The Mezunian

Die Positivität ist das Opium des Volkes, aber der Spott ist das Opium der Verrückten

The Moral Perfidy of Ezra Klein

There is a depressing type of mental pathogen infecting the media called “centrism”; no, not the legitimate support of beliefs that just-so-happen to be between what Democrats and Republicans support, but the idea that one must support what falls into the culturally-manufactured ideology known as the “center” in order to be considered proper. Real discussions of ethics or philosophy should be left at the door. I hope I do not have to explain why an ideology based so much on an arbitrary conformity toward a made-up cultural norm is irrational—since it fits so clearly within the very definition of not even thinking.

So we have Ezra Klein, a self-titled “wonk.” That’s right, Klein is so pathetic he has to call himself smart, since certainly nobody who can think for herself ever would. See, he’s smart because he uses big words like “chained-CPI,” which is so complicated it requires one to look it up on the internet, which nobody can do! Of course, using big words and complicated economic terms is a demonstration of intelligence, if one is a child. Never mind if these terms are used for simpleminded folksy wisdom. It’s clear that Klein has little respect for the little people, so it is unsurprising that he does not expect them to actually look at the content of his writing, but only marvel at his fancy wording and nod their head.

This mental vacancy is best shown in a recent article charmingly titled, “How U.S. Politics Was Hijacked by Partisans.” Here’s a hint: Anytime a political writer complains about those mean old “partisans”—and they’re not talking about petty group alignments, rather than actual ideological differences, as Klein is truly writing about here—be rest assured that there is no intellectual value to be found there. I don’t care what self-proclaimed “independents” say: Everybody is biased. People should be biased when it comes to ethics. That is how people have intellectual arguments. Leftists write what they believe in, right-wingers write what they believe in, and, in theory, democracy should allow us to decide in a peaceful manner which particular views should win. Of course, the US is not (nor has it ever been) a legitimate democracy, so this doesn’t work so well (though, as we shall see, Klein is glad about this).

He starts his article saying, “Power has devolved to the people. And the people hate it.” He does not actually provide evidence for this anywhere in this article. Yes, I suppose he does show that popular support for US elections has fallen by decreased voter turnout; but he has done nothing to show that people have more control over the electoral system nowadays but with an unproven cliché. My favorite is how he talks about “when party bosses chose nominees in smoke-filled rooms” and when the electorate was controlled by big business. You know, like yesterday. Apparently ALEC and the rise in lobbying[1] are completely unknown to this so-called political “wonk.”

He goes on to further prove that this made-up empowerment of the people has led to the spoiling of the electoral system by describing Michelle Bachmann’s supposed “grassroots” rise to power—except that he specifically talks about her recent failure. The fact that this is one anecdotal piece of evidence doesn’t help matters, either. Is he trying to claim that extremists like Bachmann have never existed before now? Has this “wonk” never heard of a man named Barry Goldwater?

All of this, added with some research from political scientists, leads to the gist of the article, which is that since we’ve opened the electoral system to the unwashed masses politics have become more “polarized.” This is bad, I guess, because… It is. The idea that as the electoral system opens up to a wider range of people (supposedly) this would allow for a wider range of ideas is supposed to be surprising, I guess. More importantly, this is very bad. Instead, we should return to the good old days when “the system’s gatekeepers played an underappreciated role in moderating U.S. politics.” Klein ends by warning us that “The door is open.” Oh no! We can’t let people run this country themselves (also known as democracy)! Instead, we must trust our beloved political leaders who “have internalized the boundaries of the politically possible.” See, Klein shows that by… He doesn’t prove it at all. You’re just supposed to accept that there are some things that are “politically possible”—those that fit within a certain culturally-manufactured threshold known as the “center”—and those that are just too radical, man! You know, like ending slavery and having a republican government—also ideas that were considered “impossible” in their times. Nevertheless, if Klein says certain extreme ideas are impossible without any evidence (and, indeed, without even saying what these ideas are), then it must be true.

What’s most idiotic is that despite Klein’s complaints about partisanship, he actually praises political leaders for being “more likely to hold positions that are wholly consistent with one party or the other’s agenda,” while he quotes a political scientists saying, “If you give me a member of the public and tell me where they stand on gay marriage, I can do a bit better than chance in guessing what else they believe, but not that much better than chance.” So the people are dumb because… they actually base their beliefs on ethics themselves, and not just on what party they happen to be a part of. Indeed, it is surprising that when politicians work for a party they are more likely to sacrifice any semblance of principles just so their careers can succeed. I just don’t understand how this could possibly be good.

Literally, Klein’s whole complaint is just that the public’s ideas just-so-happen to not fall within the Democratic and Republican parties’ policies. Maybe that should say more about the ethical value of the Democratic and Republican parties than about the supposed dangers of increased democracy (once again, unproven).

His claim that “Few doubt Fiorina’s broad point that a more open political system has further polarized politics and frustrated the public” not only doesn’t stand up, it plainly contradicts what he just spent the whole article saying. It seems clear that the public is not frustrated at polarization—they seem to support it; what they’re frustrated with are the corrupt Democratic and Republican parties, which explains why they’ve dropped out of the election. When an election system tries to limit your choices to two corrupt organizations, allowing no finer control, nor options neither group supports, the rational thing to do is to declare such an electoral system inherently corrupt and illegitimate. Ezra Klein should aim his ire at such a corrupt electoral system, saturated with bribery (euphemistically called “lobbying”) and monopolization. But instead he complains about the public themselves just being too stupid to just play along with the game, already!

What this reveals is a creepy authoritarian sentiment in Klein and other so-called “centrists’” viewpoints. They can’t accept that most people don’t care about their silly little gossipy political battles between this politician and that—what he himself admits is a “niche hobby”—and that they would rather focus on absurd concepts, such as morality—morality that happens to go beyond what the monopolistic two-party state has to offer. In essence, people are starting to actually think for themselves, and that involves going beyond centrists’ made-up threshold of what are “proper”—or “possible,” in Klein’s words—ideas.

In reality, a healthy political system is one that has polarized political discussions; those are the systems that are free enough that allow such things as differing opinions. We have a name for political systems that keep discussions within a certain “proper” threshold; we call them “totalitarian.” That in this second Great Depression such an antidemocratic sentiment would exist not just in the mind of “libertarians” and conservatives (I can find plenty of examples of that, if one cannot find the many themselves), but in influential “liberals” such as Klein reveals a worrisome pattern of American political thought—one that has scary parallels in history.

[1] Drutman, L. J. (2010). The Business Of America is Lobbying: Explaining the Growth of Corporate Political Activity in Washington, DC.

Posted in Politics