Jonathan Chait is displeased with me (again) and he tarnishes the great cause of volcano-lancing as a result. I’m not sure I’d use the word “ironic” to describe my quest to end this geologic menace. “Joking around” might be more apt. But I think he needs the word “ironic” as a fig leaf to cover himself. He can’t say he was kidding when he proclaimed “Ideas, Feh.” And he can’t say he was serious. Enter that magically gray I-word.
I think the column speaks for itself. But just for the record, I’m fully aware that Chait writes often about big ideas, often quite well. My point was that he thinks the Democratic Party shouldn’t spend much time worrying about big ideas (Jon recently defended his LA Times column by noting that space-limitations didn’t allow him to flesh out every issue and point. Ditto).
Indeed, this is all just an offshoot of his whole spiel about how liberalism is undogmatically pragmatic and not bound by ideology. Big ideas come and go with the times. And when they do, liberals — and only liberals acording to Jonathan — are uniquely qualified to judge the merits of these ideas and implement them based upon their own values and priorities. Liberalism has no definition save “that what liberals think is good” and what liberals think is good is always good. No ideology or dogma there folks, move along. But let’s not get back into all that.
His whole critique of the Democratic “civil war” over Lieberman — his words — is that it is a tactical problem for Democrats and something of a distraction from the real threat George W. Bush who, he believes, is more dangerous to America than Bin Laden. Big ideas are not to be found in that analysis. Although, he did say that there was a “party line” the base was trying to impose (making it sound that somewhere beneathe the pool of anti-Bush bile there were some ideas to be found — but I agree with Kevin Drum that this assertion doesn’t hold water.
As for Jon’s tweak at me about Clinton-hating, okay. I was a Clinton-hater. Guilty-as-charged (though if “ideas, feh” is ironic, surely my Conan riff was irony-squared). Jon seems to be insinuating some kind of partisan hypocrisy on my part. I guess I don’t see it. While I think I offered any number of intellectually sound criticisms and justifications for Clinton-hatred (or anti-Clintonism generally) back in the day, I don’t believe I ever said hatred was illegitimate in politics — for Kossacks or conservatives. It depends why you hate someone and whether your animus clouds other more tangible concerns. Indeed, what I object to today, as I wrote, is the suggestion that liberal animus towards Bush is high-minded or grounded in consistent principle when it’s not. In fact, I really don’t understand what’s bothering Chait. I’m basically agreeing with him. Pragmatically speaking, liberalism isn’t about ideas. Now, that’s ironic.
Now, back to volcano-lancing….