Saturday, July 08, 2006

Word, Man: Word

Will Wilkinson lays down a challenge to J. Chait, who is a fine writer but ran afoul of the chortling, self-congratulatory virus sweeping the (otherwise) moderate and sensible political left.

As Mr. Chait famously said (I'm paraphrasing), liberals are empiricists and conservatives are evidence-free ideologues.

Excerpt (since the article is for subscribers):

Since the mid-'70s, the GOP has grown steadily more conservative, and therefore less pragmatic. Genuine ideological conservatives, banished to minority status since Eisenhower, briefly resurfaced under Barry Goldwater, and, after falling back again, began to take control of the Republican Party. Conservatives correctly see George W. Bush as one of their own. Bush does frequently depart from conservative orthodoxy, as with his tariffs, farm subsidies, and Medicare drug benefit. Yet conservatives understand that Bush sees these compromises as politically expedient, not a genuinely felt embrace of expansive government. His signature proposals--massive tax cuts and Social Security privatization--both reflect a belief that reducing government is an end in itself. Outside events exert not even the slightest influence on his policy goals. Bush steadfastly embraced his tax cuts as the economy veered from boom and surplus to slowdown to wartime to recovery and deficit.

Meanwhile, Democrats have continuously reexamined their policies in light of changing conditions. Bill Clinton came to office planning to spur the economy with a Keynesian stimulus, but abandoned those plans after fierce debate among his staff economists. Instead he embraced the novel goal of sparking recovery by slashing the deficit in the hopes that lower interest rates would enable sustainable growth. As that policy seemed to work, moderate liberals continued to embrace the credo of fiscal restraint. But, after the economy slid toward a recession in 2001, liberal economists abandoned short-term restraint in favor of temporary tax cuts to encourage spending.


Now, there is something to that, in some quarters. There are parts of the GOP for which that description is only slightly exaggerated.

But Mr. Chait has gone on to conclude that ONLY liberals use evidence, and that even critics of GOP conservatism, including CATO, resist all reason and evidence. In fact, anyone who believes in markets MUST, segun Mr. Chait, have committed to a vow rather than the "science" that Mr. Chait and his special, smart friends study at the Kennedy school. (I should admit that I cancelled my subscription to TNR soon after this vapid screed was published at the end of February 2005. I had to go worship my own evidence-free beliefs, and being challenged by someone so much more evidence-focused was just too upsetting.)

Word, Will.