Category Archives: E.J.Dionne

One at a time

E.J. Dionne writes:

>Arguing about Imus does absolutely nothing to provide our poorest African American kids with better schools, health insurance, or a chance at college and higher incomes. We rightly heap praise on those noble Rutgers women, but we should ask ourselves whether Imus would have gotten away with comparably sleazy comments targeting less visible and less successful women, or men. I think we know the answer.

We can argue about Imus (and all of his brethren) and the fact that the poorest African American kids need better schools, health insurance and so forth. Indeed we ought to do both. It’s puzzling to think of the implication of Dionne’s argument: we can have only one discussion of race going at a time.

Tell me why

This tidbit from E.J.Dionne’s latest illustrates a point we’ve been making for a while:

>The impatience of the administration’s critics is entirely understandable. But it would be a shame if impatience got in the way of a sensible long-term strategy to bring America’s engagement in this war to as decent an end as possible as quickly as possible — even if not as quickly as they’d like. The anti-surge resolution is a necessary first step, which is why those who are against a genuine change in our Iraq policy are fighting so hard to stop it.

There isn’t anything wrong with this as far as it goes (or as far as we could tell). But we’ve long complained that the “liberal” columnists differ as a group from the conservative ones. The most prominent conservative columnists make ideological combat the centerpiece of their writing, thinking perhaps that that’s what the op-ed page is for. I’d be inclined to agree with them. That’s how it should be. Outside of Krugman, however, the liberal columnists largely don’t argue in the way their conservative colleagues do. So, while people like Krauthammer and V.D.Hanson argue in forceful (but erroneous terms) for the position that the Iraq war has gone swimmingly (but for the Iraqis), Dionne takes it for granted that it’s been a disaster and talks instead about the parliamentary process of bringing it to an end. It’s not wrong that he does this. It’s just a poor match for his more strident conservative colleagues.

The surface

The right wing editorial squad does the kind of thing whose absence we academic types constantly lament–they stake out positions and they defend them with arguments. However often these arguments rely on invented facts and specious logical connections (such as this one–can you find any?), at least they try. In major newspapers, almost no one on the left or center even tries to match that bloodthirsty zeal for rational or pseudo-rational discourse.

While his colleagues on the right line up reasons for supporting Bush’s policies (or more often simply rejecting the opposition to them), E.J.Dionne writes a second order review of the style–not mind you the content–of Jim Webb’s opposition speech:

>Like him or not, Ronald (“Tear Down This Wall”) Reagan spoke in a clean, clear prose that almost always left listeners with a sense that he stood for something.

>It may thus be no accident that Jim Webb, Virginia’s new Democratic senator, was once a Reaganite.

This is how he begins another second-order political column. Rather than supporting or criticizing the content of Webb’s presentation, Dionne talks about the talking. This is why Dionne doesn’t belong on the same page as George Will and Charles Krauthammer. And this is why we almost never talk about these “liberal” types. They just don’t make arguments. If you want liberal arguments, you have to go to the blogs. Why not start here.

Old, tired, ineffectual

E.J. Dionne, liberal columnist for the Washington Post, writes:

>In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan’s share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 voters under 30 gave 60 percent of their votes to Democratic House candidates, according to the shared media exit poll. Conservatism now looks old, tired and ineffectual.

Those two exit polls don’t establish the claim that conservatism is “old, tired and ineffectual.” Sadly, however, these are the only hard facts cited in the piece. The rest is a series of do-you-remember-whens about NASCAR and evangelical Christianity, how once they seemed ascendant, now they seem reactionary–or, old, tired, and ineffectual. Dionne writes:

>Now the chic medium is televised political comedy and the cool commentators are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Even though their political fortunes have certainly changed with the recent elections, lots of people still listen to Rush Limbaugh. And the recent election is a phenomenon far too complex to be handled in such a superficial, E-Network kind of way. Besides, the Reagan election comparison is at best a misleading one–and you can’t place it alongside the most recent midterm election without covering over enormous differences (the current disastrous war, scandals, the Katrina disaster, and so on).

As we constantly say of the conservative political media, at least they argue for their positions. While they may argue badly (as we have documented here), at least the advance reasons for positions, rather than nearly fact-free meta-commentary of the political entertainment complex. That, if anything, is old, tired and ineffectual.

Bad Times

Things are going really badly for Republicans and the Bush administration, so notes E.J.Dionne in the *Post*, but he adds that it’s not “flatly false” to claim that things are going so hot for Democrats either. He makes this surprisingly weak-kneed remark in the context of a discussion of the phony “balance” stories that infect the national argument; bad news for the Bush administration must necessarily be accompanied by bad news (however contrived) for the Democrats, otherwise, charges (however specious) of “liberal media” will fly. And so Dionne complies.

And then he complies some more. After, correctly again, pointing out that this form of rancid (to borrow from The Daily Howler) national discourse rests on a false premise, Dionne concedes:

>The Democrats’ real problem is that they have failed to show how their critique of the Republican status quo is the essential first step toward the alternative program they will owe the voters in the presidential year of 2008.

And this is precisely the kind of second-order horse race commentary typical of Dionne. Rather than drive home the conclusion that the premise of the argument the Republicans most often make (in print, on cable television and talk radio) is hollow and wrong, Dionne steps outside of the argument and concedes (without citing any evidence other than the Republicans he is criticizing) that the Democrats have no positive vision. He continues:

>This failure has made it easier for Republicans to cast anti-Bush feeling (aka, “Bush hatred”) as a psychological disorder. The GOP shrewdly makes the president’s critics look crazed and suggests that opposition to Bush is of no more significance than, say, the loathing that many watchers of “American Idol” love to express toward Simon Cowell, the meanest of the show’s judges.

Dionne believes and so ought to argue that the Republican argument is intellectually irresponsible, wrong, fallacious, pernicious–outrageous. But he concedes to the Republican strategy he criticizes when he says that it’s not “flatly false” to claim things aren’t going well for the Democrats. If Dionne could be considered the typical Democrat, they’re right.

Robin Hood

Try to guess who wrote the following:

>Sims’s idea reminds Democrats that a commitment to active government is not simply about redistributing wealth.

In case you thought it was the author of this:

>He annoys the establishment because he, unlike it, believes things. He believes that the establishment is proof of a conservative axiom: Any political group or institution that is not ideologically conservative will become, over time, liberal. That is so because, in the absence of a principled adherence to limited government, careerism — the political idea of the unthoughtful — will cause incumbents to use public spending to purchase job security.

You’d have been almost right. Despite their ideological differences, each seems to embrace the same shallow caricature relentlessly broadcasted by the pith and vinegar right wing argument army. The first, in case you you’re still wondering, is E.J.Dionne–liberal columnist. The second, of course, is none other than Dionne’s *Post* colleague George Will.

Dionne finds it refreshing, even instructive to *Democrats* (not just to those who have swallowed the Republican talking point whole), that there exists a Democrat who does not merely steal from the rich to give to the (undeserving) poor.

Such hokum one might expect of Will. If for him purchasing job security is identical with being liberal, then Tom DeLay, and all of the other criminally indicted and soon to be indicted of the party he so frequently shills for are liberals. Rather than embracing such shallow caricatures, Dionne ought to use his space in the *Post* to call Will and others out on such obvious dishonest and malicious equivocations.

That Dionne adopts such empty talking points as this merely underscores the spinelessness of most of the liberal commentariat.


Yesterday I almost wrote a post on E.J.Dionne’s column. Outside of Paul Krugman (whose locked up behind the wall of Times Select), it was the first vigorously argumentative piece by a “progressive” commentator in recent memory. And of course by that I mean it advanced an argumentative thesis rather than a blandly centrist explanatory one. For all of their faults–and those are many–conservative commentators at least give the appearance of an argument.

Today, for instance, in the Chicago Tribune, we find the following in the context of an argument on appeasing Iran from Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson:

> Likewise, the moral high ground today supposedly was to refer both the Iraqi and Iranian problems to the UN. But considering the oil-for-food scandals and Saddam Hussein’s constant violations of UN resolutions, it is unlikely that the Iranian theocracy has much fear that the UN Security Council will thwart its uranium enrichment.

This is a factual and a logical morass. In the first place, despite Saddam’s earnest desires, the UN successfully thwarted his plans for weapons of mass destruction. We know this because there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There were “program related activities”, perhaps meetings whose subject was how neat it would have been to have had purchased more of them or hid them better. But there were no weapons. All courtesy of the United Nations.

The oil-for-food program, however shameful, concerns another matter altogether; it did not have to do in the first instance with the successful containment and inspection regime. It had to do with mitigating the consequences of a severe embargo. Corrupt it was, but it did not have as its goal, as Hanson confusedly suggests, the removal from power or the domestic weakening of Saddam (and so by analogy here creating fear in the hearts of the Iranian theocrats). Rather, it was well known that all such activities merely strengthened Saddam and enriched corrupt UN officials as well as others (Americans included).

So, dear Professor, if you’re going to make fun of the UN for a being corrupt and ineffective entity, make sure not to pick out one of their successes as evidence of that fact.


It was a close election. Very close. But you’d never know that from the tone of the election post-mortem across the conservative and non-conservative (that doesn’t mean “liberal”) punditocracy. While talk of “mandates” with 51 percent of the electorate is absurd on its face, equally ludicrous–but no less frequent–is the blizzard of simplistic explanations for why three percent of the popular vote, and more to the point, 136,483 (actually less when one subtracts unexplained votes for Bush) in Ohio went to the Republican candidate. With such slim margins, the cold analytical mind would shudder at grand explanations, epiphanies, and electoral exaggerations. Such a mind would have to conclude that such a slim victory precludes grand conclusions. Thus the following from E.J.Dionne in the *Washington Post*:

These numbers do not lend themselves to a facile ideological analysis of what happened. The populist left can fairly ask why so many pro-government, anti-corporate voters backed Bush. The social liberals can ask why so many socially moderate and progressive voters stuck with the president. The centrist crowd can muse over the power of the terrorism issue. The exit polls found that perhaps 10 percent of Al Gore’s 2000 voters switched to Bush. Of these, more than eight in 10 thought the war in Iraq was part of the war on terrorism.

But such a deep appreciation for the complexity of the 2004 electorate seems not to have had any effect on Dionne’s conservative *Post* colleague, George F. Will, for Will has wasted no time in reveling in the “epiphanies” of last Tuesday. We won’t waste the reader’s time with an exhaustive catalogue of them (the first of them is that Bruce Springsteen does not select the President, electoral votes do). Among other epiphanies we find the following:

While 44 percent of Hispanics, America’s largest and fastest-growing minority, voted for Bush, African Americans continued to marginalize themselves, again voting nearly unanimously (88 percent) for the Democratic nominee. In coming years, while Hispanics are conducting a highly advantageous political auction for their support, African Americans evidently will continue being taken for granted by Democrats.

Keep in mind that this is an epiphany, so we are meant to be surprised by some important bit of electoral analysis. Only a conservative would be surprised, however, that minority groups do not constitute a monolithic entity. Perhaps there is some reason beyond their willful marginalization (having voted for the candidate who received the second highest number of votes in the history of the United States and the one who won 48 percent of the popular vote constitutes marginalization in Will’s mind by the way) that explains how 88 percent of the African American vote went to Kerry. Maybe–and perhaps this is a stab in the dark–a large number of them–88 percent in fact–rightly or wrongly *believed* Kerry to be the candidate who best represented their economic interests, vision of the Presidency, moral values, view in the war on terror, or whatever other of the sundry *reasons* one casts a vote for President. And in fact, when it comes to divining reasons for votes from the non-minorities, Will doesn’t hesitate to assume there is some reason, some reasonable reason, for their voting:

Newsom’s [mayor of San Francisco] heavily televised grandstanding — illegally issuing nearly 4,000 same-sex marriage licenses — underscored what many Americans find really insufferable. It is not so much same-sex marriage that enrages them: Most Americans oppose an anti-same-sex amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is why it fell 49 votes short of the required two-thirds in the House and 19 short in the Senate. Rather, what provokes people is moral arrogance expressed in disdain for democratic due process.

On Will’s analysis, minorities get no special treatment. He doesn’t even wonder *why* they vote the way they do. That a certain group is reported to have voted en masse may certainly cry out for an explanation–just as the fact that all eleven proposals to ban same-sex marriages must be accounted for–but that explanation will perhaps best begin (and perhaps end) with one question: *why* did you (and 48 percent of the electorate) vote for the Democratic candidate?