Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jon Meacham's fuzzy brain

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, writes the cover story this week titled "America the Conservative: How a President Might Govern a Center-Right Nation." It is a pretty crappy piece. For example...

He spends an entire section analyzing the GOP's "lock on the White House" over the past 40 years, making the obligatory references to Republicans as the daddy party and Democrats as the mommy party, which I'm sure would make Freud happy but doesn't really offer much in terms of analysis. Also, let's look a bit deeper at this "lock on the White House" idea... So, in 7 of the past 10 elections, Republicans have won (going backwards: Bush, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Nixon). Two points. First, Meacham is cherry-picking his data; if he instead spoke of the last 48 years, LBJ and Kennedy get added to the mix, and now Republicans have won 7 of the last 12 elections. It is almost as if Meacham knew what he wanted to conclude and selected a time frame that best proved his point, rather than let the facts dictate his analysis. Second, I think it is a bit silly to look at 10 (or 12) of any event and try to make conclusions, the sample size is just too small. Limited data require limited conclusions, so if Meacham wanted to make some overarching point about the temperment of America when it comes to elections, one would think that Congressional elections, 435 of them every two years, would provide a much more robust set of numbers for him to analyze.

Second, while it is a phrase we hear a lot and thus accept, what exactly does center-right mean? As in, what defines the left, what defines the right, and thus how do we arrive at a definition of center? Unless you start defining left and right in terms of all other nations in the world, the phrase is pretty empty because it has no reference point. Are we more right than some countries in Europe? On some issues, sure, but we're also about to elect a black guy president.

Meacham's problem is one of definition, although he at least spells out what it is:
I mean "conservative" in the way most of have come to use it in recent
decades: to describe those who value custom over change, who worry about the
erosion of the familiar and the expansion of the state, and who dislike
those who appear condescending about matters of faith, patriotism and
culture (In other words, think of figures ranging from Edmund Burke to
Thomas Jefferson to David Brooks to Sarah Palin. It is an eclectic crew).

Actually, Jon, I'm pretty sure I'm a liberal and I too dislike those who are condescending about matters of faith -- who suggest that I'm going to hell for my beliefs about how the world works; patriotism -- who say that any dissent of the behavior of the executive branch is treason; and culture -- who suggest that anything outside the white Protestant 'lifestyle' is un-American. Further, Thomas Jefferson as conservative? Let's see, he was a major figure in the American Revolution, a major supporter of the French Revolution, thought that massive turnover in government should occur every twenty years or so, and openly questioned the divinity of Jesus Christ -- he's a conservative by your definition? I think you need a new definition.

Finally, Meacham write that "to be conservative is ... to be driven by a fundamental human impulse to preserve what one has and loves." WTF? Liberals don't like to preserve what they have and love? Liberals don't have a fundamental human impulse?! This quote epitomizes a rambling article by Meacham that doesn't make any damn sense.