The American Scene

An ongoing review of politics and culture


In Defense of Jim Manzi against Jerry Coyne

Jerry Coyne has, in his words, “deigned” to respond to my post criticizing an assertion he made in his TNR review of Robert Wright’s book, Evolution of God. In this response, Professor Coyne calls me a “flea”; makes fun of my last name by crossing out “Ponzi” and replacing it with “Manzi”; reviews the resume of another person, and asserts that it is mine; and describes my post as “tedious”, while responding to it with 1,500 words. His tone, in other words, is somewhat intemperate. I have found it to be an almost universal rule of debates and negotiations that when the guy on the other side of the table starts calling you names, it means that he doesn’t have much of an argument. I certainly think so in this case.

Before getting to what I see as the meat of our disagreement, I should clear up what I believe to be a couple of material misrepresentations of my post by Professor Coyne.

Read the rest over at The Daily Dish.

Worse Than a Waste of Time

My latest at The Daily Beast is captured well enough by the subhead:

Yes, the right’s complaints about Obama’s schoolhouse chat are cynical and paranoid. But there is a reasoned case for keeping him—and any president—out of the classroom.

Those who click through can learn about the role Pope John Paul II played in my Catholic school days.

The Left's Movement Bubble

Oh Van Jones, your past is so absurd that you’ve managed to align Glenn Beck and mainstream opinion! Is the Obama Administration unaware that a frighteningly large minority of citizens imagine that the president secretly harbors radical Marxist impulses that he intends to surreptitiously advance via the federal bureaucracy? It’s as though George W. Bush appointed a guy who spent years prior publicly agitating for the invasion of Iraq in order to seize its oil fields and establish an imperial foothold in the Middle East. (Heh.)

I’m surprised to see so many voices in the left blogosphere defending Mr. Jones. I’d normally be sympathetic to a guy who gets forced out of government for a faux-outrage controversy unrelated to his official duties. But this is the rare instance where, if you explained the past actions at issue to the average apolitical person, they’d regard the guy as someone who shouldn’t be entrusted to do any government job that affords a lot of discretion over millions of dollars, and any outrage they felt wouldn’t be faux.

Let’s be charitable and assume that Mr. Jones no longer holds the controversial views we’ve heard about. I am also sympathetic to the notion that there should be second acts in American life, and Meg Whitman’s recent endorsement provides some evidence that the guy was doing good work. But Mr. Jones’ defenders surely recognize that giving someone like this the benefit of the doubt would be an utter reversal of the standard historically and presently applied everywhere else in American politics by the left, the right, and the bulk of the American people.

In The Huffington Post Carl Popes calls the whole ordeal “a lynching.” Sigh. He writes:

Anyone who has been an effective advocate for these communities has said things that will sound shocking to people in some other parts of America — just as anyone who genuinely represents certain evangelical communities will have beliefs about morality that more-secular Americans might have a hard time with.
So lynch mobs can form up from all perspectives.

Wrong choice of metaphor! It’s perfectly acceptable for Americans to penalize presidents for appointing people whose views they find exceptionally odious or nutty — and also okay for presidents to decide those folks aren’t worth the trouble of defending. That goes for radical quasi-Marxists who sympathize with 9/11 truthers and radical evangelicals who think American foreign policy should hasten the end times by fomenting unrest in the Middle East. I can assure Mr. Pope that there are plenty of blacks and evangelicals who do great work in their respective communities and don’t hold these views!

The excellent Kevin Drum calls this a scalp for Glenn Beck. Look, Mr. Beck rants about all sorts of nonsense everyday. Most of it is ignored outside the Fox News bubble, except to mock it. Every so often, he’s sure to talk about something that the Obama Administration is actually unable to defend — and then lots of other people start talking about it, and a resignation happens. It’s kinda weird to attribute that to Mr. Beck.

Jane Hamsher writes:

If these groups, if these liberal leaders, let Jones just hang there while Glenn Beck pounds his chest and celebrates the scalp, we have no liberal institutions. What we have are a bunch of neoliberal enablers who have found a nice comfortable place in the DC establishment that they don’t want to jeopardize, a place on the new K-Street gravy train that they don’t want to lose. Dropping Van Jones from their rolodex is a small price to pay.
If there is going to be a serious progressive movement in this country capable of standing up for health care against an industry that spends $1.4 million a day on lobbying, we can’t just look to the members of the Progressive Caucus and say “hey, you, get something done.” They need cover. They need to know that they will be supported. And people like Van Jones who have given their lives to causes we say we value like prison reform and environmental advocacy need to know that they will be defended, and not handed over to Glenn Beck as an acceptable casualty in the battle for K-Street dollars.

This is basically the same argument that certain conservatives make when I criticize Human Events and World Net Daily — if there’s going to be a serious conservative movement in this country, they say, you can’t just have a bunch of Inside The Beltway elites. You need to loyally support the most energetic partisan fighters and the hard core among the grassroots, even if they have some associations or views or past statements that the average American would regard as nuttily odious. Ideological movements at most stay silent about these fringe friendlies — also see Ron Paul’s libertarians — so you’ll inevitably have a day when it’s the left calling for the resignation of some guy who signed an Obama birther petition. And I won’t feel sorry for him either.

But today’s reminder is that just as the grassroots right traffics in its paranoid nonsense, the grassroots left has subsections of people who are sympathetic to militant Marxism, 9/11 trutherism, and other idiocies that don’t seem to hurt their rise in that movement. This is why the average American is deeply suspicious of career political activists and people who rise via both parties into low level administration posts. They’re right to be! A lot of true believers climb ideological ladders in this country and wind up in government, leaving the average citizen upset because they suspect there are plenty of folks who aren’t ideological extremists, but are nevertheless qualified to fill those posts — they just don’t happen work in circles with connections to a partisan political world where loyalty to the cause is prized above all else.

All this helps explain why I also disagree with Andy McCarthy, who writes:

Obama picked Van Jones because Obama adheres to Jones’s Alinskyite views and tactics, and is entirely comfortable with what most of the public would see as the horrifying specter of Jones managing how billions of public dollars are spent.

I’ll bet Mr. McCarthy is familiar enough with the Bush Administration to know that all sorts of low-level executive branch posts were filled with people who happened to harbor extreme views of one sort or another — whether radical evangelical views or outside the mainstream foreign policy views or anti-immigrant views or even Smith Point misogynistic views — that President Bush decidedly didn’t share. They got their jobs because they were “in the movement,” secured loyalties by working within it, and happened to hold odious positions that bothered the president less than other odious positions because they belonged to kinds of people he knew personally, who seemed good-hearted in general, and were “on the same team.”

Mr. McCarthy and I are both speculating, but I’ll bet that’s what happened here too.