I used to read Matt Yglesias‘ blog, with the same grim regularity one assigns to, say, one’s home-town conservative rag. He’s often smarter than you expect him to be — and he’s been sane on Israel, for what that’s worth — but I’d more or less reached the opinion of this commenter:
What I like about this space is that MY is a genuinely gifted blogger with a fairly good instinctive sense of the ‘issues’ (even if his opinions and positions on those issues are often misguided), and he’s also a veritable font of safe, conventional, finger-to-the-prevailing-winds Received Opinion. He’s the establishment insider twerp par excellence (all the facile, predictable Slate-flavored ‘contrarianism’ is really a cutesy part of that wink-wink nudge-nudge decor) and thus he actually serves a pretty useful function for those of us who wish to push back against our dreadfully wrong-headed establishment ‘consensus’ (particularly relating to the core assumptions of neoliberalism with its abject betrayal of the social contract and the American middle class)…
I stopped reading him last week because I have better things to do and not enough time to do it, and because his education posts are so stunningly uninformed and misguided they make my face hurt. But Gerry Canavan brought it to my attention that, according to Mr. Yglesias, the last forty years of assaults on the New Deal were all just a dream and that we’ve achieved the liberal state of our dreams and also a pony. I wasn’t all that surprised that Yglesias’s “progressivism” was so superficial he could call himself a neoliberal (though the Friedman-esque ease of it is impressive), or, for that matter, to parrot right-wing talking points to the effect that the point of liberalism is to “increase the overall size of the government.” But I was a bit startled to see Kevin Drum, who for some reason I had a higher opinion of, proudly calling himself a neoliberal and arranging words in sentences like these:
Liberals have gotten a lot done in the past 80 years. There are plenty of things still left on our plate, but among big ticket legislative programs the only thing left is national healthcare
With a link to an article that includes sentences like these:
Economic security? We’ve got Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, subsidized public education, welfare, and the minimum wage.
You see…these words…they do not work when you place them in this order. Drum writes that “most people, maybe even most liberals, would say we’ve accomplished 80% of what we set out to do back in the 30s and 60s,” but perhaps there was a typo? Perhaps he meant to write “we’ve gutted 80% of what we did back in the 30s and 60s”? In what sense could the “welfare” we “have” actually be construed as describing anything resembling what people mean when they say “welfare state”? What could it mean to say “we” and “have” and “unemployment insurance” in that order? I mean, I suppose that compared to a country whose social infrastructure was strangled in the cradle by a depraved but stalwart anti-communist dictator, yes, I suppose it would be true to say that we have “subsidized public education.” But compared to, say, the United States of thirty years ago, it would be more accurate to say that we have the hollowed out skull of what used to be public education, a grisly chalice which our lords and masters use as a spittoon as we dance for their jaded amusement and scraps.
There. See how those words better accord with reality? The idea that we “have” affirmative action is a cruel joke while these words he is saying about “loads of environmental regulations” and “capital markets that are more transparent than ever in history” need to be put out of their misery. I guess they just took a look at the polls and just gave up, or finally realized that Obama wasn‘t really a liberal and adjusted their opinions accordingly.
Anyway, Matt Yglesias doesn’t read his commenters, but this fella said much of what needs to be said, and deserves that his words meander outside of the cold formica prison that is a think progress comment section:
For my money there are two important axes of neoliberalism, the policy axis and the dispositional axis. These are of course interrelated but separate. I could write a three thousand word essay on what neoliberalism is, but I’ll spare you and say that, on policy, neoliberalism is largely the belief that the practical and ethical problems of capitalism can be solved through more capitalism. This is how you get Thomas Friedman. Desperately poor people in Calcutta? More capitalism. The relentless beatdown of labor on behalf of capital? More capitalism. Global warming and other assaults on the environment which happens to be nobody’s and everybody’s property? More capitalism.
I think neoliberal policy is desperately misguided, unfairly applied, unsupported by evidence, willfully ignorant of the genuine concerns of the worst off, and a recipe for a politics with a never-ending time horizon. (Someday, someday, globalization is gonna make those ship-breakers into millionaires, just you wait… a couple centuries more….)
But I’m actually more put off and more afraid of dispositional neoliberalism. Dispositional neoliberalism is what compels people like yourself (and like Jon Chait) to always define the more serious option as the one to the right; the more serious person as the one to the right; the more serious solution as the one to the right. Of course, there are legitimate differences between people with like-minded goals. Of course, many issues cannot be neatly divided between the more left and more right side. But the professional journalistic space, no matter how the right stamps its feet about it, is always going to be oriented towards making you err on the side of hippie punching rather than admitting that, in fact, the hippies take a lot of morally and ethically righteous positions.
Now, look, I’ll be straight up– I’m a socialist. I want a different system of resource distribution because I think the one we have is inherently immoral. I recognize that your politics are never going to please me. I also realize that I am in the very small minority among your commenters, who I interpret (from my limited vantage point) as being in the fine tradition of American liberals, skeptical but ultimately affirming of capitalism. But I do think I can speak for a lot of the sentiment here when I say that it is the dispositional shift, more than any policy shift, that is dismaying and disheartening. Liberalism needs lions. It doesn’t need another asshole saying, “Hey, don’t worry, I’m so reasonable….
That tendency is particularly annoying because so many of your commenters call you out, correctly, on so much of your bullshit. Yet you ignore and ignore and ignore. And I think I know why: you are writing (and righting, frankly) for your peers, very many of whom are straight up conservative or libertarian. And, please– stop. Stop writing to impress Reihan Salam. Not because he isn’t a good dude, I’m sure he is. But because he and you do not share a common cause, no matter how much you are socially conditioned to think so. I’m sure Julian Sanchez is a great guy to get a beer with and a real mensch. He also happens to support a callous ideology that is the tool of the ruling class.
Enough. Respect your audience, your forum and your ideology. And stop being such a typing penis about stuff.
Update: From the grave, Tony Judt on why liberal triumphalism is typing penishood.