Monday, May 21, 2007

The Curious Case of Chait

In the liberal blogosphere, errr, netroots and wonkosphere, Jon Chait is something of a persona non grata. Of course he wrote his magnum opus on the netroots, of which there has been a ton of commentary that I have no need to link to. To me, his basic point seemed to be that there were journalists who were interested in ideas and going wherever the truth lead them, and there has been a certain ideal of a liberal journalist who is willing to slaughter some sacred cows, or step on the toes of fellow liberals in an honest intellectual pursuit.

The netroots bloggers like Kos and Atrios, on the other hand, are much more partisan in how they pursue information and have a conscious ideological and partisan agenda (move democrats to the left, win more elections to implement said agenda). They also exhibit a certain pugilistic style, one that to me anyway, seems antithetical to Chait's mythical ideal liberal journalist. They are playing for keeps, they want to take every chance to belittle their opponents in both the GOP and in the democratic party (Joe Klein). This pugilistic writing, belittling of political opponents and a certain disinterest in ideas or intellectual pursuits sound kinda like....wait for it....JON CHAIT. To illustrate this, let's play a little game. Here are two quotes about the importance of "ideas" in left wing politics.

CHAIT: The notion that conservatives are winning politically because they are winning intellectually has a certain appeal, particularly for those in the political idea business. ... it's all deeply misguided. The current ubiquity of such thinking owes itself to the fact that liberals and conservatives have a shared interest in promoting it. ...But, more than that, it reflects a naïveté about the power of new ideas, one that is deeply rooted in long-standing misconceptions of how our politics operate.


KOS: "intellectuals" who'd rather read books and measure purity are next-to-useless. I prefer people of action, not of elitist academics. ...

That's not a knock on people who've been fighting the good fight. Just on those who think the intellectual circle jerks of the 60s are superior to what we're building today.

Now of course, Chait, being the professional journalist and all is much more eloquent, but they are roughly saying the same thing. For liberals ideas to succeed, they need action, not thought. Myself, being an effete wannabe ideas man, find these ideas most distasteful and would rather just read Democracy that actually act to enact liberal polices or elect liberals. It's just very odd that Chait is attacking those who have merely democratized and slightly dumbed down his own approach to journalism, especially in engagement with the right, where he is content to knock around conservatives instead of putting forth his own ideas.

In a bloggingheads segment with Megan McArdle, Chait even said, roughly "I'm a secularist, and I don't think religion in public life is a good thing, but democrats should talk it up to win elections!" McArdle, who being a libertarian is naturally immune to electoral considerations, was aghast that Chait would dare suppress his views in the service of winning elections.

THis is earily similar to what I think is an important event in net roots history that is often overlooked, the Kos/Armstrong pimpin' for Mark Warner. Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, was supposed to be everything the netroots despises. He was an ex corporate guy, making his money is slightly shady telecom deregulation deals, member of the DLC, who had corporate oriented policies and prided himself on being a centrist. All of these qualities seem to be anathema to the 'roots, yet Armstrong and Kos embraced Warner with open arms. Kaus tried to spin a story or backroom, or backline?, dealing because Armstrong had consulted for Warner or was planning to. But Kos was very forthright in saying that he like Warner because he thought Warner could win. Much like Chait, he suppressed any ideology in service of winning, which is all both the netroots and Chait really want. So, why the beef? Oh yeah, Iraq...

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