Since I’m getting into the habit of posting about self-refuting articles …

by Henry on March 22, 2010

This one from Megan McArdle, is a very special example. It’s the blogospheric version of one of those avant-garde mechanical sculptures that starts to tear itself apart as soon as the clockwork key is turned. It’s worth quoting in extenso so that you too can marvel at the beauty and ingenuity of the escapements.

Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority? Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, Social Security! Au revoir, Medicare! The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn’t—if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission—then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.

Oh, wait—suddenly it doesn’t seem quite fair that Republicans could just ignore the will of their constituents that way, does it? Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free “Screw You” vote to balance out what the Democrats just did.

If the GOP takes the legislative innovations of the Democrats and decides to use them, please don’t complain that it’s not fair. Someone could get seriously hurt, laughing that hard.

But I hope they don’t. What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot boxand rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate. I hope Obama gets his wish to be a one-term president who passed health care. Not because I think I will like his opponent—I very much doubt that I will support much of anything Obama’s opponent says. But because politicians shouldn’t feel that the best route to electoral success is to lie to the voters, and then ignore them.

We’re not a parliamentary democracy, and we don’t have the mechanisms, like votes of no confidence, that parliamentary democracies use to provide a check on their politicians. The check that we have is that politicians care what the voters think.

The bit where the contraption really starts to pull itself apart is where the ‘we are now in a country subject to the absolute tyranny of the majority – of legislators!‘,1 apparatus starts to grind against the gearings of ‘I hope they do rotten in the next elections’ and hence to do itself some fundamental harm. Megan appears to be only partially cognizant of the fact that we live in a representative democracy. Voters do not themselves take decisions through massive instantaneous opinion polls unless they live in spiffy-sounding future societies. Instead, they elect politicians, who make promises of greater or lesser veracity in the hope of getting themselves elected (fwiw, I do seem to recall the concept of ‘fundamental health care reform’ popping up once or twice during Obama’s 2008 speeches). If voters genuinely hate what politicians have done, they can vote them out at the next election, and vote in a new crowd who are more responsive to their wishes. If they do like what politicians have done, they can vote for them again. Perhaps, if Megan had studied Civics 101 with the assiduity that she apparently reserved for Economics 101 (although, not, obviously, for any advanced seminars she might have taken in this topic), she might have absorbed this fundamental lesson.

In other words – if Democrats really are on a democratic kamikaze mission as she suggests, then the system will protect itself perfectly nicely, by electing a new set of politicians the next time around, who are more amenable to respecting what voters want, and to getting rid of the whole horrible mess of healthcare for 30 million uninsured while they are at it. And if Republicans really want to do their damnedest to vote to eliminate Medicare and Social Security, I would be only too delighted to cheer them on in their efforts (this would, I suspect, be one of those few moments where ‘heightening the contradictions’ would actually work in spades – ‘get rid of Medicare/SS’ would not only fail, but, to the extent that it committed the Republican party to a shared position, would completely eliminate the party in its current form).

I suspect, perhaps wrongly, that Megan is less worried about the democratic legitimacy of the decision than by the fear that the supposedly commanding anti-HCR epistemic majority among the public is in fact rather wobbly, and liable to be replaced quite quickly by broad enthusiasm (as it has been in Massachusetts). I also suspect that this is not a serious argument (although having made it, I presume that as usual that she will ‘stick’ to it passionately while tacitly but comprehensively abandoning its more inconvenient aspects and hoping that no-one notices), but instead, a sense of overwhelming indignation in search of an argument. Unless, of course, the underlying joke of this post is right, and the public persona of Megan McArdle is itself a long term art project (perhaps one of those Yes Men stunts, but constructed with enormous patience over a period of several years). In which case, all I can say is: well played.

Update – Jonathan Chait points to a previous McArdle assertion that anyone who thinks the bill will pass is crazy, which may help explain the level of spluttering in the current post.

On the one hand, there are people like the TNR crew, and Jonathan Bernstein, Andrew’s guest-blogger, who seem to think that [HCR] is the next best thing to a done deal. Meanwhile, all the conservatives and libertarians I know think that it’s pretty much hopeless, because Pelosi can’t get it through an increasingly rebellious House. To our jaded eyes it looks as if everyone who can is looking for an excuse not to vote for a bill that is unpopular with their constituents.

The opinions on both sides seem so confident, and so incompatible, that one group of people is clearly borderline delusional. I don’t see how they can be right—even if passing health care makes the party better off (I’m doubtful), it does not improve the fortunes of members in conservative districts who do not get much mileage out of their affiliation with the Democratic Party (and will get even less mileage if they are seen as enabling unpopular legislation).

But of course, borderline delusional people don’t think they’re delusional, or else they wouldn’t be delusional.

Indeed.

1 I’ll do Megan the favor of assuming that when she said ‘absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority’ she meant something like ‘absolutely no recourse against &c &c’.

{ 47 comments }

1

Tom Hurka 03.22.10 at 3:22 pm

I agree that it’s a pretty wild piece by MM, but I think it has to be recourse “to” the tyranny of the majority.” (Though why she would call it “tyranny,” given the rest of what she says, is beyond me.) The main thrust of her piece is that majority American opinion was *against* HRC but was ignored by the Democrats — and that was a bad thing since politicians *should* be guided by public opinion. (I make no comment on her highly contestable claims about what public opinion was or that the main lying was done by the Democrats.)

2

Mitchell Morris 03.22.10 at 3:29 pm

Here’s the thing: it’s too late to not pass the legislation. And assuming the machinery works as you describe and the Democrats take a shellacking at the polls in November, how exactly does that undo this largest set of entitlements? It seems that there is a sizable collection of people who are really opposed to this, and polls suggest that this sentiment may be rather widespread; assuming it’s correct and the politicians lose their jobs this November, how does this address the fact that the legislation is now the law of the land?

Although I do applaud your willingness to sacrifice the body politic so that you can take a shot at Megan. Well played.

3

Henry 03.22.10 at 3:31 pm

Ah – I see – I misread, along the lines of the ‘why call it tyranny’ bit. Changed accordingly.

4

Barry 03.22.10 at 3:34 pm

” suspect, perhaps wrongly, that Megan is less worried about the democratic legitimacy of the decision than by the fear that the supposedly commanding anti-HCR epistemic majority among the public is in fact rather wobbly, and liable to be replaced quite quickly by broad enthusiasm (as it has been in Massachusetts). I also suspect that this is not a serious argument (although having made it, I presume that as usual that she will ‘stick’ to it furiously while tacitly but comprehensively abandoning its more inconvenient aspects and hoping that no-one notices), but instead, a sense of overwhelming indignation in search of an argument. Unless, of course, the underlying joke of this post is right, and the public persona of Megan McArdle is itself a long term art project (perhaps one of those Yes Men stunts, but constructed with enormous patience over a period of several years). In which case, all I can say is: well played.”

Megan McArdle is, was, and shall always be a dishonest Chicscum Randroid, with the odd redeeming feature due to human fallibility. It’s clear by now that she’s got to be a paid astroturfer against HCR (as is her finance). She will always right as the blithe, well-meaning person whose superior Chicago education leads her through inexorable logic to support right-wing positions (again, with the odd independent quirk due to human fallibility).

The reason that I’m fascinated with her is that with her we seen the rare creation of a Pundit. Usually, we see them in middle age (which lasts from their college years to age 1,000, when they occasionally retire), dried up and ancient in their corruption, blathering about imagined evils from decades back. I was really unsure of whether or not papers ever hired them new, or if they came through a gate from another, ancient, corrupt universe.

In Megan’s case we see how a pundit is created – start with a person who can – well, not necessarily write well, but crank out pages of blithe prose upon demand. Then check for a solid ideological line, and the willingness to pretend that she knows something about almost everything, and that her opinions are backed by something solid. In her case, the ‘something solid’ is her Chicago Econ training (with Nobel Laureates!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!!1!!!!1); in other cases it’s a Deep Knowledge of Historical Quotations and Bow-Tie-Fu, or Traveling the World with Mustache, Talking with Cab Drivers.

By now, she’s in the Village. She’s blathered for The Economist and The Atlantic, both publications with values ranging from ‘good’ to ‘lying wh*reson and proud of it’. The Economist’s approval has got to be a nice thing, because if there’s one thing they know, it’s neoliberal-pseudolibertarian blather.

I predict that we’ll see her through the decades, blithely and confidently opposing things, with no apparent acknowledgement of her record on how her previous blithely- and confidently-supported things turned out. Right now she’s got a nice record, with neoliberal economics and the Iraq War on her resume; opposing HCR will be a nice addition. Please note that these are in fact assets to her; it shows that she can be publicly and repeatedly wrong over years, with no shame whatsoever. This is indespensable for a good pundit.

5

Delicious Pundit 03.22.10 at 3:35 pm

I dunno, recourse to tyranny seems like a favorite spice on the conservative rack, from de Maistre to Jeane Kirkpatrick.

6

Depressed Californian 03.22.10 at 3:37 pm

Voters do not themselves take decisions through massive instantaneous opinion polls unless they live in spiffy-sounding future societies.

Or California, which, to be fair, may have been spiffy-sounding at some point.

7

Barry 03.22.10 at 3:42 pm

Yes, but only when they do it to others; the whole point of being on the Right is to have the power and privileges on one’s own side.

8

Uncle Kvetch 03.22.10 at 3:47 pm

Not because I think I will like his opponent—I very much doubt that I will support much of anything Obama’s opponent says.

Perhaps not, but however awful the next Republican president is, we will always be able to count on Megan to point out that his/her opponents are even worse. That’s what she’s paid for.

9

noen 03.22.10 at 4:27 pm

“Megan appears to be only partially cognizant…”

You give her way too much credit there.

10

lemuel pitkin 03.22.10 at 4:59 pm

assuming the machinery works as you describe and the Democrats take a shellacking at the polls in November, how exactly does that undo this largest set of entitlements?

Presumably through the process analyzed here.

11

Uncle Kvetch 03.22.10 at 5:03 pm

That’s very cute, lemuel, but you apparently are unaware that Evil Witch Pelosi inserted a “No backsies, times infinity” clause into the bill at the last minute. So it’s a one-way slippery slope from here to the Gulag.

12

Substance McGravitas 03.22.10 at 5:09 pm

According to her editor and the American Society of Magazine Editors Megan wrote three of the best columns in The Atlantic this past year, possibly one of the three best columns in the nation.

13

Russell Arben Fox 03.22.10 at 5:11 pm

I don’t know why I bother, when Laura and Henry and others have already shot this sitting duck thoroughly, but I still do.

14

Barry 03.22.10 at 5:37 pm

(note: the formatting looks wierd, due to IE; the spaces are screwed up).

Russell, it’s like a zombie – ya gotta hack at it quite a bit, and keep at it every so often. It’s not like we’ll ever be rid of her (a right-wing pundit has job security that makes academic tenure look like life under Stalin for longevity), but it’s important to keep her reputation down where it belongs.

Substance McGravitas 03.22.10 at 5:09 pm

“According to her editor and the American Society of Magazine Editors Megan wrote three of the best columns in The Atlantic this past year, possibly one of the three best columns in the nation”

The Atlantic also has a Michael Kelly award for journalism; they don’t specifically say that being a lying POS is a requirement, but that would be in the spirit of the man. I predict that Megan will win this award; her only obstacle is that she doesn’t have the spittle-flecked prose that Kelly specialized in. It’s not her fault; her specialty is the light, blithe BS, and she didn’t have that special journalistic mentoring that Martin Peretz can give a new writer.

15

nick s 03.22.10 at 6:18 pm

Why, Henry, why? We already know that McMuggles’ ability to irritate like a loose tooth is the catalyst for her rise up the ladder of punditry.

What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot box and rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate.

That’s not a very nice way to talk about the person who’s paying for your wedding reception, Megs.

16

Henry 03.22.10 at 6:21 pm

nick s – I think people can say what they want to say while leaving her family out of it, thanks.

17

Steve 03.22.10 at 6:33 pm

Come on, be fair! She can make a wicked zucchini pasta bake.

18

nick s 03.22.10 at 6:38 pm

Your gaff, your rules, Henry. I just wish metaphorical dentistry were covered, given the way that McArdle keeps inflicting pain on CT.

19

Walt 03.22.10 at 6:56 pm

Lemuel wins the thread, of course.

20

Henry 03.22.10 at 7:45 pm

Nick s – still feel free, obv, to keep on giving me as much grief as you like.

21

Tom Hurka 03.22.10 at 9:17 pm

Actually, she’s also wrong about parliamentary democracies. When there’s a majority government or even a stable minority government — like the Canadian minority government that introduced Medicare in the 1960s — and party discipline, votes of non-confidence can’t succeed and are no check on the government at all. This is largely why the Canadian majority government of the 1990s was able to cut spending and turn large deficits into surpluses — public opinion was probably against the policy, but the government did it anyway.

22

B^4 03.22.10 at 10:06 pm

Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free “Screw You” vote to balance out what the Democrats just did.

This is just too precious… she made my day even more frabjous.

23

toby 03.22.10 at 10:16 pm

There is a blog dedicated to the disemploying of Megan.

http://firemeganmcardle.blogspot.com/

24

bianca steele 03.22.10 at 11:46 pm

There aren’t a lot of women blogging, and I’d like to be able to find something to like in McArdle, but I can’t. Reading her blog over the past couple of years I can’t find any consistency worth mentioning, except of the most crudely partisan kind (raw free-market economics worship combined with a certainty that only the Republican Party can protect the free market, and nothing more). She does get points for the interesting stylistic choice of writing an entire blog post in the second person.

25

Substance McGravitas 03.23.10 at 12:52 am

There aren’t a lot of women blogging

?

26

bianca steele 03.23.10 at 1:05 am

I mean on professional media sites. McArdle is one out of seven at The Atlantic. The NYT has 3 women out of 11 bloggers, 3.5 out of 16 if you count the columnist blogs, and 3.5 out of 26 if you count Freakonomics. Since TNR got rid of its group blog, they have no women blogging that I can see. The TAP blog seems about even.

27

John Quiggin 03.23.10 at 1:09 am

3.5?

28

jholbo 03.23.10 at 1:35 am

“America’s already quite toxic politics will become poisonous.”

Heaven forfend that something toxic should turn all poisonous.

29

Luther Blissett 03.23.10 at 2:05 am

I think she’s just angry that Obama did not thumb his nose at public opinion in the good, old-fashioned Republican way: (1) create a huge, fictional scare; (2) manufacture the majority opinion in your favor; (3) take a course of action and stick with it ‘courageously’ even when public opinion sways against you.

You see, Obama should have created a threat — let’s call it “deadly porcupine flu.” He then should have said that not only was deadly porcupine flu a possibility, but we all already had it. Colin Powell could have gone on TV and presented some blurry photographs of the porcupine flu virus. Then, Obama could argue that no health care program could afford to pay for the porculine flu vaccine which only *he* possesses, necessitating a move to a government-run health care program. And then, when it is definitively proven that porcupine flu was a lie, Obama could tell us that his vaccine was actually the deadly porcupine virus, and now we’re already in this, so only a national health care program can defeat the Virus of Evil.

30

P O'Neill 03.23.10 at 2:17 am

John Galt didn’t worry about popularity.

31

Barry 03.23.10 at 2:40 am

“America’s already quite toxic politics will become poisonous.”

jholbo : “Heaven forfend that something toxic should turn all poisonous.”

What will the GOP do – add lead to the nerve gas?

32

Barry 03.23.10 at 2:41 am

I think that it’s a sign of how distraught Megan is that she hasn’t dropped by to lay some blithe BS on us (on the order of ‘I know you are but what am I?’ logic-free blather).

33

Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.23.10 at 3:53 am

The real complaint of the right has nothing to do with the bill that has just passed, it is their claim to be the dominant political ideology and the natural party of government that was just killed.

No matter what happens now, the Reagan revolution is over.

It is rather interesting to look back at the GOP propaganda being thrown out during the debate and see how it was mostly a projection of their own position. The constant complaints about not following procedure while the GOP was filibustering to prevent the normal procedure. The constant complaints about not being listened to when they refused to put any alternative plan on the table. The constant complaints of Democrats not being willing to negotiate when the GOP were refusing to accept proposals that they had made themselves only a few years earlier.

One of the signature deceits was of course the ‘death panel’ canard, a lie so ridiculous that nobody could have been expected to believe it. So why did they have to cling to it so tightly? because it was the only way they could justify their own position to themselves. The Republicans knew that their objection was purely partisan and purely political, that they were opposing health care reform for no other reason than to destroy Obama’s presidency the way that defeat on health care cost Clinton the Democratic majority in both houses. And the Republicans knew that denying reform would inevitably mean that large numbers of people would continue to be without insurance and that as a result large numbers would die.

A reasonably reliable estimate of the number of people who die from lack of health insurance is about 58,000 a year. So by delaying reform for 16 years since Clinton’s effort, the GOP have managed to kill 928,000 people. Thats probably even larger than the number of civilians Bush managed to kill in Iraq by starting his war.

So really, you can see why these people are so upset and so scared. Because the only way that they could wind themselves up enough to do such evil was to tell themselves a bunch of lies which should have insulted their intelligence but they were only too willing to believe because the alternative would be to have to admit that they are really terrible, evil people.

But they can’t quite manage to avoid giving the game away. Gingrich’s comparison to LBJ passing the civil rights act is essentially an admission that the GOP is on the wrong side of history here. Does Gingrich really believe that the Democrats will split over Health Care now that the bill is passed? Does he really think that there is a column of disgruntled Democrats that is going to protest the bill?

Even if Obama does nothing else in his first term than withdraw from Iraq and turn round the situation in Afghanistan, he is going to be considered a successful president.

34

ajay 03.23.10 at 10:09 am

27: David Brooks and Gail Collins share a blog, so I’m guessing that Collins only counts as 0.5 of a woman blogger.
Or maybe bianca means that McArdle is really short.
Or part machine.

29: if we’re talking about terrifying imaginary threats, “deadly porcupine virus” should of course read “Weasel-Plague”.

35

bianca steele 03.23.10 at 12:10 pm

ajay: Yes, also, the Brooks/Collins blog doesn’t really have a bloggy feel–I never realized it was considered a blog at all until last night–it’s set up as conversations between the two of them.

36

bianca steele 03.23.10 at 12:11 pm

Not that Collins counts as 1/2 a blogger but she has 1/2 a blog.

37

AndrewBW 03.23.10 at 12:54 pm

When it comes to Megan McArdle, the old Usenet policy is the best: Please don’t feed the trolls.

38

Barry 03.23.10 at 4:51 pm

AndrewBW, in most cases that’s a good idea, but Megan has a seat on The Atlantic.
She’s not just infesting a newsgroup or two.

39

Rob 03.23.10 at 7:41 pm

How about a rule where if a person talks about physically roughing up people they don’t agree with they cannot talk about a legislative vote as tyranny of the majority?

40

Jay B. 03.23.10 at 7:53 pm

It seems that there is a sizable collection of people who are really opposed to this, and polls suggest that this sentiment may be rather widespread; assuming it’s correct and the politicians lose their jobs this November, how does this address the fact that the legislation is now the law of the land?

So…The alternative is to only pass laws by direct public vote? Seriously. What’s your argument?

At worst, the country was divided 50/50 about THIS health care reform bill. Many opposed it from the left for not going farther, still more opposed it along the lines they believed the government would take away people’s health care and kill their grandparents.

How does this square with your interpretation of Representative Democracy? And where were you or Megan when Iraq was poorly MUCH worse than Health Care Reform? Or does that not count for some reason?

41

ed 03.23.10 at 7:59 pm

This is SOP for Ms. McArdle–she’s usually this horrific. It’s relatively easy to demolish her poorly thought out drivel, but very satisfying to see a true take down of quality. I would save this gem for any and all future McArdle reviews, if you really have to go there. It would seem to apply universally to her work:

I also suspect that this is not a serious argument (although having made it, I presume that as usual that she will ‘stick’ to it passionately while tacitly but comprehensively abandoning its more inconvenient aspects and hoping that no-one notices), but instead, a sense of overwhelming indignation in search of an argument. Unless, of course, the underlying joke of this post is right, and the public persona of Megan McArdle is itself a long term art project (perhaps one of those Yes Men stunts, but constructed with enormous patience over a period of several years). In which case, all I can say is: well played.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

42

someBrad 03.23.10 at 8:20 pm

I’m glad I’m not the only one who has considered the possibility that a prominent pundit could actually be a long-term art project. I’ve long had suspicions about Hitchens.

43

MoeLarryAndJesus 03.23.10 at 8:38 pm

Ever since McMegan has begun “moving the Earth” with a movement conservative – assuming such a thing is possible – she has been moving steadily toward Schlafly-hood. It’s a pathetic thing to observe.

44

agorabum 03.23.10 at 9:16 pm

And now polls show that people approve of the bill, 49% – 40.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/126929/Slim-Margin-Americans-Support-Healthcare-Bill-Passage.aspx
Tyranny! Throats have been rammed! Obamacare’s mind control provisions have already gone into effect and now the public, that the Republicans so nobly persuaded with their brave truths about death panels, are becoming O-bots.
I will always remember what it used to be like, before this morning when the President signed the bill, when Americans were free.

45

Jamie 03.24.10 at 2:04 am

Yeah, a lot of the hyperventilating on the Republican side, I think, is best views as two parts foot-stamping tantrum, one part bravado, and and a huge helping of, “oh, shit. What now?”

My personal favorite non-Mcfootstamp, non-I’m-going-to-burn-your-house-down-for-this,-as-soon-as-I-finish-my-cheetos is Frum, saying something like, “We thought Fox News worked for us, but it turns out, we work for Fox News.

And while I’m rating, I suppose my favorite Mcfootstamp is not even Mcfootstamper’s, but rather McCain’s – I don’t know to whom he may have been talking, but if they managed a straight face when he threatened to be obsructionist because of this, well, my hat’s off to their botox artist.

46

Graham Shevlin 03.24.10 at 3:16 am

The ludicrous collection of bullshitting hypocrites who appear to have suddenly decided that governance by elected representatives should be replaced by instant popular voting on all significant ideas should be damned thankful that they don’t live in the UK and have to try and defend this bullcrap to Jeremy Paxman. He would rip them so far apart that one side of their bodies would need a cab to go find the other half…

47

Nathan 03.24.10 at 4:49 am

What a great site this is. I’ve been feeling like an idiot for some time because my yearly Atlantic Monthly subscription partially pays for this odd woman’s salary. Megan McArdle used to blog about being a vegan, a dietary choice that lasted six months and during which, she apparently only ate peanut butter. That pretty much sums up her incoherent ideology; a temporary commitment to a poorly understood and malnourished principle.

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