Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Greenwald’

How Lawless and Increasingly Violent is the Arizona-Mexico Border? Not Very.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I’m impressed with Jake Tapper’s handling of This Week in the interim before Christiane Amanpour takes over in August. Tapper seems committed to widening the opinions voiced on the show from the typical “Beltway” crowd to some of those voices most influential in the Beltway who are critical of it. Which means bringing on Glenn Greenwald and Bill Maher. I’m still waiting on his bringing in some conservatives similarly positioned as “outsiders” while being very influential in the Beltway. Maher and Greenwald substantially influence our political conversation while never before being given the opportunity to intrude on the polite Sunday morning territory and confront the people they so regularly criticize. In the same spirit, Tapper has added a fact check component to his show — in which Politifact evaluates the truthfulness of factual claims made in his interviews. This is a huge improvement given the churning of misinformation that seems to be the main purpose some leaders use it for.

The quality of Tapper’s program was brought to mind watching this clip of Mike Murphy, a Republican political operative and frequent guest on Meet the Press. (For what it’s worth, Mike Murphy seems a genuinely likable guy and often, even a straight-shooter — and I don’t mean this as an attack on him personally.) If David Gregory allowed a fact checker to go over the claims of his guests, then perhaps the above-moment with the very inside-the-Beltway figure of Mike Murphy would not have happened. Because you see that moment was entirely fact-free. Entirely. Yet, Mike Murphy’s statement represents an oft-repeated “fact” in the opinion media — especially on the right. And it is driving the actual policy of the state of Arizona.

Let’s look at Mike Murphy’s claims and the facts:

It’s a lawless frontier because of the failure of the Obama administration to protect the American border. People are getting killed and murdered.  It has become really bad in Arizona.

Describing illegal immigration in partisan terms as a “failure of the Obama administration” seems best explained as a fudge rather than a blatant lie. It’s been an ongoing problem that as a nation we do not control our borders and maintain a law which cannot be enforced. Gregory interjects as Murphy is speaking, “This goes back before Obama, though, to be fair.” However, by stating such, Gregory seems to be conceding Murphy’s general point.

But look at the stats on this “People are getting killed and murdered” bit — which “has become really bad in Arizona,” according to Murphy, as he voices the “Conventional Wisdom” accepted by David Gregory as well. Yet there have been exactly four (4) murders along this supposedly lawless frontier in the past year. One of them generated thousands of headlines about the scourge of illegal immigration, the death of the rancher Robert Krentz. These anti-immigrant activists who talk casually of “People getting killed and murdered” (as if to double the impact of each homicide) — of the overall situation being “really bad” — even of, specifically, many ranchers being killed — always seem to point to this single example — Robert Krentz. I’ve seen no news story or other evidence linking more than this one death to border crossing. I’ve asked a number of people who have said this to point to some statistic — and instead I get the story of Robert Krentz, being exploited for politics. Remember: Arizona’s border is supposed to be the worst example of a lawless border and yet there is this single example which is always pointed to in order to justify the claim of plural murders — and even huge amounts of violence. I do not doubt there are other deaths along the border — perhaps on the Mexican side — of people trying to make the illegal crossing themselves and dying of thirst or other privation.

Mike Murphy follows this up by doubling down on his above false claim in an attempt to both place the blame for this historic problem on the Obama administration and make the case that Arizona’s very violent crime rate along the border is getting worse:

[I]t’s gotten, it’s gotten worse and worse.

To be fair to Murphy, one could consider that he means that any level of violence is bad — and that it is getting worse. So, let’s take this as a separate claim — that Murphy is instead claiming that violence along the border is increasing. CNN reported:

According to FBI statistics, violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona’s population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008.

Let’s give Mike Murphy the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant that the overall problem of illegal immigration into Arizona has “gotten worse and worse” under the Obama administration. Homeland Security helpfully provides statistics on this which I have compiled into this chart:

This drop in illegal immigration isn’t due to any Bush, Obama, or local level actions. It’s due to the recession.

However, another consequence of a recession is a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment.

Which explains why Mike Murphy along with much of the Republican establishment is out there demagoguing illegal immigrants by making false claims about all these murders and violence: Because during times of economic trouble, people look to scapegoat someone for their troubles — and immigrants, especially illegal ones, get some of the blame.

But let’s stop with this pretense of “violent illegal immigrants.” That is the stuff of demagogues and prejudice as it simply is not based on facts.

Instead, let us acknowledge forthrightly that the excitement over this issue is being drive by cultural and economic resentment rather than “violence.”

How the Supreme Court Nomination Process Rewards the Type of People Who Defer to Presidential Authority

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

David Brooks did a great job today of describing the type of individual our current Supreme Court confirmation process tends to reward (to paraphrase):

A person whose career has dovetailed with the incentives presented by the confirmation system, a system that punishes creativity and rewards caginess, and who therefore we are forced to construct arguments based on speculation because they have been too careful to let their actual positions leak out.

Brooks locates this type of individual — as is his wont (see for eg. bobos) — in a general sociological group:

About a decade ago, one began to notice a profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses. These were bright students who had been formed by the meritocratic system placed in front of them. They had great grades, perfect teacher recommendations, broad extracurricular interests, admirable self-confidence and winning personalities.

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.

Brooks sees this as a flaw in his evaluation of Elena Kagan:

Kagan has apparently wanted to be a judge or justice since adolescence (she posed in judicial robes for her high school yearbook). There was a brief period, in her early 20s, when she expressed opinions on legal and political matters. But that seems to have ended pretty quickly…

But I was struck by the similarity of David Brooks’s evaluation of Elena Kagan now and Dahlia Lithwick’s evaluation of John Roberts when he was nominated:

I knew guys like [John Roberts] in college and at law school; we all knew guys like him. These were the guys who were certain, by age 19, that they couldn’t smoke pot, or date trampy girls, or throw up off the top of the school clock tower because it would impair their confirmation chances. They would have done all these things, but for the possibility of being carved out of the history books for it…

My sense that Roberts has been preparing for next month’s confirmation hearings his whole life was shored up by a glance at the new memos released by the Library of Congress yesterday. As early as 1985, Roberts was fretting about how federal government records disclosed to Congress before confirmation hearings could tank a nomination.

Roberts was widely seen to have been very “careful” and “cautious” throughout his life — intellectually and otherwise. Yet David Brooks had a different reaction to Roberts nomination:

Roberts nomination, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Less important than this minor bit of hypocrisy (which Bill Scher for the Huffington Post mines for all it’s worth) – or perhaps partisan blindness — on the part of David Brooks (and haven’t we all been there?) — is the substance of his critique. Brooks never quite connects the dots — but seems on the verge of making a profound point.

There seems to be a connection between the personality type of Kagan and Roberts — the type of cautious, establishment-minded personality rewarded by our current nomination process — and the tendency of this type of person to defer to the highest authority figure in the American psyche, the President of the United States. In Roberts and Alito, we have 2 of Brooks’s Organization Kids who also happen to be 2 of the most pro-presidentialist Supreme Court justices in history. Though Kagan’s views on this aren’t clear — as she has made some comments indicating an expansive view of executive power only in the context of discussing the views of others — we do know that she felt the Bush administration went too far, unlike Roberts and Alito.

Though I would have preferred a justice more wary of executive power, for me personally, this concern is not enough to give me reason to oppose Kagan’s nomination and appointment. I do want to know more about Kagan’s views on this — to see whether and to what degree she conforms to Glenn Greenwald’s fears (which are, as it should go without saying regarding Greenwald, hyperbolic). Lawrence Lessig has pushed back convincingly against Greenwald on this issue — and of course, Greenwald responded by going ad hominem.

Both Greenwald’s and Brook’s critique ignores the structural element to this pick as neither addresses the degree to which our current confirmation process tends to reward cautious people whose public views are somewhat ambiguous but who are close enough to those in the executive branch that the President nominating them trusts them. The type of person who would meet these criteria would not tend to be the strongest supporters of the Court as a check on executive power. Even aside from the generational category of “Organization Kids,” this would tend to place people deferential to presidential authority into the Supreme Court.

—–

Also interesting: Ezra Klein posits a better analogue than John Roberts to understand the Kagan pick is Barack Obama himself:

When Obama announced Kagan’s nomination, he praised “her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints; her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, ‘of understanding before disagreeing’; her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder.” This sentence echoes countless assessments of Obama himself.

Obama is cool. He makes a show of processing the other side’s viewpoint. He’s more interested in the fruits of consensus than the clarification of conflict. In fact, just as Kagan is praised for giving conservative scholars a hearing at Harvard’s Law School, Obama was praised for giving conservative scholars a hearing on the Harvard Law Review. “The things that frustrate people about Obama will frustrate people about Kagan,” says one prominent Democrat who’s worked with both of them.

[Image by the Harvard Law Review licensed under Creative Commons.]

Greenwald v. Larison & Douthat

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I had felt compelled to respond to Glenn Greenwald’s slander of Ross Douthat in his trademarkable relentless and dogmatic style — but thankfully, Daniel Larison had a thoughtful but sufficiently angry response.

Greenwald, stuck in his ideological wind tunnel, is extremely sloppy in this piece. He confuses all matter of “discrimination” and “censorship” and “threats of violence,” lumping them all together into one undifferentiated mass. His main thesis is supposedly about the equivalence of Christian censorship and Muslim censorship — but his real aim seems to be to slander Ross Douthat as an anti-Muslim bigot based on the fact that Douthat is more outraged over the prominent example of bowing to censorship regarding South Park than over an obscure case of a play in a particular Texas town.

Greenwald — in his ressentiment – loses his sense of the forest as he focuses on the trees. Larison though makes the essential point that Douthat does miss:

The far greater problem we have today is not that we are too inclined to yield to Islamist demands in Western countries, but that we are far too ready to disregard the lives, property, dignity and political rights of Muslims in their own countries if we think it might marginally enhance our physical security.

[Image by Pink Fluffy licensed under Creative Commons.]

Not even the Bush administration argued that the Constitution applies only to American citizens

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Glenn Greenwald:

This notion that the protections of the Bill of Rights specifically and the Constitution generally apply only to the Government’s treatment of American citizens is blatantly, undeniably false — for multiple reasons — yet this myth is growing, as a result of being centrally featured in “War on Terror” propaganda.

[T]he U.S. Supreme Court, in 2008, issued a highly publicized opinion, in Boumediene v. Bush, which, by itself, makes clear how false is the claim that the Constitution applies only to Americans.  The Boumediene Court held that it was unconstitutional for the Military Commissions Act to deny habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees,none of whom was an American citizen (indeed, the detainees were all foreign nationals outside of the U.S.).  If the Constitution applied only to U.S. citizens, that decision would obviously be impossible.  What’s more, although the decision was 5-4, none of the 9 Justices — and, indeed, not even the Bush administration — argued that the Constitution applies only to American citizens. That is such an inane, false, discredited proposition that no responsible person would ever make that claim.

The Obvious Truths Neglected in Responses to the Christmas Bomber

Monday, January 4th, 2010

As I mentioned today, David Brooks has been writing some damn good columns in recent weeks – and in his most recent, he reiterated a point I had made earlier. As I wrote:

Few seem willing to admit the obvious truth: No centralized power can keep us safe. No intelligence system will be perfect. No watch list will be all-inclusive. No screening procedures are foolproof. We can make it harder for a terrorist to succeed, but in order to win, we need to prevent every attack; while they only need to slip through the cracks once. And there will always be cracks. Even in a totalitarian regime, there are cracks. Part of the price we pay for a free society is vulnerability.

Brooks compared how the Greatest Generation – which greatly expanded government during the Great Depression and World War II – viewed government to how people presently seem to view government:

During the middle third of the 20th century, Americans had impressive faith in their own institutions. It was not because these institutions always worked well. The Congress and the Federal Reserve exacerbated the Great Depression. The military made horrific mistakes during World War II, which led to American planes bombing American troops and American torpedoes sinking ships with American prisoners of war.

But there was a realistic sense that human institutions are necessarily flawed. History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates.

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved…

Brooks got a minor point wrong here – as he claims we “expect perfection from government.” My impression is that we demand perfection from the government and expect incompetence, which I would suggest has something to do with government clusterfuck that the 1970s represented along with the demonization of government bureaucracies by the Republican Party starting with Ronald Reagan coupled with the constant invocations of an all-powerful and competent government national security apparatus in mainstream thrillers and right-wing politics. Brooks continues:

At some point, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We’ve done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that’s wise, maybe it’s not. But we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.

Greenwald is able to overcome his ressentiment for once (“I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but David Brooks actually had an excellent column…”) Greenwald continues to develop the idea:

The Constitution is grounded in the premise that there are other values and priorities more important than mere Safety.  Even though they knew that doing so would help murderers and other dangerous and vile criminals evade capture, the Framers banned the Government from searching homes without probable cause, prohibited compelled self-incrimination, double jeopardy and convictions based on hearsay, and outlawed cruel and unusual punishment.  That’s because certain values — privacy, due process, limiting the potential for abuse of government power — were more important than mere survival and safety.  A central calculation of the Constitution was that we insist upon privacy, liberty and restraints on government power even when doing so means we live with less safety and a heightened risk of danger and death.  And, of course, the Revolutionary War against the then-greatest empire on earth was waged by people who risked their lives and their fortunes in pursuit of liberty, precisely because there are other values that outweigh mere survival and safety.

I have yet to see any right winger continue to histronically attack Obama while acknowledging either of these two (essentially undisputed) points. Instead, they are forgotten or shunted aside as Obama is accused of all sorts of malfeasance and naïveté.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Greenwald Jumps the Shark?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

I am quite honestly shocked reading this piece from Glenn Greenwald yesterday. His reaction to defenses of Obama is quite visceral – and in fairness, I’m sure many of the attacks on him for attacking Obama have come from a similar type of unreasoned anger. But I expect more from a figure of Greenwald’s statute, of his intellect. His reaction – to be generous – mirrors those he is critiquing.

His attacks on Ezra Klein, who has been consistently fair-minded in evaluating the politics and policy of the health care debate in a manner of which Greenwald sometimes seems scarcely capable, are especially unfair. Klein has been strongly making the case that this bill, for all its faults, should be passed – against the Tea Partyers back in the late summer and now against progressives – all the while acknowledging flaws in the bill and the process. Thus, he has been taking on a number of important progressives recently – and in doing so, at least once, he found that his progressive opponent (Jane Hamsher) had made an arguments against this health care legislation that substantially misstated the facts of the case, as so much political propaganda does. Klein writes that of the list he is responding to:

Some of the list is purposefully misleading and is clearly aimed more at helping activists kill the bill than actually informing anyone about what is in the bill.

Klein then goes on to deal with each of the points Jane Hamsher raised in a substantive manner. Greenwald linked to this piece claiming that Klein is calling opponents of health care reform, “liars” (a word that appears nowhere in the piece) and then later in an update, insisted that Klein is part taking part in “coordinated efforts by the President’s loyal supporters to attack the credibility and character (rather than the arguments) of Obama critics.” Greenwald does acknowledge that “there has been some very responsible and informative debate among these various factions, the insults have flown in both directions, and it’s understandable that passions run high on an issue of this significance.” But then he goes right on to equate “campaigns by White House loyalists in government and the media to destroy the personal credibility and malign the character of the President’s critics” during the Bush years to out Valerie Plame as a secret agent to efforts today regarding health care.

Really?! This attack falls fall short to me – the type of hyperbolic rhetoric that generally leads me to take a several-week break from Greenwald. I mean – does this post by Nate Silver on “Why Progressives Are Batshit Crazy to Oppose the Senate Bill” which Greenwald specifically cites strike you as the equivalent of the demonization of Valerie Plame and Richard Clarke? I suppose that depends on whether or not you see the title as serious – or deliberately heightened language.

Don’t trust my take on this – read Klein’s piece, read Greenwald’s piece, read Hamsher’s piece, read Nate Silver’s piece – and see if your respect for Greenwald is diminished. Respond in the comments either way.

Greenwald likewise took the curious tact of defending Matt Taibbi. He slandered all critics of Taibbi as, like Ezra Klein, part of “coordinated efforts by the President’s loyal supporters to attack the credibility and character (rather than the arguments) of Obama critics.” But even the piece Greenwald linked to defends Taibbi against one of his critics concludes with this rather limited endorsement:

Personally, I love it that Taibbi exists, and I’m impressed that his 6,500-word screed (into which a great deal of work clearly went) in fact has very little in the way of factual errors, let alone “lies”. Yes, Taibbi is polemical and one-sided, and he exaggerates his thesis, and he’s entertaining; I daresay he’s learned a lot from watching Fox News. And no, I would never want to live in a world where everybody wrote like that.

This is roughly the opinion I, along with most admirers and critics of Taibbi, have. While hiding behind the fact checkers of Rolling Stone, Taibbi makes various un-fact-checkable statements (that also seem to be designed to convey his meaning without being subject to a lawsuit for defamation), for example:

The point is that an economic team made up exclusively of callous millionaire-assholes has absolutely zero interest in reforming the gamed system that made them rich in the first place.

Ezra Klein, as usual, has an excellent substance-based critique. This is more than I can say for Greenwald’s visceral response. As I wrote earlier, Greenwald “creates his own politically stereotyped parody of Obama defenders, which he then viscerally, emotionally reacts to.” Yesterday’s post was more of the same, with just a bit less of the good Greenwald than usual.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Today in Health Care

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Another day, another post on the best points on Ezra Klein’s blog.

And apologies for the lack of a post yesterday, as I was caught up in Christmas shopping for the entire day. With my sister. As we visited every women’s clothing store in Manhattan. It was exhilarating. (Just like going to the dentist.) (If you’re reading, I’m kidding, sister!)

But on to more interesting matters. Klein asked George Halvorson, chairman and chief executive of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, what he would put into the health care bill if he could:

The exchanges as designed in the current bill deal with health plan choices only. That is a wasted opportunity. The future health plan marketplace for America should be about dueling care teams, not dueling actuaries. Let’s not miss this chance to transform care by building the exchange model with components that help consumers make smart choices. Insurance competition is good. Care team competition is better. Exchanges should have low barriers to entry for accountable health systems and high standards for important data about care outcomes and successes. It’s not too late to go down that path. The entire bill can point us in a direction that facilitates care delivery reform as well as insurance reform. We need both.

Klein also tackles the talking point that Glenn Greenwald and others on the left who oppose the bill have been repeating in an almost Republican-sounding chorus – that because the stocks of health insurance companies went up in the aftermath of the deal to pass the bill, that it represents a complete sellout to the industry:

Look at the graph atop this post. This bill is not, in the market’s estimation, a gamechanger for the insurance industry. All of these stocks have seen both larger rises and larger falls in the past. None of them have recovered to their pre-crash highs. The market is not viewing the insurance industry in a dramatically different light than was true a year ago.

This is, at best, back-of-the-envelope work. But so too is divining the true worth of the health-care reform bill by tracking the daily fluctuations in the stock prices of insurers.

Klein also links to Alex Pareen’s essential Gawker piece headlined, “News of First Major Progressive Legislation in 30 Years Enrages Liberals.”

Earlier today, Klein continued to take on the role of referee of the health care debate, declaring that Obama’s statement that he did not campaign on the public option was false:

[I]t’s a good example of why the left is losing its trust in Obama. Obama could have given an interview where he expressed frustration that the math of the Senate forced his administration to give up the public option but nevertheless argued that the rest of the health-care bill was well worth passing. Instead, he’s arguing that he never cared about the public option anyway, which is just confirming liberal suspicions that they lost that battle because the president was never really on their side.

Edit: Link fixed.

Glenn Greenwald and the Politics of Ressentiment

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Reading Julian Sanchez’s quite intelligent piece on the politics of ressentiment and how they underpin Sarah Palin’s popularity among the Republican base, I realized why certain passages that I had highlighted but not had the space to go after in my most recent piece on Greenwald had bothered me so much.  Sanchez discuses the philosophical/psychological concept of ressentiment. Wikipedia defines it as:

[A] sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, an assignation of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration.

One of the symptoms of ressentiment is to justify and perhaps even determine one’s moral positions by way of rejecting one’s enemies moral positions. In other words: Sarah Palin is hated by liberals so she must be great. My opponents on a bunch of issues believe in the right to bear arms, so I don’t. &tc.

This is how Greenwald began his piece “just asking questions” à la that other Glenn about the opinions people had of Obama’s Nobel prize acceptance speech:

Why are the Bush-following conservatives who ran the country for the last eight years and whose foreign policy ideas are supposedly so discredited  — including some of the nation’s hardest-core neocons — finding so much to cheer in the so-called Obama Doctrine?

And from there Greenwald goes on, exploiting the politics of ressentiment in order to justify his increasing hysterics about Obama, as his rant rises in volume:

Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices.  Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same.  To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance.  When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday:  a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.

If you read the piece, it seems an extended exercise in exploiting the politics of ressentiment to avoid actual argumentation. And you’ll know this politics of ressentiment running throughout Greenwald’s work, though often more subtly than this glaring example.

The Left’s Odd Abandoment of Obama: Matt Taibbi

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I recently castigated Glenn Greenwald for the umpteenth time for distorting the world to fit his ideological lens. He, like a significant portion of the left, seems to have turned on Obama. Despite his claims to judge politicians on a case-by-case basis and not to give them support or opposition based on their history, it is clear that Greenwald’s recent attempts at rationally ranting about Obama have a strong emotional core; I extrapolate this from the somewhat tortured manner in which he caricatures the positions of Obama and Obama’s supporters in order to take them down, and the eagerness with which he seems to try to get to his rants in which he loses the remaining bits of common sense he has. Thus, it isn’t that exceptional that he endorsed Matt Taibbi’s recent piece on the Obama administration. While Taibbi is sloppier than Greenwald – and lacks the “fair” persona that Greenwald sometimes adopts – both have a core position: they are anti-establishmentarian. Taibbi though writes news rather than opinion journalism and constantly hides behind the (no-doubt vigorous) fact-checking of his pieces by Rolling Stone – but his most egregious errors are implicit. He writes as if insinuation were fact, which makes him difficult to take seriously whether he is writing about AIG or Goldman Sachs or Obama. And his constant mode is paranoid conspiracy theorist – which certainly fits the moment. Perhaps the best response to Taibbi was to call him the “Sarah Palin of journalism.” And he certainly demonstrated that out-of-the-gate with his first sentence responding to critics:

When we went to print with the latest Rolling Stone piece about Obama’s economic hires, a couple of my sources advised me to expect some nastiness in the way of a response from Obama apologists.

Like Palin, Taibbi defends himself by pointing out who his enemies are, as if their existence makes him right. Granted, Taibbi is a better writer than Palin – and doubtless is better informed. But what he does with his knowledge is create elaborate conspiracy theories embedded in the colorful opinions he gives throughout his news:

The point is that an economic team made up exclusively of callous millionaire-assholes has absolutely zero interest in reforming the gamed system that made them rich in the first place.

Go ahead – fact check that! The main point of his most recent piece seems to be the pernicious effect of Clinton Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs head, and Citibank big shot, Robert Rubin. A good article could be written about this – but Taibbi chose instead to write a piece about Obama’s hypocrisy demonstrated by his embrace of Rubin’s mentees. Taibbi accomplishes this with a quick bait-and-switch, describing the vague hopes people had for Obama during the campaign – that he was “a man of the people” – and then deftly pivoting:

Then he got elected.

What’s taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.

Now – this assertion is the core contention Taibbi makes – yet he entirely fails to do several things: (1) to describe what Obama actually campaigned on; (2) to fairly or honestly describe the Rubin/New Democratic positions; or (3) to describe accurately the attempts made by Obama to reign in the financial industry. Instead, Taibbi merely lists the many people who worked for Rubin at some point who now work for Obama as if that proved the audacious opinions he starts his piece with. His entire piece would work better as a footnote supporting one contention in his three paragraph opening.

Tim Fernholz also writes a good piece taking on Taibbi’s anti-Obama screed.

Andrew Leonard of Salon provided a pretty good summary of Taibbi in general:

It’s the classic Taibbi approach: vastly and sloppily overstate the case in absurd, over-the-top rhetoric while ignoring any possible counterargument.

But Ezra Klein as always has an extremely intelligent take:

But in this case, Taibbi chose a swift-moving narrative at the expense of an accurate picture of how — and more importantly, where — Wall Street is capturing the political process.

The issue here is not that Taibbi should be nicer to the Obama administration, which is how he’s framing most of the criticism of his article. Quite the opposite, actually. Taibbi is being much too nice to the Obama administration. He’s imbued them with a lot more power than they have.

If the result of the 2010 election is that Obama fires his economics team and moves his administration to the left, but the Republicans pick up 60 seats on the House and move the body to the right, then American public policy outcomes move to the right.

The Left’s Odd Abandoment of Obama: Glenn Greenwald

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Whatever Charles Krauthammer or Rush Limbaugh may tell you, there is no evidence that Obama is secretly an extreme leftist. On the contrary, he both ran and has governed as a liberal. The various forces on from the left to the center-left rallied around him in 2008 though – seeing hope in his ascendancy. But like all presidents, Obama while campaigning in poetry now faces the challenge of governing in prose.

Yet what is remarkable is how fashionable it has become for respectable voices on the left to hyperventilate and rant against Obama, most often by equating him with George W. Bush. European leftists, unused to America’s slow-moving political system can be forgiven for not appreciating the scope of what Obama is attempting to do, and for the difficulties in doing it. But among mainstream American intellectuals to the left of center, this is harder to understand.*

Reacting to this anti-Obama sentiment on the left, which most often seems to embrace an hysterical tone more appropriate to spurned lovers than political supporters, Andrew Sullivan (who himself recently announced that he could no longer countenance being on the right-wing because what he sees as their odd rejection of Obama’s core conservatism) began to publish emails from readers purporting to “leave the left” because of this demonization of Obama. (In fairness, let me admit that this meme bothered me too: Andrew Sullivan decided to leave the right after every dissenting voice has already been purged. To leave the left over the rants of some of its prominent members is to overreact.)

Glenn Greenwald responded by doing what he does best: He distorted the opposition beyond recognition in order to make his case that they are wrong. He accused these critics of a veneration of Obama similar to the veneration of Bush and Palin among some on the right:

According to these defenders, it’s just wrong — morally, ethically and psychologically — to criticize the President. Thus, in lieu of any substantive engagement of these critiques are a slew of moronic Broderian cliches…Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. [my emphasis]

As always, Greenwald has an interesting point – and there is some subset of people who do take the view he is refuting. But it’s far from clear the commentors on Sullivan’s blog do. (Go ahead and read them.) More importantly, Greenwald’s reaction follows exact same emotional logic he is criticizing: Just as these readers of Andrew Sullivan’s blog have created a politically stereotyped parody of the Left based primarily on what bothers them, and react viscerally, emotionally to it, so Greenwald creates his own politically stereotyped parody of Obama defenders, which he then viscerally, emotionally reacts to.

Another good example of this came earlier this week, as Greenwald responded to his bête noire, Joe Klein:

Klein explained:

[S]ome of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President.

So there are deeply compelling reasons to escalate in Afghanistan.  But they’re secret.

Greenwald then goes on a rant about wars justified only by “secret reasons.” Being a fairly intelligent guy, Greenwald clearly knows the difference between things a President cannot say and “secrets” – but he elides this, even contradicts this common-sensical reading, because what his opponent is actually saying does not fit into the political stereotype that Greenwald wants to kick in the groin.

Let me step back again in fairness to Greenwald – who, let me emphasize, I often admire. The way I see it, there are two Glenn Greenwalds. One who will take a step back and observe that Obama is far better than the alternatives and who is able to fairly ascertain that Obama is not guilty of hypocrisy in escalating in Afghanistan and that he should not be blamed for failing to keep those promises he clearly has tried to keep like closing Guantanamo, and who fairly criticizes Obama for a range of issues ranging from Bagram to state secrets.

And then there is the Glenn Greenwald who likes to rant and throw tantrums. The second Greenwald paints the world in vivid colors that bear some resemblance to the more muted colors that my eyes see. The second Greenwald goes on, blithely ignorant of his own more reflective judgments, self-confident and self-satisfied, secure in the knowledge that he himself, merely a critic and holding no formal powers, is above reproach. This second Greenwald is still a useful addition to the political conversation, but in a marginal way.

At his best, Greenwald could be a polemicist, arguing against the conventional wisdom; but he lacks the audaciousness positioning that is the mark of a true polemicist. Too often, Greenwald becomes one of the many voices in our political chorus – a ranter, a talking head.

I would argue the one core principle that allows Greenwald to so often lapse into ranting is his view that: “Political leaders deserve support only to the extent that their actions, on a case-by-case basis, merit that support…” Thus it’s not quite fair to tar Greenwald as someone who abandoned Obama – as he never claimed to embrace Obama. Instead he rationally analyzed and decided to support certain discrete positions Obama took. This is the rationale. But it ignores the second Greenwald certainly who expresses a visceral, emotional distaste for Obama that seems at odds with this rational “case-by-case” analysis of Obama’s actions.

* To be clear, and to preempt attempts to write me off as a victim of Obamania, deluded by hope, I have seriously criticized Obama about Bagram (here and here), on the mere technocratic approach to serious issues (here and here), on his approach to state secrets, and I would endorse several other criticisms of the administration – specifically on their seeming reluctance to embrace what I see as clear principles in regulating the financial industry, on transparency issues, and regarding national security. But I do – at the same time appreciate that Obama is moving in the right direction on these issues – though not on the first two.

[Image not subject to copyright.]