by Matt Stoller, Thu May 10, 2007 at 10:03:33 AM EDT
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.