The New Republic's Jonathan Chait accuses Nick Gillespie and I of writing in bad faith this weekend when we urged Barack Obama to govern more like post-1994 Bill Clinton than mid-malaise Jimmy Carter: "One of the most tiresome forms of opinion commentary is bad-faith advice to a political figure from a writer who is utterly opposed to his ideological goals." For instance, we allegedly "urge Obama to abandon the platform that he ran on" when we implore him to stop "throwing money all over the economy."
I don't know much about Jon Chait's faith (aside from the fact that as of 2006 he had so much faith in John McCain that he wrote the following couplet: "Go ahead, senator, flip-flop away. I know you're with us at heart")…so let's stick to verifiable claims.
First, is "throwing money all over the economy" really the "platform" that Barack Obama ran on? No, it is not.
Here is Obama on Oct. 15, 2008, more than three weeks after George W. Bush wet his pants over the financial crisis:
What I've done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut….I have been a strong proponent of pay as you go. Every dollar [in spending] that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches.
Now, that's a "goal," ideological or not, that I can totally get behind. In fact, I wrote as much in a column after the election, not as "bad faith" advice to a politician, but genuine (if desperate) hope that the politician might stick to his words on an issue I care about. So much for that.
Chait, after quoting our line about how Obama is "doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering," then uncorks this howler of a non-sequitur*:
Funny, if Obama really were following in Bush's footsteps, you'd think that the few remaining defenders of the Bush legacy might be at least somewhat favorably disposed toward him, rather than railing hysterically against him.
In fact, Gillespie wrote a piece about Bush's legacy in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. It was entitled "Bush Was a Big-Government Disaster." Meanwhile, I despised the guy so much already in 2004 that I voted for John freakin' Kerry.
Chait also criticizes us for urging Obama "to admit that he's to blame for massive budget deficits," when we do no such thing (in fact, in the fourth paragraph can be found this: "Obama has inherited an awful economy [and] dizzying budget deficits"). Truthiness notwithstanding, this critique builds to Chait's climax:
But this is the sort of absurdity you get when people write opinion articles pretending to offer sympathetic political advice to a politician whose goals they abhor. If the Libertarian Party ever wins the White House, I promise not to write columns advising the president to raise taxes on the rich, expand health care coverage and start regulating assault weapons.
First, who the hell was being "sympathetic," and second, since when does opinion writer Jonathan Chait not write columns advising a president he doesn't agree with from making different policy decisions? I still remember the Bush administration (hell, I remember editing Jon Chait columns at the L.A. Times during the Bush administration!), and I do not recall the man sitting on his hands out of some kind of bizarre good-faith deference. Nor would I want him to.
* UPDATE: Commenter Hugh Akston points out that this could be more of a, "if their thesis was true, Karl Rove would be applauding" type of argument. Which, if true, is not a "non-sequitur," but just a weird argument (we should not be surprised that heavy political operatives oppose politicians from the opposing party, and in fact many non-apparatchik conservatives, such as David Brooks, have murmured praise in Obama's general direction).