Barack Obama Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Greenwald Jumps the Shark?

[digg-reddit-me]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.

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3 replies on “Greenwald Jumps the Shark?”

I’m not sure he’s really “jumping the shark”. Overall, I thought the piece was fair, if somewhat exaggerated. The two of his complaints that fit the best were Axelrod’s “insane” quip and Harwood’s “hallucinogenic drugs” comment. But I think those are primarily examples of the unfortunate tendency of TV shows to reward one-liners, not some form of coordinated assault on liberals similar to the Plame affair. It’s true that real liberal ideas are still relegated to the crazy bin in the mainstream media. But I don’t think the Obama White House falls into that tendency very often.

My main complaint with the Greenwald article is his continued ambivalence to health care. I’m firmly in the Nate Silver camp of thinking that “I don’t know how you can just brush off providing $900 billion in subsidies, or helping 30 million people to become insured.” In my opinion, this is worth all the other sacrifices to the interest groups and corporations. But I agree with Greenwald that support for the bill should basically be a question of weighing those two things against each other.

@John Rose:

You’re entirely correct that my title was exaggerated – in a manner similar to what I was complaining Greenwald himself does. I was mad when I wrote the title, then calmed down as I wrote the piece.

What actually bugged me most though was Greenwald’s defense of Taibbi. I enjoy reading Taibbi – but I find it impossible to take him seriously because he does not write in a fair manner. His work is defensible as a conversation starter – and he puts concepts and facts into a very accessible narrative. But I think it is entirely appropriate to point out that his work bears great resemblance to conspiracy theorists – whether he’s writing about AIG, Goldman Sachs, or Obama. On individual points, his exaggerated views might be persuasive and simplified, but correct, versions of what happened. But he provides a simple shorthand to understand everything – and in every case, it is about awful human beings trying to screw over “the people.”

Greenwald though is someone I respect – even though he has repeatedly infuriated me as long as I’ve read him. It bothers me to see him defending Taibbi in the manner he has. And I realize in my attacking of both Taibbi and Greenwald, I am quite possibly doing some of the things I am frustrated with them for.

But to make a more substantial rebuttal. Greenwald’s main point was this:

But this bill is unquestionably one of the greatest boons in recent history for the private health insurance industry and other “special interests” that have long been opposing “reform.”

Ezra Klein responded to this point:

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.

That seems essentially right to me. Industry groups have been opposing much of reform.

[sorry – cutting off my response here as i need to run – but I think you get the idea…]

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