Free for all

Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts on how to best elicit feedback on the Intertrons (via). Sully has long resisted having a full-fledged comments section, if y’all don’t know, and he links to Julian Sanchez:

If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of EST/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude. Scan the comments at one of the more partisan political blogs and you get a clear sense that the “other side” consists not so much of people with different ideas, but an inscrutable alien species. I think it’s self-evident that this is an unhealthy development in a democracy, but it may be a coping strategy that our media ecosystem is forcing on us—at least until we find a better one.

Then adds:

I have a better one. Scrap comments sections, and add serious editors to filter the smartest emails both in favor of the blogger’s view and against. Yes, you need to develop the thickest of skins. But a thick skin isn’t the same as epistemic closure. Or it doesn’t need to be.

DeLong says something about humanizing yourself as a means of deflection. I’ve never had a high-traffic blog that attracts trolls, so I can’t really speak as to how psychologically damaging it is to often deal with idiots on the Internet. That said, I still think they’re wrong.

I get that there’s a ton of crap on the Web. But good comment sections, which (yes, I know) are few and far between, are still worth it, in my view. I’m aware that having a lightly moderated comment section is a recipe for attracting trolls. But how about Sully’s idea? That the writer gets to pick and choose to which arguments he or she will respond? Makes sense… as long as you entirely trust the writer. And how many people do you read that you trust entirely? I actually trust a fair amount of the people I read at this point but Andrew Sullivan sure as hell isn’t one of them (for good reason, I might add).

So, no, count me out. The Internet has tons of filth and idiocy and ignorance. But I’ll take that and sift through it rather than depend on the host of a site to pick and choose the arguments that they deem worthy of response. I’d like to be able to make that decision, thanks.


How to succeed in journalism

Came across this the other day, via Driftglass. The entire piece is worth reading just to remember how egregiously, arrogantly, dismissively, entirely wrong these people were, especially the NYT’s Most Reasonable Conservative™. But of all the howlers in the piece, this graf still takes it:

My third guess is that the Bush haters will grow more vociferous as their numbers shrink. Even progress in Iraq will not dampen their anger, because as many people have noted, hatred of Bush and his corporate cronies is all that is left of their leftism. And this hatred is tribal, not ideological. And so they will still have their rallies, their alternative weeklies, and their Gore Vidal polemics. They will still have a huge influence over the Democratic party, perhaps even determining its next presidential nominee. But they will seem increasingly unattractive to most moderate and even many normally Democratic voters who never really adopted outrage as their dominant public emotion.

In other words, there will be no magic “Aha!” moment that brings the dream palaces down. Even if Saddam’s remains are found, even if weapons of mass destruction are displayed, even if Iraq starts to move along a winding, muddled path toward normalcy, no day will come when the enemies of this endeavor turn around and say, “We were wrong. Bush was right.” They will just extend their forebodings into a more distant future. Nevertheless, the frame of the debate will shift. The war’s opponents will lose self-confidence and vitality. And they will backtrack. They will claim that they always accepted certain realities, which, in fact, they rejected only months ago.

It just defies words.

So it begins…

My, my, that didn’t take very long. From the front and center article on Politico (no link for them):

American politics has become so angry and divisive that it favors candidates who appeal to extremists and eccentrics, and even are extremist and eccentric themselves.

The nonstop circus of modern campaigns, meanwhile, has left the county’s most accomplished and capable people on the sidelines, with scant interest in running for office.

Or so the argument goes.

But something strange—or rather something normal—is happening in 2012.

One of the most familiar refrains from this age of polarization—that rhetorical bombast and ideological zealotry are what carry politicians to the top—is running headlong into the reality of Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney.

The general election will pit one exceptionally self-contained, self-disciplined, self-motivated man against another with precisely the same traits.

Voters have a choice between two men whose minds gravitate to rationality and logic—both of whom have expressed disdain for the disorder and surliness that pervade modern governance.

Sigh. Yeah, because it’s not like Mitt Romney has embraced right-wing views on immigration or tax policy or social safety net policies or foreign policy or… you get the point.

Meanwhile, that radical in the White House is proposing to raise the top marginal tax rate by… 4%… and that top rate is the lowest it’s been since the 1930s (first few Reagan years excepted).

Gonna be a looooong six months, folks…

Only Chris Wallace can go to China

Had some time to flip around the TV channels when I got home yesterday and came across this, which I can’t figure out how to embed, so I’m linking.

Can’t imagine Ryan getting questioning of this type on Meet the Press or any other bobblehead show. Especially note how Wallace questions the amount of revenue Ryan’s plane will raise and how it continues to cut taxes for the wealthy. Wallace does even better to repeatedly question Ryan about which deductions he’s going to excise, pretty much aping the main question that progressives on the Intertoobz have been wondering.

Obviously, the interview suffers from all the usual things that make cable TV interviews stupid and unenlightening, but on a very graded curve, I’d give the interview a B+ and Wallace an A-.


…to Charlie Pierce:

Part of it is the preposterous way that the GOP set up its primary calendar, and the utter inability of the Republican National Committee to keep their state committees from banjaxing the whole thing in a scramble for the influence that comes from being early on the schedule. Part of it was the long time it took to clear out the deadwood from the field; Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann never should have been in the campaign long enough to be “frontrunners” even for one day. But the great responsibility lies with the fact that, for more than 30 years, the Republicans have been sucking around for a campaign just like this one. They knew full well that their “base” was heading into the wild places, and they did nothing to stop them. They did nothing to arrest the spread of abject wingnuttery in the various state houses, from which came the generation of young Republicans stalwarts who won in 2010. They played footsie in the South with the Council Of Conservative Citizens, and in the West with the more polite fringes of the militia movement. For mean and temporary political advantages, they allowed more and more of the fringes into power in the party until, finally, there was no “Republican establishment” any more. And now, too many respectable conservatives are wandering around, blinking, and wondering how it all happened that their party has lost its mind. You were there, kids. You just didn’t care.

The paradox of converted Republicans

Jay Rosen has an interesting post up that contains a bit of rare (for him) political analysis. To sum it up, parts of today’s Republican Party are still somewhat moored in reality and for other parts the horses have left the barn. Rosen cites David Frum as an example of a Republican who is fighting for a more factual approach to politics, describing him thus:

For a representative figure among reality-based Republicans I would go with David Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a conservative who cannot stomach what has happened to his party. But rather than become a Democrat or claim some sort of ideological conversion, Frum has taken up his pen, as with: When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?

Rosen then quotes Frum diagnosing the problems in today’s GOP, noting that Frum writes:

Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves. Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know—canny investors, erudite authors—sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond conventional American liberalism and is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism. No counterevidence will dissuade them from this belief: not record-high corporate profits, not almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, not the lowest tax rates since the Truman administration. It is not easy to fit this belief alongside the equally strongly held belief that the president is a pitiful, bumbling amateur, dazed and overwhelmed by a job too big for him—and yet that is done too.


Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat.

Frum’s diagnosis is eloquent and succinct. I could hardly write a better critique of the current conservative movement myself.And herein, for many progressives OK, for at least one progressive, lies a dilemma. Seeing this from David Frum, whom Charlie Pierce has appropriately referred to as former war propagandist David Frum, produces two very strong, very divergent emotions.

On one level, I’m happy. It’s good to have more people criticizing the conservative movement for all of the stuff that Frum outlines. Having that critique come from someone who is a Republican, or at least used to be, is useful as well because that argument may carry more currency than one from a person who has been opposed to the Republican Party for their entire life.

That said, an equally strong emotion (and maybe stronger depending on your view on politics, personal makeup, sociology, etc) is wanting to grab David Frum and shake him very hard and demand to know what took him so goddam long to figure this out. David Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. He coined the term ‘Axis of Evil.’ He backed Bush’s policies to the hilt, with devastating effects on our image abroad (Iraq) and our national treasury (Bush tax cuts, Medicare Part D, Iraq again).

It’s all well and good that David Frum has discovered that the conservative movement and Republican Party is to a large extent ‘epistemically closed,’ but it would have been a helluva lot better if Frum had realized that before the 2000 election sent GWB to the White House and changed the world. And as Bush passed those shit policies, often with Democratic help, was David Frum a prominent, righteous voice demanding review and reservedness? Please. Let’s not kid ourselves: Frum might have been booted from FNC and AEI but he now gets to blog for the Daily Beast (along with another animal of similar stripes) and appear on other cable news channels as that coveted dissonant conservative.

One more note on Rosen’s piece. This line really jumped out to me:

So I’m not saying that the Democrats and progressives are the ones who are in touch with reality, while conservatives and Republicans are not. (But I guarantee you some will read it that way.) I’m saying that the tendency toward wish fulfillment, selective memory, ideological blindness, truth-busting demagoguery and denial of the inconvenient fact remains within normal trouble-making bounds for the Democratic coalition. But it has broken through the normal limits on the Republican side, an historical development that we don’t understand very well. That is, we don’t know the reasons for it, why it happened when it did, or what might reverse it. (We also need to know the degree to which it is a global phenomenon among conservative parties in mature democracies, or an American thing.) Political scientists: help!

Part of what is so potentially damaging about Frum and Sully and the rest of our recent conservative converts is that they implicitly present a false history. Frum was all cool with being employed by the movement that he now criticizes until a few years ago. But the concept that conservatism has just now gone ’round the bend is risible.

Like Jay, no, I don’t really know when this “happened” to conservatism. But here are a few guesses: you wanna know why conservatives won’t take incredibly good deals on policy proposal because said proposals might contain a teensy bit of revenue? Ask Grover (he got his start in the ’80s). You wanna know why Dick Lugar is gonna face a primary opponent in his next Senate race despite his status as a sane Republican statesman? Read about how Tom Delay turned the word “primary” into a verb (as in, “We’ll primary you”). You wanna know why the interests of the wealthy are as well represented by the Republican Party today as they have been during any time in history? Have a look at Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project.

I do know this: the change that Frum describes has been happening for quite some time. It has been steady, cumulative and forseeable. This is not a recent development. It did not just happen overnight. And David Frum, like his compatriot at the Daily Beast, voiced full-throat support for these policies and inadequacies for pretty much his entire adult life, including when it mattered most. And that remains important.

Last time, I swear

Really, though. Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to Obama’s SOTU and the response given by Mitch Daniels last night (via):

It was that rare event when the GOP response surpassed the actual State of the Union. It was what a sane Republican critique of this presidency would be. It began with a grace note on Obama’s courageous assault on bin Laden and the quiet dignity of his family life – avoiding the personal demonization of a well-liked president. There were several shrewd and helpful criticisms of his own side. And there were only a couple of off-notes. I don’t believe the administration has divided Americans or sought to. I don’t think it’s fair to describe a stimulus in a potential depression as wasteful or irresponsible.

But by reminding us of the debt, and the deep need to tackle it, he reminded us that conservatism at its best is about bringing us back to reality. And the president’s maddening refusal to tackle the long-term debt and entitlement insolvency in the Bowles-Simpson opening – and his decision to keep  these themes buried under a wave of new tax breaks in his speech tonight – gave Daniels an opening, where he outclassed the man who just left the stage.

Here’s the video of Daniels’ response (via):

I’m going to forgo my usual snark, although I’m tempted, and just go by the transcript (via):

In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt. And yet the president has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead.


In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we’re only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out if we’re to avoid the fate of Europe and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.


The routes back to an America of promise and to a solvent America that can pay its bills and protect its vulnerable start in the same place. The only way up for those suffering tonight, and the only way out of the dead end of debt into which we’ve driven, is a private economy that begins to grow and create jobs, real jobs, at a much faster rate than today. Contrary to the president’s constant disparagement of people in business, it’s one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.


There’s a second item on our national must-do list: We must unite to save the safety net. Medicare and Social Security have served us well, and that must continue. But after half and three- quarters of a century, respectively, it’s not surprising they need some repairs. We can preserve them unchanged and untouched for those now in or near retirement, but we must fashion a new, affordable safety net so future Americans are protected, too.

Social Security, with extremely small tweaks, is fine. Medicare is cheaper than private health care alternatives. So, no.

It’s not too hard to pick apart any political speech. Were I to go through Obama’s SOTU, I could find plenty to disagree with, especially in the realm of foreign policy. Some parts of Daniels’ response are not too bad and Andrew Sullivan does disagree with certain elements, which you can see if you read his entire post. The big difference lies in the policies the two parties recommend.

Republicans, with the Ryan plan and any of the candidates‘ economic plans, are right where they’ve been for the past 30 years: tax cuts for the wealthy and less spending on programs for people who need it.

Mitch Daniels, in his response, makes no mention of the Bush tax cuts, passed in ’01 and ’03, that have done so much to create the debt which Daniels criticizes. Those tax cuts will do ever more to ensure such debt if the tax cuts are extended, as Republicans want.

Daniels was GWB’s OMB director, by the way. The Indiana governor, did to his credit, get right the fact that the Super Bowl is in Indy this year (go Pats!).

At day’s end, it really is like Atrios said, in a post titled “It’s Just Tone:”

For Villagers, Republicans are “moderates” if they’re reasonable dinner party guests.

Much as Andrew Sullivan might like to detach Republicans on whom he casts his hopes and dreams from their party and its orthodoxy, he can’t. That he continues to ignore this fact, as in the case of Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels, is about as good evidence that you can ask for to indicate that Sullivan is not an honest arbiter.