graphic by twolf1

BREAKING: Steve Benen and Matt Yglesias report that elected and self-appointed GOP leaders are, more often than not, morons. In related news, water has been discovered to exhibit certain distinct properties of "dampness."

Well, that’s kind of unfair. Yglesias is right that "the way their movement works, intelligence or understanding of politics and policy has no meaningful role in advancement. If anything, there’s something of a negative correlation between knowing what you’re talking about and being able to get ahead in right-wing politics." And Benen is right, sure, that "leading Republican officials — Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Mike Pence — say all kinds of things that should be dismissed as transparent nonsense, but aren’t."

But I am puzzled about what Yglesias means by saying that "most liberals" are not vouchsafed this enlightenment. If he means "most liberals overall," he’s wrong. But if he means "liberals who write for Respectable Insider Publications like, say, The New Republic," well, I’d agree.

I try not to but I still entertain dark and savage recollections of the end of 2002 and the start of 2003, when most liberals playing along at home knew perfectly well that the "case for war" was a crock. And at the same time pretty much every "liberal" who drew or aspired to draw a paycheck from a "liberal" institution, or who occupied the "liberal" position at a mainstream publication or on the teevee, at best squeakily weaseled in the face of shithead-level propaganda, and at worst actively collaborated in selling perhaps the most flat-out asinine war in American history. I’m not saying that the primary motivation of such persons was a vulgar concern with getting paid. I am not so cynical (smiles winsomely). Besides, even the more cloddish Beinart-class buffoons aren’t dumb enough to get into the "liberal" pontificating gig in order to get rich. (Probably, anyway.)

No, I mean that the entire range of possible things to say about the Iraqi adventure just so happened to correspond precisely to the range of positions it was possible to occupy in the field of "liberal commentary" and receive any sort of financial compensation, or more importantly, any sort of prestige as a Serious Thinker. That was simply how the field of more or less "official" liberal commentary was structured. It just so happened that if you stood up then and said "Bush is a liar and this invasion idea sucks," the less likely you were to get rewarded. And by a familiar sort of jackass political magic, the more sincere you were (or else could fake) in your arguments about how opponents of the war were a bunch of smelly dope hippies, the more eligible you were to win cash and prizes. Conversely, the more willing and even compelled you were to call Bush a liar, which was true, the more likely you were to, say, start a blog, which nobody with that point of view ever did in expectations of getting rich or becoming Respectable (except of course for Atrios).

Yes, it’s better now on the left; there is far more space for left voices, something achieved through a lot of effort, a lot of blogging, a lot of struggle. That Rachel Maddow, say, has a television show is remarkable, given what 2003 was like.

But still, for all that effort, and even in the light of Obama’s sweeping win, and Democratic gains — where are we? Look. Sure, there is and has for years been "something of a negative correlation between knowing what you’re talking about and being able to get ahead in right-wing politics." But that was also the case back in 2003 and to some degree even now in Democratic politics.

Not, of course, to the same extent. Democratic politicians are not by and large as insane as, say, James Inhofe obviously is on the subject of global climate change. It is more precise to say that Democratic politicians have internalized the system of sanction and reward that has characterized insider Washington culture for three decades now, so that the fear of not being Taken Seriously (along with, for Dem Senators, disgusting House-of-Lords-ish Senatorial notions of "collegiality") prevents elected officials from doing the sensible thing and pelting Inhofe with garbage (metaphorically speaking, though literally it would not be a bad idea either).

And this point goes to something Benen says that’s worth thinking through:

Most of the media and the public underestimate the scope of the foolishness, too.

If a member of Congress — not just some back-bencher, but a senator or a member of the House leadership — says something seemingly provocative, a lot of people are predisposed to take it seriously. After all, he/she is in a position of authority. He/she helps shape the policies of the federal government. His/her opinion must have some value; I’m seeing it on television.

That’s right, but what makes Benen think the media underestimates such foolishness, rather than being actively complicit in it? What other explanation is there for, quite egregiously, Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post editorial page? What other explanation could there be for something like this infamous piece of dreck, which is just plain wrong on its face? Or, more recently, what about the paper’s preposterous response to George Will’s preposterous column on climate change?

I don’t think Fred Hiatt is so dazzled by the fact that members of the GOP hold positions of authority that he accepts what they have to say as legitimate. After all, in the case of authoritative conservative commentators, his Wills and his Krauthammers and his Kristols, Hiatt is directly responsible for the authority that they hold and project.

It’s not like Hiatt is intellectually incapable of perceiving empirical reality, like the scientific consensus on global warming. The evidence suggests that he just doesn’t care. What he cares about is maintaining the balance of respectable opinion between batshit insane and mumblingly moderate that has prevailed in the political and media spheres for so long. And why shouldn’t he? Hasn’t he done quite well for himself out of it?

As we’re seeing, even disastrous election results are not enough to persuade the GOP and conservatives to accept reality, and the "MSM" certainly isn’t about to make them do it. It’s an incredibly dangerous situation. Does it matter what the truth may be? Does it matter what the public wants?

Don’t be absurd. What matters is where the limits of "legitimate" speech have been imposed — and these have been imposed by those who have no incentive to be right, and face no penalty for being wrong, no matter what the damage may be to the nation, or the world.



A community college professor from upstate NY. My wife & I have 347 children, all of them rotten.