced bread - or at least since Monicagate.
In short, as an argument for electing a Democratic Congress, Dr. Krugman's column makes a pretty good case for re-electing a Republican one. If just to avoid wasting a couple of years on scandalmongering.
Dr. Krugman's politics turn out to be as thoughtful as his prose, samples of which I've begun to save, they're so delicious. My favorite Krugmanism of all time remains this piece of purple-as-a-bad-bruise prose:
As prose, that's a lot of poultry. But it bears the ineradicable mark of the Great Krugman, which means there's no way an editor could have saved that cackling sentence.
Naturally, soon after that barnyard metaphor was published, the economy responded by getting better 'n' better - thanks in large part to the Bush tax cuts that the professor is always denouncing.
There's a name for Paul Krugman's favorite figure of speech. It's called an Irish bull - in honor of an 18th century Irish parliamentarian, Sir Boyle Roche, whose bombast kept getting ahead of his thoughts. As in his complaint that Ireland was "overflowing with absentee landlords." Also: "The cup of Irish misfortunes has been overflowing for centuries, and it's not full yet." But he had great hopes: "All along the untrodden path of the future, I can see the footprints of an unseen hand."
An Irish bull is easier to illustrate than define. The term refers to any statement that, though we usually have a pretty good idea of what the writer meant to convey, becomes nonsensical when taken literally.
An Irish bull, in short, is always pregnant with absurd meaning. (See?) Which is why all metaphors should come with a warning label: Do Not Use Before Visualizing. That was George Orwell's test for a metaphor: Try picturing it.
Professor Krugman is a master of this unconscious art. And his politics, like his economic forecasts, can be as reliable as his prose. Just as everything is coming up weeds for the Republican slate in these midterm elections, Dr. Krugman has contributed one of his classic boomerang columns to the GOP cause. Karl Rove ought to send him a thank-you note.
If there's any hope at all for the once Grand Old Party in these midterm elections, and there may not be, it's that Paul Krugman can do for it what he's consistently done for the stock market.