Remembering Bob Bartley

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Slate's Press Box writer Jack Shafer offers a balanced and nuanced obit of Robert Bartley, the man who turned the Wall Street Journal editorial page into one of the most influential venues in economics and politics.

Shafer, a former editor at the old Inquiry magazine and a very occasional contributor to Reason, reminds readers that he's "a small-government libertarian," which is why he "never subscribed to the Journal edit page's supply-side orthodoxy…which didn't seem to care about the growth of government as long as taxes got cut."

Whole thing here.

Over at economicprincipals.com, David Warsh also has a very interesting piece on Bartley.

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  1. I loved the Wall St Journal even before Bob Bartley, but he was a bulldog on Slick Willie and the whole Arkansas bunch.
    Bob had “muzzle velocity” to spare.
    His “thinking things over” was almost as enduring as “free minds and free markets.”

  2. The link to the slate obituary is broken.

  3. “but he was a bulldog on Slick Willie and the whole Arkansas bunch.”

    Bulldog? More like a credulous, conspiracy-theorizing, sewer-diving weasel.

    All the conservative whining about ‘angry democrats’ and the loss of ‘civility’ can just kiss my ass, considering that Bartley was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of the lack of civility of his editorial page work.

    (And, I dunno, a person whose writing encouraged a legal process which harassed bunches of innocent people – and cost them lots in legal bills – and wasted scores of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money – that doesn’t sound like someone who deserves a “Presidential Medal of Freedom”.)

    Dorothy Rabinowitz, would be more deserving, for her work in the WSJ against wrongful convictions. But not someone flogging six volumes of baseless crap about Clinton.

  4. It’s about time someone wrote the truth about Robert Bartley. I know he just died and it’s a loss for his family, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Bartley was a pretty bad guy who blindly and aggressively pushed bad economic policies and went on a witch hunt against the Clintons. Paul Krugman was all over Bartley even back a decade ago when he wrote the following in his book “Peddling Prosperity”:

    From the beginning of his tenure, Bartley made it clear that the Journal would henceforth be neither cautious nor even-handed on economic issues. Instead, it would campaign aggressively for what Bartley believed in. And Bartley is a self-confident man, calmly sure that he is right even when nearly everyone around him thinks he has lost his head.

    Many of Bartley’s enthusiasms have been ignored by the world beyond his own coterie. For much of the 1980s, for example, the Journal campaigned vociferously for a return to the gold standard; aside from providing an excuse for a few ludicrously lavish conferences, this campaign was treated by the larger world with bemused indifference.

    The Opinion Journal hagiographic portrait of the man was stunning in what it ignored. And this is a man Bush gives the medal of freedom?

  5. “conspiracy-theorizing, sewer-diving weasel.”

    Often, conspiracy theorizing is the only way to apprehend political reality.

  6. Yeah, how outrageous that Bartley got the medal. Such honors should only be considered for a better sort like the delightful Katharine Graham. I’m sure she did some, uh, important stuff

  7. Jeff Smith writes: “1) Who were these “innocent” Clinton people?”

    People who were sucked into the various investigations and grand juries and whatnot.

    I’m not talking about the major figures. Starr brought in far more people than just those who made the papers. I’m talking about average people who would likely have had to get some legal advice or representation just to be safe, meaning they had an unexpected, possibly large, legal expense for something which they had nothing much to do with.

    Then again, you’d have a hard time pointing out guilty Clinton people, since as I recall the people who were convicted of anything tended to be among Starr’s witnesses and Bartley’s sources.

  8. I’m trying to figure out why so many Reason readers and writers think cutting taxes is bad. Cutting taxes repeatedly is the only way to reduce government over time. “Paying down the deficit” is a laughable policy that never continues longer than a couple years of divided government and an election cycle.

  9. Rick, you didn’t accidentally frag yourself back in the day, did you?

  10. A few thoughts:

    1) Who were these “innocent” Clinton people?

    2) David Warsh is like a crystallization of
    the East Coast moderate left establishment
    in a fashion so pure as to be stunning at
    times. The basic drift of his message
    seems to be that it is more important to
    be nice than correct. Bartley was not
    correct on many things, but that does not
    mean that being correct is less important
    than being nice.

    3) Warsh does correctly point out, contra the
    Krugman quote above, that Krugman has adopted
    Bartley’s style completely. The whole Krugman
    thing is kind of sad – he is a great economist
    and a rotten columnist. Society should pay
    him to go back to the books.

    Jeff

  11. The Slate piece is really nice – the second
    of the two links works fine.

    Jeff

  12. FYI, the Slate links are both fixed.

  13. I remember Ben Stein had a novel where his former editor Bartley was a butcher.

    I liked Bartley when he was explaining Wanniski; both of them turned tedious later, to my tastes. Wanniski went to maniacal self-promotion, and Bartley got interested in stuff that didn’t interest me.

    Other than that, he was just one of those people. The WSJ makes a fuss whenever a staffer dies. I don’t take any medal or award whatsoever as significant for anybody. Mysterious ritual.

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