Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, September 22, 2010



Driftglass discusses the manufactured gullibility of the tea-parting right:

The same well-financed masterminds who trained these sock puppets to sit up on their hind legs and howl over the imaginary horrors of Bill Clinton's Democratic Administration...and who taught them to roll over and play dead during the actual, daily horrors of George Bush's Republican Administration...have simply returned the outrage chip in their little heads to its factory default pre-Bush Administration setting.

Of course, their conditioning is such that the Right never notices their own enormous and flagrant hypocrisies, because they are no longer capable of noticing such things. Which is why I don't doubt their sincerity, any more than I doubt the sincerity of a waterhead drunk begging for a bottle.

Any more than I doubt the sincerity of the mob in "1984" howling out its carefully-programmed hatred at imaginary enemies.

Lunatics are very sincere people, and this knowledge -- that on the Right, any connection between passion and logic has been irrevocably severed -- is what permits their leaders and politician to look the camera in the eye and just lie, lie, lie about things that are plain and self-evident and get away with it.

The obvious fact that they are lying -- that shameless and continually lying about big, important stuff has now become nothing more than an everyday tactic among Conservatives -- is certainly a fact, but also completely misses the point.

Paul Krugman also marvels at the willingness of people to believe lies.

But I found myself wondering, as I often do, about the determination with which people believe pundits who please them ideologically, no matter how wrong they have repeatedly been — wrong in ways that, if you believed them, cost you money.

Suppose you had spent the last five years actually believing what you read from the usual suspects — the WSJ opinion pages, National Review, right-wing economists, etc.. Here’s what would have happened:

In 2006 you would have believed that there was no housing bubble.

In 2007 you would have believed that the troubles of subprime couldn’t possibly spread to the financial system as a whole.

In 2008 you would have believed that we weren’t in a recession — and that the failure of Lehman was unlikely to have bad consequences for the real economy.

In 2009 you would have believed that high inflation was just around the corner.

At the beginning of 2010 you would have believed that sky-high interest rates were just around the corner.

Now, we all make mistakes and get things wrong — although it’s striking how often the trolls on this blog feel the need to accuse yours truly of saying things I didn’t. But after this string of errors, wouldn’t you at least begin to suspect that the people you find congenial have a fundamentally wrong-headed view of how the world works?

Guess not.

And when I read an article about the new crop of libertarian pundits, a couple of things jumped out.

Perhaps I’m grasping at straws here but in the weeks leading up to Weigel’s resignation and afterward I’ve noticed a growing cadre of these libertarian journalists in DC who graduated from places like Reason or Cato, write for right-leaning publications that don’t exactly fit their social ideology, or report for traditional DC publications like The Hill or National Journal. The one time I met Weigel personally (only a few days before his emails were leaked, coincidentally) it was through a libertarian journalist friend and many of the public blog posts and private emails I’ve had with other reporters reflect this trend. Without devolving into vast conspiracy theories about libertarian plots to infiltrate our media, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a rising force of young libertarian journalists in DC, a trend that would be interesting considering recent polls on Americans’ views on the word “libertarian.”

When I spoke to Sanchez, he wasn’t exactly convinced that my idea had any merit. Before I even had a chance to call he wrote that he wasn’t “sure there’s a real there there” in an email. “What you’re actually mapping here is not so much a specifically libertarian thing, it’s that all these people — Ezra [Klein], [Reason editor Matt Welch], me, and Dave — I think it’s almost secondary to the fact that we’re all friends and in that sense ideology is almost irrelevant,” he told me in a phone interview.

For Sanchez, the trend in DC journalism circles is less a story of political ideology and more about the meteoric rise of young reporters who are building their own personal brands. “It used to be you had to put someone through the paces, and you had to cover dog shows and town council meetings,” he said. “You figure out who through this laborious vetting process should be writing for the Post or whatever. And what you’ve got now are a bunch of people who were able to start writing and it turned out they could build a huge audience just writing stuff. You didn’t have to go through this whole rigmarole to figure out who was going to be able to build that audience. They just did it.”

Notably absent from this rumination is money. Corporations who wish to demonize and eradicate regulation poured millions into think tanks and magazines, providing cushy, well-paying jobs to Ivy League graduates. Miss Megan McArdle is not going to cover city council meetings to work her way up to a meaningful job in journalism. For one thing, McArdle is not a journalist. She's a well-paid shill. Furthermore, Ivy League graduates don't build important careers interning in small-town newspapers. That's for people who have no family money or connections to get them good jobs. Finally, McArdle and her friends didn't just go out and build an audience through their talent and hard work. McArdle can't write well and knows far too little about economics to give her opinion on the subject. She and her friends are being supported by the Kochs and Bradley and other multi-millionaires. Otherwise they'd be blogging their personal opinions for free on the internet like everyone else.

The libertarian hordes were created. They didn't spring fully formed out of the internet's brow like Athena from Zeus. The most interesting thing about this whole mess is that Sanchez, McArdle and the rest of their sorry lot refuse to admit that and simply lie--either to themselves or us or both. They rose on merit and they succeed through courage and pluck, they weren't the lucky recipients of wingnut welfare aimed to undermine any attempts at corporate regulation. So they deserve everything they get, but since they know for a fact that they are lying, they are absolutely certain that the poor are even more lazy, greedy and dishonest then they are.

UPDATE: Speak of the devil and the devil appears. McArdle in 2008:

Journalism is a career that is highly, highly dependent on networking and self-promotion, yet in the book [Barbara Ehrenreich] comes across as someone who has never mastered the rudiments of personal contact, like not gratuitously insulting people with whom you are trying to secure employment. It doesn't help that her contempt for the business world seems to have convinced her that it ought to be easy for someone with absolutely no experience to secure a well-paying job in a competitive field. The book mostly serves as a poignant reminder that yes, there really are intellectuals so provincial that they seriously believe the business world is run something along the lines of the presidency in Dave


aimai said...

They've confused "build an audience" with being "given an audience." The only person I can think of who actually "built an audience" in that sense was Nate Silver. Anyone who went to work blogging for an actual organization was *given a platform*--the original testing ground for journalists wasn't to determine whether they would ever get popular enough, and recognizable enough, to become fact free pundits but whether they could devotedly hone their craft on the actual journalism side of things.

Pundit was always reserved for public intellectuals--who had built careers either in politics or in academia and were considred to have mastered either insider knowledge of government/industry or arcane historical and philosophical knowledge. This was always assumed to have been acquired through hard work and long service in a craft.

Ezra and the rest of the juice box mafia came up when it became possible to parlay pop cultural references and glib observations in a short format into a job and a platform. They didn't start out as journalists not because they didn't have to pay their dues, but because the dues they paid was to a system that values output, readership, and willing to shill over actual information.

I'd say that Megan's work, at least, has less social value than the old "Chatters" column in my local newspaper, and I sincerely doubt that her readership is any bigger or more devoted to her than all the old ladies looking for a knitting pattern for a left hand glove back in the day.


fish said...

the juice box mafia

That is so excellent.

Clever Pseudonym said...

"meteoric rise of young reporters"

Huh? Reporters travel, they interview people, they research, they collect facts and information, and they present it all in an organized, coherent fashion so as to reach the largest amount of people. Many of them die doing so. From what I can tell of most the people mentioned, they are not reporters. They are bloviating, self-important hacks who dole out their (often ignorant) opinions while perched on their rumps from the safety of a DC office. At the end of the day, they all meet up in a trendy bar for appletinis to get in a pissing match over whose parents spent the most on their kindergarten prep school education while simultaneously congratulating each other for being so fabulous. They report nothing outside of the mundane details of their own lives and the lives of their circle jerk friends, which they delusionally believe to be fascinating enough for the rest of us to care. Reporters my ASS.

DocAmazing said...

"hordes", rather than "hoards"; otherwise, you're on the money as usual.

aimai said...

Alas, "juice box mafia" isn't my term. Might be John Coles?


FMguru said...

"Juice Box Mafia" was a term from one of TNR's old cranks (quite possibly Peretz himself, or maybe Wieseltier, I forget), applied to the Ezra Klein / Matt Yglesias / Spencer Ackerman cohort, because they were Just Bloggers and not Real Serious People. The irony of Peretz shit-talking someone else's credentials to public attention is pretty rich, coming from someone who's influence comes from spending his wife's money on a magazine.

driftglass said...

Many thanks, Susan.
Off to yell "Juice box mafia!" at people on the bus now :-)

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks, Doc.

Susan of Texas said...

And you're welcome, driftglass.

Kathy said...

People love Stories.

Politicians don't necessarily have to lie, but it's effective to phrase their statements in a fairy-tale/fable/myth/cpwboy type narrative.

It seems there is more to our Human love of stories, whether books, movies, songs than just entertainment. We love the story, want our imaginations stoked, our dreams for improving the world expressed.

Obama used it successfully, but it won't work again because he now sneers at the same people he inspired, he's spat on our dream.

Repug settle for the stoking of rage and hate, the vile lie and insane promise of a War against imaginary evil. In that respect they never let their followers down, do they? You can run dry on hope, but there is always another thing or person to hate and fear.