Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Let The Right One In

Megan McArdle does what comes naturally.

There was a rumor going around a long time ago that Megan McArdle was up for a job at The New York Times but was rejected.  I have no idea if this is true, but I do know that McArdle has complained several times about the lack of right wingers in the elite professions. Like Ross Douthat, McArdle thinks of herself as part of a conservative intelligentsia, a small number of persecuted souls who are being unfairly excluded by liberal Mandarins who have taken all the cool jobs and won't let them in.
[The Chinese Mandarin] system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking: The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.
The American Mandarins, McArdle says, went to the same schools as she and worked the same sort of elite jobs as she, but they had it easy all their lives. Like the kids in her exclusive prep school who had more money than her (she says),  the Mandarins have it easy. They didn't get fired from their jobs at Merrill Lynch before they even started. They didn't suffer through two humiliating years of unemployment. They didn't wear shabby dresses or crawl under desks running wires while old men leered. They didn't have to run a copy machine while their friends met with authors and senators and hedge fund managers. They didn't have to shill for drug companies on their blog. They didn't have to go back to school at the Institute for Humane Studies and start their careers all over again. They just shot straight from one success to another. Unlike her.
The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was 30, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high-school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing “enriching” internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.
  Indeed, Megan McArdle. Indeed.

Like Ayn Rand, McArdle laments that the Mandarins never learned to appreciate the real business of America, which is running a business. They never have to soil their beautiful minds with money worries.
[...M]any of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school—places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things. There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they're very different from pretty much any other sort of institution. I don't myself claim to understand how most businesses work, but having switched from business to media, I'm aware of how different they can be.  
In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses--ones outside glamour industries like tech or design.
The Merrill Lynch Mandarin who fired McArdle without even knowing her name and the Mandarin girls she went to school with who always had new clothes and the Mandarins who sneered at her conservatives friends who worked for National Review and all the other Mandarins who were keeping her from getting on tv and in The New York Times--they think they're all that and a bag of chips.
And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there's anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.
The Mandarins' grandfathers were super rich while McArdle's grandfather ran a(n) (extremely lucrative) gas station. Prep school must have been brutal. Add on 6'2" and a pack of Rich White Girls who lived on breath mints and were constantly bitchy from hunger, and no wonder McArdle hates the elite as much as she worships them. McArdle is one of them yet she is nothing like them, she assures us. The red blood of American business runs through her veins, while the Mandarins are effete and mindless.
All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it's meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.
Therefore the Mandarin class of liberals needs people like Megan McArdle, Ross Douthat, Jonah Goldberg, Peter Suderman, and the rest of her friends and co-workers to keep them honest and true. Anti-authoritarians, every one.
Bring The Right Wing Into The Mainstream Media
How can the Republican Party keep another Trump candidacy from derailing its future electoral chances? Forget messing around with the primary system. If Republicans want a party that can win, says Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, the first thing they need to do is to “drain the right-wing media swamp.”
“It is, after all, the right-wing radio, TV and Internet fever swamps that have gotten them into this mess,” she writes, “that have led to massive misinformation, disinformation and cynicism among Republican voters. And draining those fever swamps is the only way to get them out of it.”
I could point out that Rampell is remarkably ungenerous in ignoring the many serious conservative journalists who spoke out early and often against Donald Trump, including an entire “Against Trump” issue of the National Review, the elder statesman of right-wing journalism. (The National Review also printed an editorial unequivocally stating that then-President-Elect Barack Obama was a natural-born U.S. citizen.)
 McArdle's dishonesty shines like a vampire in the moonlight. Even conservatives are saying that the right created its own monster by encouraging hatred to inflame their followers to vote or give money. McArdle ignores the entire history of the right wing and protests that Trump's competitors were against him from the start. That doesn't make up for the last 60+ years but McArdle is a shill and shills don't have to make sense. They just have to make money.

She also ignores the recent history of National Review, with its staff of racists, god-humpers and fetus-fondlers, and neocon genocide fanboys. If you pretend the fever swamp doesn't exist, you can pretend you are being unfairly excluded from exclusive jobs because you are conservative, not because your ideology is a notorious failure and your fellow travelers are stupid, lazy, immoral, and greedy.
None of this had much effect on folks like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, nor does it seem to have appreciably damaged Trump. It’s unclear how the Republican establishment critiquing Fox News and talk radio would be any more effective.
Yes, once you create a monster it's rather difficult to kill it. Especially when you pretend you never created it in the first place.
Let me suggest a better strategy. Liberal journalists who want to drain the “fever swamps” should not be pointing the finger at Republican politicians. If they want to get people out of the swamp, they’ll have to make room in the castle.
Naturally the only way to drain the swamp of racists, sexists, neo-cons, and failures is to give them exclusive jobs at the top of the financial and social ladder. Letting them suffer the whims of the free market would be too, too cruel and unfair, and the Mandarins would also suffer if they excluded the only voices of Reason, Morality, and Industry.
The media is overwhelmingly liberal. It tends to mirror the left-to-center-left spectrum of the social class from which most journalists are drawn. That affects coverage, which right-wing readers pick up on.
Yes, liberal journalists, I’m saying that the media is biased, and I know you don’t see any evidence of that, because that’s how bias works: You don’t notice it when you share the bias. No, my loonier Republican readers, I am not confirming your belief that journalists deliberately slant their coverage to achieve political ends or even just to provoke you.
McArdle occupies higher ground than Mandarins and conservative fever swamps. Her earthy connection to the working man and her superior intellect give her a unique perspective than enables her to tell everyone else what to do and how to think. From the earlier post quoted above:
Though I completely lacked the focused ambition of the young journalists I meet today, I am a truly stellar test-taker, from a family of stellar test-takers. I have a B.A. from Penn and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, credentials that I am well aware give me an entree that other people don't have. Nor do I think that these are bad things to have. Verbal fluency, fast reading, and a good memory are excellent qualities—in a writer.
Despite the fact that she also has told us she was an indifferent student with indifferent grades, McArdle's stellar test-taking abilities have made her able to rise above bias.
Rather, the bias operates in what topics people choose to cover, how strenuously they interrogate facts, how skeptical they are of various claims about the future. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, when we see a fact or a claim that comports with our ideological beliefs, we ask: “Can I believe this?” When we see one that conflicts with it, we ask: “Must I believe this?”
McArdle routinely assumes anything she agrees with is right, and anything she doesn't agree with is wrong. We know this because she cherry-picks data and misinterprets information according to her bias. This makes her a very poor analyst, a dishonest journalist, and the type of person who will spend the rest of her life slowly sinking into the quicksand of the fever swamps, because that is where she belongs.
The process mostly operates subconsciously; it is entirely possible to believe that you are being strenuously fair while setting the bar higher for believing “conservative” stories and liking conservative politicians than for “liberal” ones. An unlikeable liberal politician will still be disliked; an irrefutable “conservative” fact will still be accepted. But in the mushy middle, the ground will tilt toward liberalism.
It's the System, man.
As long as there is liberal hegemony over the media -- and there is -- its coverage will read as liberal to someone with a different worldview. And that will create a demand for conservative media.
This is the lie (beloved of Jonah Goldberg) that extremist liberalism created the right wing fever swamps by forcing them to band together in self-defense and push back against the instigators.
The talent, the donors, the customers -- all will tend to be folks who are irritated with the status quo, which is to say, hardcore conservatives. How do you get and keep those folks? By being strongly ideological. You end up with a liberal mainstream media that is large and weakly politically biased, and a much smaller conservative media that is strongly political and focuses almost entirely on stories with a political angle, to keep its readership.
No mention of money, power and control, or the fact that the right's tactics worked for a long time, until they killed the golden goose by pushing the right too far.
At which point, it became hard for the people working in that media to get a job at a mainstream publication staffed by people who think they’re wrong about everything.
They are. Conservative failures have proven it. Right wing economics ruined Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas and nearly brought down the entire economy. Right wing religion went too far and forced gays and women to fight back. (It's always projection.) Right wing entertainment failed to turn people conservative. Right wing  pundits were proven wrong about everything.
Big mainstream outlets hire a fair number of reporters from little left-wing political magazines; when I asked the conservative journalists I know for a similar list from right-wing outlets, the number of people we could come up with could be counted on the fingers of one hand. And we didn’t need all the fingers, either.
Evidently P. Suderman, boy Astro-turfer, can't get a mainstream job, denying McArdle access to even more money. How will she move to a multi-million dollar home on Dupont Circle next to Matthew "Let them eat concrete" Yglesias if she can't scrape up a million-dollar income?
This is not a slur on the folks on that side of the industry; a lot of them do great work, and many are my friends.
Please hire me, even though I say you are biased and should be hiring Pepe The Fever Swamp Frog instead of Paul Krugman.
But they justly lament that it will be hard for them to ever work anywhere else, given the employers on their resumes.
Then they shouldn't have taken those disreputable jobs, should they? Nobody forced McArdle to sell out to the Koches. She chose to work for them, support them, defend them, and lie for them. She could have lowered her expectations and taken whatever job her father could finagle for her, but she decided to become one of the Undead instead.

McArdle believes in gains from trade. She traded the Ivy League degree that her father bought for a high-salary job servicing billionaires. The mediocre sons and daughters of the rich took one look at William F. Buckley's mansion and yacht and in their greed forgot that he lived on a huge pile of inherited money, unlike them. They needed jobs and felt they deserved prestigious, lucrative ones. The only way they could achieve success was to take make-work jobs for shill factories. They joined conservative think tanks and wrote fake white papers and gave vapid lectures and bestowed each other with awards, aping real academics like a little girl and her dolls playing house. But they are shills, and everyone who doesn't live in the fever swamps knows it.
Conservative media, in other words, became an ideological ghetto. And ghettos often develop pathologies. What’s remarkable is not that so much of the right-wing media is so vitriolic and prone to conspiracy-mongering; what’s remarkable is that so many of those outlets remain committed to careful reporting and debunking things like the Obama birth certificate nonsense, rather than simply pandering to their readers.
I’m not blaming liberals for the rise of the conservative-media ghetto.
“Blame” implies that someone made a decision to make this happen. The thing is, no one made any such decision. There was no secret plan.
There was certainly no liberal media conspiracy, just an iterative process controlled by no one: Being human, liberals naturally prefer the work of folks who agree with them, so those are the folks they tend to hire and promote.  As they became increasingly dominant in the media, the trend became self-reinforcing. Fewer conservatives wanted to enter the castle in the first place, and few were allowed to. Now the castle residents are peering into the swamp and wondering what the heck is going on out there.
Oh, we know. The conservative elite unleashed their racists, sexists, and authoritarians, and the fever swamp denizens turned around and ate them.
But whoever is to blame for the problem,
How convenient. There are no villains, so hire the villains.
yelling at the residents of the swamp to behave themselves is probably not going to fix it.
Barring them from doing any more damage might help, though.
What would fix the problem is if the folks in the castle made a concerted effort to open the doors and persuade some of the swamp-dwellers to move inside.
Let in the racists. Let in the sexists. Let in the authoritarians,  the theocratic bigots, the conspiracy nuts, the gun nuts, the militia nuts, the Lock Her Up! nuts. It would be so biased to exclude them.
Not just to move inside, but to help run the place, pushing back on liberal pieties and dubious claims with the same fervor that liberals push back on conservative ones.
They don't just want to pretend to be real Big Thinkers. They want enough power to forced everyone else to service their billionaire masters as well.

The Party of Trump is knocking on the door and wants to be let in.
It’s not wholly implausible. The opinion operations of mainstream media outlets have long sought out and amplified conservative voices, in op-eds and via regular columnists like George Will at the Washington Post and Ross Douthat (preceded by Bill Kristol) at the New York Times. The news side of media outlets could follow suit. Unlike the “yell at them until they stop” strategy, this at least has a chance of working.
Destroy them while they're weak, when their base of power has left them. Hang garlic on your necks, ring the building with salt, draw hex marks over the windows.

But whatever you do, don't let them in the house.


Downpuppy said...

recent history of National Review,
Susan, Susan, Suzie.
You know as well as anyone that
racists, god-humpers and fetus-fondlers, and neocon genocide fanboys
have been the core of National Review sinec Day 1.

Susan of Texas said...

I will make a correction!

Ellis Weiner said...

Late getting here, but reading this I started wondering if maybe McMegan is the next generation Peggy Noonan: both pride themselves on writing knowingly about human nature--or so they think--while in fact serving up slabs of smug, disingenuous fantasy.

Noonan wants us to think that her exquisitely sensitive antennae detect things that (regardless of what is objectively and obviously true, case after case) just happen to support the Republican Party. McArdle regards herself as an elite who retains the common touch based on her (fictional) prole background. Both of them are propagandists who think of themselves as explainers.

Susan of Texas said...

That's very true. She loves to talk/write about her working class grandfather and his oil-stained hands, but no longer mentions that he was in the top 5% of earners.

jim said...

McMegan is the soft bigotry of low expectations made flesh. Her writing is semiotic Swiss cheese but there's always another gig for a new sucker on tap every time the last sucker wises up.