Libertarian Sanctimony

by Jonathan Chait | June 17, 2010

A couple days ago I wrote about about ubiquitous right-wing pundit Veronique de Rugy, who claimed that a CBO report refuted President Obama's claims about health care when, in fact, it vindicated them. I concluded, "One of the most serious problems this country faces is that one of its two major political parties is run by people who attained their positions on the basis of ideological fidelity and lack very, very basic analytic skills."

Nick Gillespie, editor at Reasonwhich regularly publishes de Rugy—has a reply on her behalf. I will publish the entire thing:

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait, ladies & gentlemen, on June 11, 2010:
One of the most serious problems this country faces is that one of its two major political parties is run by people who attained their positions on the basis of ideological fidelity and lack very, very basic analytic skills. 
In case you're wondering what party the unflagging Democratic stalwart and No. 1 Bush Hatah means, take a look at his October 27, 2008 display of very, very basic analytic skills. Click through below and skip ahead to 1.12 in the vid (not directly embeddable). But first, put down the coffee and take a deep breath.
The top Chait quote above comes in the context of an attack on Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy, who posted a piece critical of rumored deficit reduction effects of ObamaCare. Chait's non sequitur about political parties and ideological fidelity blah blah is particularly strange given that de Rugy is a hard-core, small l libertarian who made no secret of her contempt for George Bush and GOP spend spend spend policies. She blogs at National Review's The Corner, which is often a GOP love fest, but her posts are always critical of government overreach from either side of the aisle. And TNR is clearly in the tank for the Democratic Party. The things we say when we type with socks on our hands!

A couple points to note. First, Gillespie makes no attempt—zero—to actually defend de Rugy on the substance. (de Rugy offers her own reply, but rather than defend her original assertion that the CBO data refutes Obama's claims, she changes the argument to claim that the CBO is too optimistic.) Gillespie offers an undisguised ad hominem reply. I hate Bush! I recorded a joking video with hand puppets! What this has to do with my own analytic skills, Gillespie does not say. Now, I'm not above lobbing some insults at people who deserve them. But you need to combine the insult with a response on the merits. Gillespie is essentially conceding my point that de Rugy has no idea what she's talking about.

Second, note that Gillespie defends de Rugy from my characterization of "ideological fidelity" to the right by pointing out that she's libertarian. Even as a kind of ad hominum attack—she's a libertarian and you're a Democrat! -- this makes no sense even on its own terms. Notice I wrote "ideological fidelity," but Gillespie changes the question to partisan fidelity. In Gillespie's imagination, a hack like de Rugy, who toils for various right-wing organs and can be counted on to assail government 100% of the time, is ideologically unpredictable because she's a libertarian. Let's even put aside the question of whether a libertarian like de Rugy is non-partisan in any meaningful sense. (She's a classic GOP libertarian who focuses on economic issues that please the movement.) But of course even libertarians who equally advocate for left-wing foreign and social policy along with right-wing economic policy are hardly ideologically unpredictable.

Gillespie is giving voice to a frequent belief that because their movement is orthogonal to the partisan divide in this country, libertarians are inherently more intellectually honest than anybody whose belief system corresponds to liberalism or conservatism. This presumption of independence is considered so strong that it wards off the need to engage in any specific debate. If a liberal says a libertarian is wrong about some empirical point, then we may refute the liberal by noting that he's a partisan, while the libertarian thinks both parties are too left-wing and is therefore pure. So it's no surprise that Gillespie feels free to ignore the actual charge that de Rugy does not know what she's talking about. In his mind, her libertarian bona fides are a sufficient intellectual credential.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/75655/libertarian-sanctimony