Bob Herbert paid attention


Bob Herbert leaves the times. His last column is excellent coda to his tenure as Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times:

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

via Losing Our Way –

Herbert has been the target of some undeserved, if not petty ridicule. Brad DeLong thought Herbert was premature and completely wrong in declaring the US economy in a recession in November 2007. So wrong that he suggested Herbert hit the bricks:

This is simply wrong: We may fall into a recession in the near future–odds are 50-50. We might be in a recession right now–but probably not. We almost surely were not in a recession in July-September. Ben Bernanke won’t say whether we are headed for a recession because he does not know.

via Can We Retire Bob Herbert? – Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality with All Ten Tentacles.

We now know, Herbert’s reporting was right and Delong was wrong. We were diving headlong into the Great Recession.

Libertarian Reason has a long post mocking Herbert, Andrew Sullivan felt the need to yet again write a post about how awful and boring he thinks Herbert is. Ever the Palin-ologist, he is unable to suffer Herbert’s talk about jobs.

There was something about his writing that simply forced you to stop reading, even when his motives were obviously honorable, his compassion deep, and his solutions sincere, if invariably trite.

via Bob Herbert Quits – The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.

Poverty, unemployment, states teetering on bankruptcy, consumer debt, and the skyrocketing of defense spending were longtime topics of Herbert’s editorials. In May 2003, Sullivan failed to make mention of rising unemployment (while his blog archives do show support for more deficit ballooning tax cuts). In that month Herbert wrote:

It’s a reality in which:

* The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by three million in the past two years.

* The median household income has fallen for the past two years.

* The number of dual-income families, particularly those with children under 18, has declined sharply.

The administration can spin its ”recovery” any way it wants. But working families can’t pay their bills with data about the gross domestic product. They need the income from steady employment. And when it comes to employment, the Bush administration has compiled the worst record since the Great Depression.


The president has played his tax-cut card. The spending on Iraq, most Americans fervently hope, will not go on indefinitely. And President Bush’s own Treasury secretary is talking about an inevitable return to higher interest rates.

Where’s the jobs creation miracle in this dismal mix?

Meanwhile, these are some of the things working (and jobless) Americans continue to face:

* Sharply increasing local taxes, including property taxes.

* Steep annual increases in health care costs.

* Soaring tuition costs at public and private universities.

Families are living very close to the edge economically. And this situation is compounded, made even more precarious, by the mountains of debt American families are carrying — mortgages, overloaded credit cards, college loans, etc.

via There’s A Catch – Jobs – Op-Ed –

Herbert’s reporting yielded an accurate picture of the state of the American economy. More from Herbert in October 2003:

While our ”What, me worry?” president is having a great time with his high approval ratings and his ”Top Gun” fantasies, the economy remains in the tank. And the finances of state and local governments are sinking tragically into ever deeper and ever more unforgiving waters.

You want shock and awe? Come to New York City, where jobs are hard to find and the budget (as residents are suddenly realizing) is a backbreaking regimen of service cuts, tax increases and that perennial painkiller, wishful thinking.

The biggest wish, of course, is that the national economy will suddenly turn around and flood the city and state with desperately needed revenues. Meanwhile, the soup kitchens and food pantries are besieged.

via Trouble In Bush’s America – New York Times.

Sullivan, who these days is calling for drastic measures in the face of the current fiscal crisis, totally missed the signs of the looming crisis.

NOT JUST A BLIP: Another poll shows a consistent up-tick in Bush’s approval ratings. Gallup thinks that greater optimism on the economy is behind it. Who knows? I think the administration’s spirited defense of its Iraq policy – long, long overdue – might have something to do with it. So you ask yourself: what does the future hold? I’d say the economy is headed for strong growth next year (it should after all the money being thrown at it); and that Iraq in a year’s time will probably look a good deal more successful than it does now. (I could be wrong about that, of course.)

via – Daily Dish.

Sullivan also pulled out his own mission accomplished banner and credited the Iraq war with the democratization of the Saudi government that never materialized in significant reform. Yea, Saudia Arabia. Freedom on the march.

Sullivan and DeLong and others wondered why anyone would read Herbert’s columns.

I read Herbert’s columns because he did yeoman’s work reporting on the state of the working Americans and their families. He paid attention to people who live pay check to pay check and aren’t the immediate concern of an ivory tower economist tracking lagging indicators and a conservative blogger interested in protecting the successful from fiscal penalties (aka the wealthy from taxes). I read Herbert’s columns because he wrote about all too common stories that too many Op-Eds ignored.