Sometime soon we'll have a post up about the "Hack Thirty" at Salon.com. We were surprised that some made the list (B-list hacks) and that some didn't (Charles Krauthammer? Seriously). For that reason we wondered about the methodology and the meaning, in the end, of the term "hack."
One person who didn't make the list but should have place in the top 15 at least was Michael Gerson, former Bush 43 Speechwriter and promoter of unprovoked defensive war.
Luckily, his most recent column reads as a damning indictment of that exclusion. For the tl;dr crowd (how many of you is that? would you have made it at least to here?) he argues that Obama demonstrates the failure of "liberalism" and that certain liberals–whom he stupidly mentions by name (not even George Will would do that)–refuse to admit that, resorting instead to "conspiracy theories" (example of a "conspiracy theory": all of my enemies are plotting against me, forming a three-point axis–I know–of EVIL).
Following two years of poor economic performance and electoral repudiation, liberalism is casting around for narratives to explain its failure – narratives that don't involve the admission of inadequacies in liberalism itself.
In the first place, for serious, how could anyone claim that the Obama administration's (financial, oil, military, etc.) industry-friendly policies constitute "liberalism"?
Second, one cannot maintain that "liberalism" has failed because the Democrats lost one of the two representative bodies–they still hold the Senate, the Presidency (and the liberal media of course).
Enough preliminaries. Our point here is that Gerson attempts to make the Willian hollow man move–"liberalism" is the key word usually, or "progressivism" (hey look it up in today's Post!). It basically goes like this. Mention the word "liberalism," and do not mention the words of any particular liberal–you're not dialoguing with them (that's critical)–and set up a hollow man. Then engage hollow man, showing hollow man argument to be foolish, liberals as a consequence to be lazy, dishonest thinkers, etc.
That's how you do a hollow man. But Gerson foolishly names his opponents He writes:
So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for "deliberate economic sabotage" from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that "Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there's a Democrat in the White House." Steve Benen explains, "We're talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012." Benen's posting was titled "None Dare Call it Sabotage."
So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating "massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system."
These guys (Benen and Yglesias) have very popular blogs, appear on TV, etc., and can respond to Gerson's hollow man–which is now, on account of its first instance distortion, has become representational version of the straw man. Benen has responded at length. Here is a brief snippet:
What's more, I'm fascinated by the notion that I'm describing a "conspiracy" — a word Gerson uses four times in his column. I made no such argument. There's no need for secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms; there's no reason to imagine a powerful cabal pulling strings behind the scenes. The proposition need not be fanciful at all — a stronger economy would improve President Obama's re-election chances, so Republicans are resisting policies and ideas that would lead to this result.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn't especially cagey about his intentions: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president…. Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."
Given this, is it really that extraordinary to wonder if this might include rejecting proposals that would make President Obama look more successful on economic policy — especially given the fact that McConnell's approach to the economy appears to be carefully crafted to do the opposite of what's needed? After Gerson's West Wing colleagues effectively accused Democrats of treason in 2005, is it beyond the pale to have a conversation about Republicans' inexplicable motivations?
Read the whole thing here. In addition to his dishonest representation of the facts, short memory, and general hackishness, Gerson's mistake is naming opponents who can respond (or whose words can be checked). George Will almost never does that. It tends to backfire.