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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jonathan Chait is Great.

I love his blog and read it regularly. Don't missinterpert the fact that all my comments here are critical.

That said, Jonathan Chait manages the very difficult task of being unfair to David Frum. Frum says that liberals think the President should be able to legislate for four years. Chait passes over the irony of a Bush White House staffer claiming that liberals, liberals think the President should be able to over-rule congress as Bush regularly did (that is he broke the law and committed crimes). He quotes Frum claiming that it's Obama's fault that Republicans filibuster everything.

[M]any of the liberal blogs seem to take the view that once a president wins an election, his duty to persuade the country somehow adjourns for the next four years. That is not true, and it should not be true. If a president can mobilize the country behind an idea, it’s amazing how the filibusters will fade away.

Chait correctly notes that it is impossible to mobilize the country around the idea that, say Peter Diamond ought to be confirmed. The people won't push the Senate to do many of the things that the Senate has to do (one way or the other) because they are deeply obscure and most people haven't even heard of the issue.

Frum knows this. He is pretending that Obama's only trouble is with major initiatives which lack public support. This is exactly backwards. Obama got health care reform (plurality opposed). He didn't get cap and trade (plurality in favor) or Peter Diamond (majority huh ? Who's Peter Diamond ?). Frum knows that the country can't work if Republicans block everything unless the country is mobilized behind it.

However, Chait can't help overstating Frum's position when making fun of it. He wrote "So, I assume that the Senate is obstructing Peter Diamond's nomination to the Federal Reserve because the public is massively opposed to his ideas about monetary policy?" Frum never said the filibuster only works when the country is mobilized in favor of the filibuster. He said it won't work if the public is mobilized against it. Given the manifest absurdity of Frum's argument, Chait absolutely didn't have to distort it. He just does that out of habit.

Also -- Chait reconsiders the Iraq war. Basically he says Joe Klein has over-reactedand turned excessively dovish. An arguable position. However, then Chait presents a use of "rationale" which is totally irrational -- absurd -- something he would never take seriously except when he feels the need to argue that dirty fucking hippies were not totally exactly utterly right in spite of the fact that our predictions were correct and his were totally wrong. Chait wrote

Among other things, I focused entirely on the rationale for war, which I still think was solid, and failed to think very hard about the likely outcome of an American occupation of Iraq.

So the rationale for doing something is separate from the likely outcome ?!?!? What the hell could that possibly mean ? Chait evidently considers it reasonable to decide what to do based on benefit analysis not cost-benefit analysis. How could any semi-rational person use the word "rationale" the way Chait uses it ? In all his other posts, he acts as a consequentialist considering it best to consider the effects of a policy before advocating it. Yes somehow the platonic idea of the invasion of Iraq is sound in spite of the consequences.

This is deeply pathological. It is also unrelated to his main point.

Oh in the same post he suggests that Klein would have avoided fighting the Germans in WWII neglecting the fact that the Germans declared war on us.

Again incorrect history (as has been pointed out on the web) which is not needed for his main point. Why does Chait add nonsense to a rock solid case (against Frum) and an arguable case (against Klein) ? I recall my last post on Chait which noted that he misquoted Beinart in an aside in a post where he admitted that Beinart was partly right. There is an insane level of combativeness here, which I don't understand. I have never actually met anyone more intellectually combative than me (Michele Boldrin managed a solid tie) and I can't imagine what Chait is like in person.

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