Jonathan Chait's Latest Libertarian Fever Dream


Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about how New York Magazine political writer Jonathan Chait (late of The New Republic) is looking on the bright side of potential "fear of extremism and mob violence" in the Occupy Wall Street protests (which, as far as I can tell, haven't really featured anything like either). He has written a long response (decorated by a glamourpuss shot of Nick Gillespie!) that you can read here. In it, he writes:

Welch, in his latest post, kinda-sorta implies that I'm a partisan hypocrite. He begins by quoting other people hyperventilating about the dangerous violence of the tea party, then quotes me discussing Occupy Wall Street in more sanguine tones. The problem here is that the first batch of quotes doesn't contain anything written by me. That's kind of a necessary ingredient for accusing somebody of holding a double standard. You can't really do it by demonstrating that a person has contradicted positions expressed by other people. And, in fact, I have strongly criticized liberal hysteria over "violent language," and especially the attempt to connect right-wing rage to the shooting of Gabby Giffords.

Actually, I kinda-sorta don't, at least in terms of the word "hypocrite." Many on the left have expended much oxygen hyperventilating about the vaporware of Tea Party violence; Jonathan Chait of the left is talking about the virtues of violent atmospherics, that's about the structure and (limited) point of what I wrote.

In the event, I am glad to be reminded of Chait's sensible writings about the Giffords shooting (which I remember at least re-tweeting at the time), and I only wish he'd had the same reflex when talking about Tim Pawlenty's "take back our government" rhetoric six weeks later ("the shocking thing about contemporary Republican rhetoric is how short the space is between mainstream political speech and incitement to violence"). And for what's it worth, I, too, dislike "take back our government" rhetoric, even more than I dislike Tim Pawlenty.

Chait makes one other clump of misstatements worth addressing:

If you're going to automatically oppose any military intervention, new spending programs, or regulation, and automatically favor every tax cut, you're hardly unbound by dogma. In the same way, communists, UFO conspiracy theorists and followers of Lyndon LaRouche are very non-partisan, but this doesn't tell you anything terribly flattering about their ability to think for themselves.

People like Welch and Gillespie want their readers to judge arguments by using the heuristic of which person is more "partisan," as opposed to which makes the more compelling and intellectually honest case. Their motivation for doing so is obvious.

For the record, neither I (nor Nick) opposed initial military intervention into Afghanistan, "automatically" or otherwise. We are both on record (and on video) favoring some environmental regulations, which (among other things) have greatly and mercifully improved the air quality of my native Southern California. The current edition of Reason magazine (not online yet) contains a feature-length attack on the single-biggest deduction in the tax code. Chait's "dogma" won't hunt, and not for the first time. (Though I confess to being intrigued by the notion that "communists" are "very non-partisan"; what does that "P" stand for, then?)

We definitely agree on one thing, though: Political commentators should be judged on who "makes the more compelling and intellectually honest case." Chait's case that the Occupy Wall Street (and whatever else) movement could provide an "unlikely" boost to President Barack Obama's re-election bid because "fear of extremism and mob violence" can "usefully re-center the debate" really does deserve to be judged on its own merits.