Chait's Versailles


So today I was at the Heritage Foundation, which also makes it a good day to debut my appearance in the New Republic with a piece Chris and I wrote rebutting Jonathan Chait's analysis of the progressive blogosphere.  Naturally, Chait's original article was a hit piece on who we are and what we believe in, spinning off nice little sub-hit pieces from folks like Jonah Goldberg in the LA Times. And it's not just filtering into the right-wing bloodstream and the mass media.  I've already been contacted by very infuential thinkers who took Chait's piece as an axiomatic description of what we're doing.  Chait knew where his piece would go and he knew exactly how he wanted us to be framed. I guess for this reason it had to be rebutted, but it does feel like navel-gazing. If you want more, follow me to the flip side.

I guess the basic criticism I have about Chait's response to our response is that Chait just doesn't understand or care about accuracy in his writing.  He throws around terms like 'netroots' and blogosphere without understanding them (the netroots is a subset of the blogosphere - um, no it's not).  He situates our founding in the 2000 recount, and when we corrected him, he wrote that he considers our point a 'trivial objection' since historical analysis has to start somewhere.  Trivial or not, the fact remains that Chait is just wrong.  I don't get why he thinks he can just gloss over that.  It's important to note that he didn't call any activist bloggers, so far as I can tell, though I haven't asked everybody.  And we could have easily helped him understand and correct his errors before he reported them.  The difference between 2000 and 2002, which in Chait-world is trivial, in the real world includes the Iraq War, which is the biggest strategic disaster in US history.  Trivial, I guess.

I really don't get people like Chait.  When Chris and I pointed out that we oppose the surge and support withdrawals not out of tactical sensibilities but out of a belief that the surge was a bad idea and withdrawals a good idea, here was his response:

Again, this is a non sequitur. Of course they have substantive reasons for their positions. Stoller, as I noted, has called Grover Norquist his political hero. Norquist, too, has substantive ideological goals. My point is that there's a technique they use in common: Once the movement has settled on a position, it will not tolerate members who side with the opposition. I'm not saying that the position itself is unprincipled. I'm describing a tactic they use to advance it. The inability of Bowers and Stoller to distinguish between the morality of their ends and the morality of their means is a good example of the phenomenon I'm describing.

This is so stupid it's hard to rebut.  Why, exactly, are we wrong to oppose the surge and support troop withdrawals?  Where, exactly, are we using immoral means to support moral ends?  What the hell is Chait talking about?

There's a larger undercurrent here that I don't quite understand, and that gets to the concept of 'roles'.  Chait is obsessed with the varied role of an activist, journalist, advocate, economist, etc, and wants clear and bright lines between them.  He responds to Ezra Klein's point about economists with a telling thought.

Yes, journalists and economists can fall prey to their own biases. But does he really think economists in a university are no more biased than a self-proclaimed political activist?  ? Can he not see the difference between someone who is trying to describe the world as he sees it, regardless of where his argument leads him, and somebody who is trying to create a message that will advance liberal politics?

I suppose Chait is the ultimate post-modernist.  To him, there is some severe conflict between telling the truth and being guided by truth in political activism.  This is weird.  Boingboing and Grist both cover fun and interesting information, and sometimes ask readers to do politics.  Does this make them less credible?  Not really, since they are pretty open about their agendas.  To Chait, though, it does.  All politics is spin to be interpreted by objective journalists and analysts, who are somehow free from self-interest.  Roles must be clearly delineated at all times, and you should be judged by your station in life and not your output.  And people in certain stations are objective and trustworthy, whereas others are rabble.  And guess which side we're on?

It must be strange for Chait to live in Versailles.

Tags: Ezra Klein, Jonathan Chait, TNR (all tags)



Re: Chait's Versailles

Versailles is a good reference ...

I didn't stumble upon my political views just to justify my activism. I believe in my political views enough to dedicate a lot of time (and now my career) to try to help make them a reality.

And I don't have a low tolerance for people who argue for the surge because I disagree with them. I have a low tolerance because their ideas are poorly thought-out and get lots of people killed.

This stuff matters, and we're supposed to treat it as a salon discussion?

Chait has a history of intellectually dishonest smears and personal vendettas over the last few years, but that's OK because he didn't believe in any underlying point to it all?

I don't get it.

by BriVT 2007-05-10 09:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

Well, you're white and male. The close-minded arrogance of publications like TNR and n + 1 really hammers out the case for diversity.

by sb 2007-05-10 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

"Can he not see the difference between someone who is trying to describe the world as he sees it, regardless of where his argument leads him, and somebody who is trying to create a message that will advance liberal politics?"

I think this is the salient point. "Liberal politics" ITSELF exists because so-called liberals are "trying to describe the world as they see it".  

There is a difference between being paid to "create a message that will advance liberal politics" and actually believing in that message and working to advance liberal politics as a result. He seems to be accusing all of us of being the former, rather than the latter.

Else, how can he, on the one hand, say that it is okay to "describe the world as you see it" but NOT okay to "describe the world as you see it if it advances liberal politics"?

Or perhaps his belief is that "the advancement of liberal politics" trumps your "describing the world as you see it". Ie, that you are to some LYING and being DISHONEST in order to advance liberal politics and a liberal agenda.

by AmericanJedi 2007-05-10 10:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

Chait's contention about means and ends is the best example of his biases. Even when you're right, you're wrong, if you stand firm for your convictions with passion. The right way is to not get worked up about it. Or, he simply hates us, and sees bad motives, as if our superior track-record of prognostication can be dismissed as a blind squirrel finding a nut, over and over and over again, while he starves. Like Friedman, who admits sure, we were right and he was wrong, but not because we were right and he was wrong. We were just motivated by pure Bush hatred, whereas he was an objective, dispassionate observer while misjudging the situation, which allows him to continue to feel superior.

There are many things that are complex, and blind radicals are certainly emotional, but there are also times when a wrong is so clear, it would send any objective, rational person through the roof to watch the nation slumber. Only a theologian of the "centrist" school could be so blind, so misled by their prejudices that they would split the baby and pox both houses under such circumstances. The middle has no more ownership of truth than the extremes. Inquisitions and revolutions occur at the edges.

If we are to rise above petty partisanship, then lets use objective criteria to judge who sees the world more clearly.

One group questioned the evidence for WMD before the war. One had no qualms about stating the scientific consensus on global warming. One thought no links were shown between Iraq and Al Qaeda. One thought we should finish the job and nab the people who actually attacked us. One refused to say the emperor wore clothes. One says evolution is not controversial among biologists, because it isn't. One didn't fall for Powell's presentation to the UN. One foresaw ethnic killings and civil war. One was skeptical when the administration said we were turning a corner, the mission was accomplished, the leakers of Plame's name would be punished, that the media wasn't showing us the good news. One side never believed the Swift Boat Vets for one moment, but recognized a scandal when the attorney purge came to light, just as they had every other scandal, months and sometimes years before the rest of the media.

The people who failed to do any of those things believe they rose above it all, and saw everything clearly, motivated purely by a search for truth.

And one group is seen as biased, unthinking partisans, who allow their hatred of the opposition to blind them. If the above turn out to be world-is-flat hoaxes, then the Earth isn't warming, we're winning in Iraq, and Bush is an honest man of character, and history will judge us. But if those notions hold up in 50 years, then history will judge us, too. Would you rather be passionate us, or slumbering Chait, for posterity?

by Memekiller 2007-05-10 10:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

I think it's sorta hard to say fundamentally what the "netroots" means in terms of inclusion. It obviously started off with a few political junkie blogs (for Howard Dean in '02-03), grew to include some big progressive organizations (for Paul Hackett in Ohio special election, and DFA, Moveon joining with bloggers/ActBlue in '05), and is now moving to include any online actions ('06 and '07 campaigns). I think eventually it will become just as common as "grassroots" and not even be a partisan term.

As far as the recount election as a 'starting point' goes, I would tend to agree with Chait, and Ezra makes this point as well, as a 'spark' that set things in motion. Anyone involved in the Salon tabletalk forums at that time will recall the massive amount of wordage that happened with lefties that dealt with the establishment Democratic party during the recount. That just wasn't happening before Al Gore lost. For the most part, people grudingly hoped that the votes would be counted, Gore would be declared the obvious winner, and lives could go on without a Republican trifecta. The Trifecta did happen, and the progressives that stayed engaged, by  April and May, knew factually that Bush was a hard turn to the right-- that his 'uniter not divider' slogan was bullshit.

From the perspective of encountering the Republican domination of online activism from the mid-nineties to the 2000 election, the recount fits as their apex. I saw how a "Sore-Loserman" graphic that someone put up as a comment on Free Republic morphed onto posters for demonstrations in Florida to being used on Fox News within 48 hours; the recruitment of activists to gather for demonstrations in Florida; the coordination of message and the pushing up/down of talking points. None of that shit was being done by progressives, we had no web presence to make it happen; and I know that was a common 'lesson' that came out of the recount for those in the discussion at the time. What came next didn't get built overnight, it took a couple of years, but that lesson certainly seared in my mind what was lacking.

Interestingly, at the same time, Salon went to a paid membership forum (early 2001), and it pushed out many of the commenters (like Atrios, Stirling Newberry...) into putting their content onto blogs. Buzzflash became a clearing house of links to the emerging sites; Democratic Underground became a forum, MyDD started... these were all early 2001 events.

I know Moveon had an earlier email-centered activism, but I don't group it in the same category as the online activism that and were engaged in-- which needed to be countered by a progressive online voice. Moveon wasn't really 'online' in the sense of webspace, it existed mostly in peoples email accounts (which is great, because I don't think they should try and be an end all). This might be personal nuance that I see which in the bigger picture doesn't make as much a differentiation. And I would certainly agree with Stoller's point about there being waves.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-05-10 10:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

I don't think Chait finds it strange to live in Versailles.  I think he finds it quite lovely.

There really is a strong resentment among people who cover politics for a living that others are eager to participate in the process because they believe it matters.  It really interferes with their "ooh, look how much he paid for his haircut" analysis.  

by bosdcla14 2007-05-10 11:28AM | 0 recs

This has been aired enough to show decisively that Chait is a dishonest apparatchik and it is starting to look like navel-gazing. I can only assume you and Atrios and everyone have good reason to believe the little dick merits this kind of attention. I would guess 90% or more of your readers wouldn't touch TNR if it was on fire and threatening the neighborhood. True of me anyway. If they're that fucking influential, let's hear some strategies for taking them down.

by MikeB 2007-05-10 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

What I found offensive was Chait's attempt to be subtle in his smears- to make them "non-smears". So you aren't trying to impose a "Stalinist" party line and attack dissent among the Democrats and liberals. . How gracious of him, but he's left the slime there. Now if he said- "well you aren't really trying to impose a Blairite parlimentary discipline as (our TNR favorite)Blair did on the Labour Party- but were close to it"-well that's a fairer description of where you guys might be happy to end up.

by Skipster 2007-05-10 12:01PM | 0 recs
Versailles & The Collapse of TNR

One aspect of this that I find particularly interesting is that TNR is clearly a bellwhether.  Its circulation is plummeting, it's no longer a weekly, it's going down right before everyone's eyes.  And thus, it's a very clear object lesson on what could happen to all of them.  Versailles does everything it can to ignore what's actually happening in America.  But when one of its own is so visibly being destroyed as a result, it's much, much harder to ignore what's going on.

So it has to be savagely reinterpreted.

And that's what we're seeing now.

It's just worth remembering, and repeating, over and over again, that all the so-called "objective" Versailles reporters have been wrong about everything--Iraq most of all, of course, but everything else as well, too.

And if "objectivity" is their great claim to fame, then what the fuck good are they, since they're so stupendously wrong???

Isn't it, simply, the most objective conclusion possible to conclude that they aren't so objective after all?

Oh, no!  That's not an objective conclusion!  That's a Stalinist one!

And how long till TNR is a monthly???

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-05-10 12:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Chait's Versailles

This is one of those points where my inner punk sensibility surges. I would really rather live in a world where a clubby/insider magazine published by an anti-arab racist who married into a sewing-machine fortune doesn't matter.

But apparently it does. Sucks to be us, I guess.

by Josh Koenig 2007-05-10 01:02PM | 0 recs
That's not a hit piece. Now THAT's a hit piece!!!

What Chait wrote was not a hit piece, what you just wrote was a hit piece.

Chait wrote one of the best pieces taking a look at the netroots by a non-netroots/non-activist writer that any of us has ever seen.  As a non-activist, he doesn't share some of our assumptions, therefore he got some things wrong from our perspective.

What he didn't do was engage in hysterical name-calling and ad hominem attack.

Given the treatment that TNR gets from the netroots, Chait should have gone up to your front doorstep, drop trou and let loose a big stinking turd.  Instead he wrote a thoughtful piece that we have some disagreements with and he get compared with Marie Antoniette and call stupid and worse.

I love MyDD for the analysis.  But please, whenever you feel personally attacked, keep it to yourself or save it for the barstool.  Don't memorialize in writing.  You just end up living up to every stereotype of foul-mouthed, vindictive, petulant, immature, unprofessional DFH blogger that colors MSM coverage of the progressive blogosphere.

There I've said it.  Feel free to insult me now.

by Marc Brazeau 2007-05-11 06:55AM | 0 recs
Re: That's not a hit piece. Now THAT's a hit piec

A thoughtful piece on how the Netroots became the most important mass movement in US politics.

by Marc Brazeau 2007-05-11 06:58AM | 0 recs


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