Tagged: Ross Douthat

Cabo wabo

Lots of stuff is coming out about Bernie now that inexplicably lay hidden in 2016.

Bernie presents enough baggage from 2016 to today. No need for an oppo researcher to wade through 30 year old Wayne’s World quality video.

As an occasional interloper in Democratic politics, Bernie is under the most pressure and is more desperate than other candidates.

His main problem is his lack of appeal to the diversity of the Democratic Party. Probably because he’s not a Democrat.

Tea Party Republicans politicized federal aid after Superstorm Sandy. Now these chickens have come home to roost in flood and tornado stricken MAGAland.

Between David Brooks and Ross Douthat, I don’t know how the NY Times survives as a credible source of opinion.

The pursuit of scoops and the need to be first is killing journalism. When did editors install this misguided priority?

Better dead air than Chuck Todd.

Likability and authenticity entered politics after the 1960s. The notion that the personal is the political comports well with the conflation of personal traits with political viability.

Putin has Trump under his thumb.

Trump is libidinally cathected to strongmen.

He will likely declare martial law when he loses in November 2020.

Republic of letters

Ross Douthat (NY Times):

In the wake of the vicious murders at the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo today, let me offer three tentative premises about blasphemy in a free society.

1) The right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order.

2) There is no duty to blaspheme, a society’s liberty is not proportional to the quantity of blasphemy it produces, and under many circumstances the choice to give offense (religious and otherwise) can be reasonably criticized as pointlessly antagonizing, needlessly cruel, or simply stupid.

3) The legitimacy and wisdom of such criticism is generally inversely proportional to the level of mortal danger that the blasphemer brings upon himself…

We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.

In this sense, many of the Western voices criticizing the editors of Hebdo have had things exactly backward: Whether it’s the Obama White House or Time Magazine in the past or the Financial Times and (God help us) the Catholic League today, they’ve criticized the paper for provoking violence by being needlessly offensive and “inflammatory” (Jay Carney’s phrase), when the reality is that it’s precisely the violence that justifies the inflammatory content….

Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun — or, as in the darker chapters of my own faith’s history, the rack or the stake — both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended.

My only disagreement: the “threat” of physical violence is sufficient to trigger the third premise.

Journalism 2.0

Concerning the demise of The New Republic (which reads like a script from the “The Newsroom”), Ross Douthat accurately captures the difference between the old and the new(est) journalism.

The New Republic as-it-was, the magazine I and others grew up reading, was emphatically not just a “policy magazine.” It was, instead, a publication that deliberately integrated its policy writing with often-extraordinary coverage of literature, philosophy, history, religion, music, fine art.

It wasn’t just a liberal magazine, in other words; it was a liberal-arts magazine, which unlike many of today’s online ventures never left its readers with the delusion that literary style or intellectual ambition were of secondary importance, or that today’s fashions represented permanent truths.

Unlike our era’s ascendant data journalism, it also never implied that technocracy was somehow a self-sustaining proposition, or that a utilitarianism of policy inputs and social outcomes suffices to understand every area of life. (And unlike many liberal outlets, in its finest years it published, employed and even occasionally was edited by people on the right of center — something some of us particularly appreciated.)

So when we talk about what’s being lost in the transition from old to new, print to digital, it’s this larger, humanistic realm that needs attention. It isn’t just policy writing that’s thriving online; it’s anything that’s immediate, analytical, data-driven — from election coverage to pop culture obsessiveness to rigorous analysis of baseball’s trade market.


Politico asks what does a fictional movie get wrong about a fictional event described in a fictional text. No, you can’t make this stuff up.

This Ross Douthat column is sore-loserish. With neither a compelling argument against, nor a coherent plan to replace, Obamacare, Conservatives are left holding an Easter basket full of doomsday predictions that never come true.

My only advice for you is to ignore my advice.

I’ll give you my Zoloft when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Game of Thrones is bigger than Jesus.

Can the subaltern speak

A column by Ross Douthat only makes one long for the real insight of a David Riesman.

The soft launch of Mr Klein’s media empire has been as troubled as that of Mr Greenwald.

Kill the professors!

Why haven’t the Reddit vigilantes found MH370 yet?

Stereotypes are totes wrong. Like the one about Upper East Side mothers carrying their babies in Birkin bags.

Crazy old coot.

Lover’s remorse

In an earlier New York Times Op-Ed “The Seduction of the Tea Partiers” (dated 26 September 2010), Ross Douthat criticized the Republican Party for adopting “the atmospherics of the Tea Party movement” while evading “its most admirable substance.”

The Tea Party is a grass-roots movement — wild, woolly and chaotic — which sometimes makes it hard to figure out exactly what it stands for. But to the extent that the movement boasts a single animating idea, it’s the conviction that the Republicans as much as the Democrats have been an accessory to the growth of spending and deficits, and that the Republican establishment needs to be punished for straying from fiscal rectitude.

According to Douthat the Republican Party of 2010 translated the Tea Party’s demand for spending cuts into a demand for tax reduction or at least no new tax increases, which for Douthat meant politics as usual in Washington D.C. Hence he found the Tea Party’s wild and wooly character admirable, even a necessary quality for returning the Republican Party back to the fiscally responsible roots it had abandoned in the George Bush era and, therefore, a return to echt conservatism. The cooptation of the Tea Party’s message was viewed as disastrous: “[t]heir eccentric elements notwithstanding, the Tea Parties have something vital to offer the country: a vocal, activist constituency for spending cuts at a time when politicians desperately need to have their spines stiffened on the issue.” In the final paragraph, Douthat fully embraced the Tea Party’s “extremism”:

Democrats are eager to paint these candidates as dangerously extreme. But on the evidence of last week’s pledge, a little more extremism in the defense of fiscal responsibility is exactly what the Republican Party needs.

At the time, I criticized Douthat’s seduction by the Tea Party:

Douthat never gets around to explaining the Tea Partysan’s case for spending cuts. For good reason: they have none. It seems that the absence of a rationale for spending cuts is preferable to having a rationale, even if a failed one, for tax cuts. The Tea Partysans have no political theory to back their position. Douthat has been seduced by the mere gestures of a movement that lacks substance. The eccentric wheel gets Douthat’s journalistic grease.

Today, a new Douthat Op-Ed appears in the New York Times bearing the heading “The Costs of Fantasy.” His assessment of the political state (and fate) of the Republican Party in the midst of a government shutdown, originally aimed at spending cuts (namely the repeal of the Affordable Care Act)?

. . .it’s completely possible for Republicans to seem too irresponsible, reckless and anti-government even for a midterm, base-mobilization election: Just ask the G.O.P. Senate candidates who lost entirely-winnable races even in the conservative wave election of 2010.

So it appears Tea Party extremism can be dangerously extreme. But this is not all.

. . . the strategy that the populists are currently pursuing — narrowing the definition of True Conservatism to a point where tactics rather than ideology are the only working litmus test, pursuing those tactics even when they put conservatives squarely on the wrong side of public opinion, and then denouncing any alternative approach as a sell-out that justifies bolting for a third party — is likely to deliver one of two alternatives instead: Either a successful populist/Tea Party takeover, à la Goldwater in ’64, that leaves the party in no position to actually contest a national election and secures Obama’s legacy instead, or a backlash that elevates a Republican nominee who runs against Congressional conservatives, à la George W. Bush in 2000, and in the process re-empowers all the interest groups that the populists detest.

From the standpoint of September 2010, two months before the election of Tea Party conservatives returned control of the House to Republicans, the spine-stiffening activism of the Tea Partysans bodes well for True Conservatism (spending cuts); from the standpoint of October 2013, the same intransigent demand for spending cuts — and what is more spine-stiffening than shutting down the government and accepting a government default — bodes ill for both True Conservatism and any chance that Republicans might reclaim the White House in 2016. Whereas in 2010, Douthat welcomed the Tea Party’s refusal to engage in politics as usual, in 2013, he proposes a return to politics as usual.

. . . I suppose one possible alternative would be for Republicans to step outside the murder-suicide context of shutdowns and debt ceiling brinksmanship, set aside the fantasy of winning major policy victories in divided government, cut a few small deals if possible and otherwise just oppose the president’s agenda on issues like immigration and climate change, and try to win the next two elections on the merits. This is how American political parties normally seek to enact their preferred policies, and the fact that the Republicans and Democrats are currently further apart ideologically than our political parties have traditionally been only strengthens the case for this old-fashioned way of doing things. Want to repeal/replace Obamacare, reform entitlements, do tax reform without tax increases? Go win a presidential election.

The “I suppose” that introduces Douthat’s judgment is disingenuous: he should own up to his own seduction by the Tea Party. What he failed to see in the Tea Party since its emergence on the national stage in the spring of 2009 is a contradiction lodged deep in its “politics”: it is a political movement that is opposed to government itself. The Republican politicians elected under the Tea Party imprimatur seek to undermine government; hence the tactics of the Tea Party faction are anti-governmental, or rather, ungovernable. Ungovernability is the via regia to the demise of government itself. My own assessment from September 2010, which questioned whether the Tea Party had any coherent political philosophy, has turned out to be prescient.

Some random thoughts: what does “government” mean? From the standpoint of “liberty,” I could be quite happy to be unburdened of certain tasks so that I have more free time to do what I want. That would be a justification for such “government” as a standing army, or police and fire department, or FDA/USDA. I don’t feel I’m giving up any “right” to make decisions for myself when I trust others to do things (like inspect/monitor the quality of the produce I eat). So here “government” are institutions that unburden ordinary citizens of a lot of tasks that would impinge on their liberty.

That’s not the only meaning government could have. “Government” can mean a set of procedures that (ideally) bring about an orderly, rational, and fair decision making process. Government here means “governing.” Roberts Rules of Order is a procedure for “governing” meetings or a parliamentary body. Insofar as individuals must enter in cooperative relations with others to achieve collective and individual ends, this notion of “government” is unavoidable.

Compared to these simple propositions, the Tea Partysans have an anemic political philosophy. They seem to react to random problems associated with “government” without offering any vision of what “government” should be. To assert that government should be “small” or “limited” doesn’t cut it.

Another matter: if government is to shrink, what are the criteria for deciding what should stay and what should go. You are ok with the military but not ok with HUD or the Dept of Education. What are the criteria for this distinction? Do Tea Partysans make any distinctions on what should stay or go? One person’s idea of “excessive government intrusion” is another person’s idea of a “necessary function.”

Finally, there is an interesting situation for some (maybe not all) Tea Partysans that they respond to the electoral results of last fall as if it were illegitimate; they are then rejecting the democratic rights of the majority and holding their own view up as not only superior but also non-negotiable. Here I find a fundamental disrespect for democratic processes, a disrespect that could be labeled “un-American” or “unpatriotic” (but I won’t do that). If they don’t like majority rule (with respect going to minority rights), then they should do some homework on constitutional design and come up with an alternative deliberative and electoral procedure as opposed to ranting about socialism or depicting the President as Hitler or engaging in some other ridiculous and regressive street agitprop. I believe there is a streak of Leninism in the Tea Partysans, they seem to believe they are a vanguard party that knows better what America is and what America needs and are unwilling to subject their ideas and principles to a democratic process in which their ideas may “lose.”

The vanguardist spirit of the Tea Party, represented by political opportunists like Senator Ted Cruz, should be the target of criticism by conservative critics like Ross Douthat. The error of the present moment is not one of political tactics, it is one of political ideas (or the lack thereof).