Overly Easy Arguments

I like Matthew Yglesias, since among political writers his sensibility seems closest to my own.  He’s broadly liberal or progressive, but has a sensitivity to the costs of excess regulation.  On a given issue, I can often find out what I think by reading him.  Unfortunately, he seems to labor under a rule that 50% of his posts must have a major flaw.  Most often, they’re just trivial snark–it doesn’t hurt me to read a paragraph about something stupid a Republican said, but it doesn’t help me either.  But what’s worse is when he’s flippant about complicated issues.

Take a recent post about the Republican party’s civil war over Rush Limbaugh.  In an aside at the end of the post, he suggests that the dispute shows something about how conservatives aren’t interested in real issues.  Didn’t the early portion of this decade see a lot of navel gazing discussion about whether Democratic candidates should starting wearing heavy crucifixes whenever they appeared in public? Perhaps that discussion touched on real issues, but it sure seemed to be about rhetoric.

A better analogy might be the debate about how strongly Democrats should oppose Bush’s agenda–would they be hurt by opposing a popular president, or could they make gains by appealing to anti-war sentiment.  There was a real issue, but a lot of the debate within the Democratic party was about appearances.  The same goes for Rush.  You have the substantive issue, which is the Rush is a despicable troll, who has no ideas except for hating Obama.  And you have the Republican party, arguing about whether they should distance themselves from the troll–a question of appearances.  Sometimes these debates go proxy for real issues, and often they obscure the real issues.  But it sure seems like both parties engage in them.  If Yglesias has reason to believe these debates are more common among conservatives, that might be nice, but all I see in his post is a bit of point scoring.

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An entirely different episode of the same thing: Yglesias says it should be easy to find candidates without compromising ties to the financial sector for jobs at the Treasury, while presenting only very thin evidence.  Responses by Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen emphasize the peculiar skills and temperament necessary to hold the jobs in question.  Maybe there’s a list out of candidates with that sort of competence out there, but pointing to Simon Johnson doesn’t show it.  The first round goes to McArdle & Cowen.

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