Why I Am Not a New Atheist

Four HorsemenI was just listening to a lecture by PZ Myers about the Backlash Against the New Atheists at Skepticon 2 back in 2009. That’s actually a bad title for the talk, because Myers is really discussing the claim that the New Atheist movement is doomed to failure. In particular, some have argued that the movement is already fracturing into a bunch of subgroups who fight with others. Myers pooh-poohs this idea because atheists are not in open rebellion — as though Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses couldn’t all get along at a conference where all they did was mock atheists.

The truth is that there is a problem in the New Atheist movement. I am an atheist. Yet I won’t self-identify as a New Atheist. For one thing, I don’t want to be associated with Richard Dawkins, who seemed to think that totally legitimate complaints about sexism in the movement were invalid because western women’s genitalia aren’t being mutilated. Dawkins waited three years before offering the most pathetic of apologies. Unfortunately, the truly vile public statements made by Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris will never even get that. In Harris’ case, I’m afraid we will have to live through decades of him finessing his racism.

But my problem with the New Atheist community is much deeper than this. As long as the movement is talking about religions, it is okay. But once they start talking about what they believe in, they show the true depth of their thinking. The following is a condensation of everything that you will hear at Skepticon about what atheists believe:

I believe in rationality. I only accept things that have proof.

This is patently false. Think about the Big Bang. As a physicist, I think it is reasonable to say that I know a lot more about it — especially the reasons why it is our current best theory for the origins of the universe — than the vast majority of atheists. Yet my knowledge is still based upon my faith in a whole lot of other people. I haven’t read Penzias and Wilson, much less Doroshkevich and Novikov. And because I have been on the inside of it, I have a much more skeptical attitude towards the scientific process than most atheists. But I do have faith in it because it works. The plumbing in my house works. The lights go on when I flip the switch. I have good reasons for believing, but believe I do.

I’ve long said that the strongest argument for creationism is “God is testing me!” It goes like this: God doesn’t want to make it easy for me to get into heaven. So he created the universe 6,000 years ago — Saturday afternoon — about tea time. And he did it in such a way as to make arrogant science types like myself just think that the universe is 14 billion years old and that humans evolved from single cell organisms. I’m not joking: this is the strongest argument for creationism. The reason it is strong is that it can’t be argued against. It might have happened. And unlike the “missing transitional fossils” and other creationist arguments, it never has to be updated.

If we go even deeper, we see that humans are not nearly as rational as we think. And atheists understand that to one degree or another. They understand that regardless of how much they try, their decisions about what president you vote for will not be rational. But they will doubtless be able to rationalize it. So why is it that religious faith is so important to condemn but not political faith in choosing a president? Most religious people are not fideists. I’d be happier if we stuck to attacking that, but the assumption in the New Atheist community seems to be that any religious person is a fideist, and that is not, you know, a rational or “evidence based” assumption.

The New Atheist community would be better off with this statement of belief, because it is more defensible:

I believe in things that work.

Of course, you have to be careful even there. I’m constantly amazed that people say things like, “Placebos don’t work.” That’s actually something you hear quite often from skeptics. But the truth is that placebos do indeed work. If they didn’t work, then scientists wouldn’t have to include them in their drug trials. The point of such trials is to find out if some expensive drug works better than a placebo, not to see if it works at all. The brain is complex and it is able to do amazing things.

Sam HarrisSo I think the question here is whether religion works. And I think, for many people, it does: for both good and ill — often in the very same person. And to not admit this strikes me as a very unappealing form of closed-mindedness. Probably the best example of New Atheist irrationality is the notion that there will come a day when people get beyond religion. The evidence for this? Zip. It seems much more rational to me to believe that in the year 2525, man will not still be alive.

But I don’t want to give the impression that I am more rational than the rest. It’s most likely that I have rejected the New Atheists because I feel rejected by them. Ontology-ignorant New Atheists (about as close to a redundant phrase as you get) love to tell me that I’m not really an atheist. Instead, I am supposedly an agnostic. For the record, I am as agnostic about God as I am about whether World War II took place.

Penn JilletteThe point is that there are divides in the New Atheist community. Why are the members of Atheism Plus going to want to continue to affiliate with the likes of Sam Harris and Penn Jillette? Movements are based upon what people believe. And ultimately, people who believe in social justice will care a whole lot more about that than in what happens to religion. And Penn Jillette will care more about keeping his taxes low. And Sam Harris will care more about his guns or whatever it is he’s into these days. What is this great thing that the New Atheists believe in? Evolution? So do Catholics! What does that prove? I know a whole lot of Republicans who believe in evolution, but that doesn’t make me a Republican.

I don’t see the New Atheist movement dying out. But I also don’t see it taking off. Even while America gets less religious, it doesn’t seem to be getting more atheistic. It will always be like libertarianism — a small, but important group — mostly because it attracts wealthy and privileged people. But I suspect that the New Atheist movement gains members at roughly the rate that it loses members — like me.


The image at the top of this article is of the “four [straight white] horsemen”: more or less the very definition of New Atheism. Notice that it consists of two bigots, one sexist, and Daniel Dennett.

After Afterword

I finally listened to the rest of the lecture. Most of the rest of the lecture is even worse. It amazes me that someone as smart as PZ Myers could be so clueless when he gets out of his area of expertise. I think the people arguing for the end of the New Atheist movement are wrong, and yet his counter arguments don’t hold up. It may be due to the fact that making good counter arguments would reveal just what an elitist (and thus limited) a movement New Atheism is. Regardless, you can’t counter a likely evolutionary basis for religious belief with, “But life would be better without religion!” Life might be better without meat too, but I still think that vegetarianism will always be a minority position.

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Robert M Price on Historical Analogy

The Human BibleMy favorite example of the principle of analogy is this. Suppose you come into your house or apartment from a long day’s work. You just plop down on the chair, click on the TV with the remote — you don’t notice what channel it is — you weren’t the last one to use it. The first thing you see on the screen is a giant reptile looming above the Tokyo skyline — stomping the buildings into matchsticks. What’s your first reaction? “Oh, CNN!” No. You realize, “Okay, I got the SciFi channel” — or whatever they’re calling it now. It’s Godzilla. It’s The Lost World — something like that.

Well, you don’t know that! There you go with those presuppositions again — your anti-monster dogmatic worldview! It’s conceivable. I can imagine Gojira coming out of the water and all that. I don’t know how it would be, but I can’t rule it out. But I can’t take it too seriously either. Because I know of no experience by any reliable — Or unreliable! — witness. I do know of plenty of cheesy Toho Studio flicks in which this happens. So I have to assume this is another one. I could be wrong. It’s a probabilistic judgement. But what are the chances? And that’s all you’ve got.

—Robert M Price
Jesus is Dead

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US and Israel Deserve Better Than Netanyahu

Benjamin NetanyahuI want to express how I feel about Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress yesterday. The problem is that about a year ago, I decided to remove coarse language from blog posts (except when quoting someone). And it seems that most of what I want to say really needs to be laced with profanities to get across my anger. I want him to leave my country and never come back. I want Israel to do something about him. As far as I know, the people of Israel are not too fond of how partisan Netanyahu has made relations with the United States. During the 2012 election, he was pretty clear who his choice for president was. But it should be clear to everyone in the world that Israel desperately needs the support of the United States. And if one of the two main political parties begins thinking that Israel is more of a problem than it’s worth, that’s very bad news for Israel. The only way that I could be more angry at Netanyahu is if I were an Israeli.

Let me be clear: the argument that Netanyahu is making is the argument that people always make when they want to stop negotiations. I heard it made again and again about the Soviet Union: it was so bent on world domination that it absolutely couldn’t be trusted to act rationally. These arguments are always shown to be wrong. That doesn’t mean powers like the Soviet Union or Iran are teddy bears that just want to spread sunshine in the world. But as Matt Duss summed up Netanyahu’s argument, “Iran is run by crazy suicidal apocalyptic mullahs who will crack under greater economic pressure.” But the world is a complex place with competing interests. Netanyahu claims that he wants a better deal for the west, but it is clear that what he wants to do is kill the deal. I’m sure he sees this as the best situation. This is also the man who sees the best situation for Israel as more and more illegal settlements to the point where a two state solution is impossible. As a senior administration official said, “The logic of the prime minister’s speech is regime change.” That is: war with Iran.

I think that Nancy Pelosi summed up what I’m feeling, except that I’m not sad; I’m angry (although she followed it up with a bunch of nonsense):

That is why, as one who values the US-Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5+1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.

It’s also interesting that the Republicans who rightly bristle at President Obama’s executive action on immigration, should stage a stunt like this. It’s almost treasonous. In their giddy rush to embarrass the president, they have allowed a foreign leader an official opportunity to undermine the nation’s foreign policy. This is not “power of the purse strings” here; this is blatant sabotage. And it doesn’t matter if it is done with the foreign leader of an ally. They are siding with a foreign leader. To embarrass the president. This is the Congress that was going to show the nation that it could govern. I suppose this is one definition of it.

On this particular issue, the interests of the United States and the world do not line up with what Netanyahu thinks are the interests of Israel. We already knew that. He’s been whining since the negotiations began. There is no deal that he ever would have been okay with. If the emerging deal were half as good for the P5+1, he would have said it wasn’t good enough. If it were twice as good, he would have said it wasn’t good enough. No deal is good enough because in his mind Iran is the Islamic State is Nazi Germany. He wants an invasion of Iran. And I can’t say if that’s in the interests of Israel or not — in the long term I suspect it isn’t. But I know it is not in the interests of the United States and the world.

H/T: Vox


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Is Nick Rowe a Cannibal?

Nick RoweNick Rowe is a real economist, and to say that I am not would be putting on airs. But I think he chose an article title that is more true than he realized when he wrote, A Silly Question for Anti-Austerians. In it, he argued that everyone is an austerian, it is just a matter of degree. He put forward an example, “Suppose the national debt was, let’s say, 1,000% (ten times) annual GDP. And suppose the budget deficit was, let’s say, 50% of GDP.” If you would favor austerity under those circumstances, then, in analogy with the old joke about prostitution (“Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?”), it is just a matter of degree.

It is a silly question, indeed. I don’t think Rowe intended it as such, but it is the kind of question meant to shutdown debate rather than encourage it. It is the economics version of the ticking time bomb torture hypothetical, which I have discussed before. It is a form of apologetics, not real argumentation. It is a way of making difficult words meaningless. And the weird thing is that I don’t think that Rowe is an austerian. Not that it matters.

When Paul Krugman talks about someone being an austerian, he isn’t saying that under certain incredible circumstances she would be for austerity. Rather, he’s saying that she is for austerity under, for example, current European conditions. Rowe seems to be arguing that Krugman oughtn’t be able to do that because he too would be for austerity under some conditions.

Let me give you an analogy. Cannibalism is a continuum. Despite the fact that generally, humans will not eat other humans, there are times when they will. Specifically, people will engage in cannibalism when they are starving. And I really don’t believe people who claim that they would never do such a thing. The will to survive is incredibly strong. And let’s face it, as disgusting as the very idea is to me, it is just a social construct. So should we go around calling each other cannibals just because, under the right conditions, we would eat human flesh? Should we not be mean to Jeffrey Dahmer by calling him a cannibal just because we too might be cannibals under some circumstances? I certainly don’t think so. Words are not, nor should they be, linguistic straitjackets.

Now I image that Rowe might counter me by claiming that one only becomes a cannibal once one actually eats human flesh. But that is not what he is proposing. He isn’t suggesting that the word “austerian” be applied as a practical description: “He is an austerian when it comes to Greece but not when it comes to Finland.” And even that would be to trivialize the language. It’s very much like saying, “She’s a lesbian when it comes to attractive women but not when it comes to ugly women.” What’s with that? That just isn’t helpful in discussing anything.

Even though such hypotheticals really are silly and ultimately stop discussion by leading people down an intellectual cul-de-sac, that doesn’t stop people from being very interested in them. Indeed, there are gobs of comments on the article. But most of it is really about massaging the hypothetical. I didn’t see anyone who questioned the basic validity of the hypothetical. In addition, Rowe even pushed back against people trying to “dodging the question.” And that is the pernicious aspect of such hypotheticals. They even confuse those who are proposing them.

But I’m reasonable. Nick Rowe can call me an austerian if I can call him a cannibal.


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Morning Music: Enzo Enzo

Le Jour D'à Côté - Enzo EnzoI may be in love again. I just discovered Enzo Enzo. It is hard to classify her. Most of her career, she was a chanteuse in the nightclub sense of that word. But in 2001, with the release of her fourth studio album Le Jour D’à Côté (“the next day”) she turned in a more traditional pop direction. And she’s done at least one album of children’s music. But I can’t find that much information about her. She’s certainly well known in France. But she isn’t necessarily a big star or anything (although according to All Music, she seems to have become a “household name” over the years).

The following is the music video for the first song on Le Jour D’à Côté, “Ils S’Adorent” (“they love”). I could do without the snake, but it is nice enough. And the song is very sweet with the bare minimum of sexy for a French pop song.

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Birthday Post: Ray Mancini

Ray ManciniToday, the boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini is 54 years old. I’m not a boxing fan. And watching the lighter weight classes box is particularly brutal to watch — I assume because the ratio of punching energy to body size is greater for the lighter fighters. Mancini was a lightweight, which actually puts him in the middle of the boxing classes: between 130 and 135 pounds — still pretty small. So I have never seen Mancini box, so far as I know; and I don’t want to.

The only reason that I’m highlighting him today is because of the Warren Zevon song, “Boom Boom Mancini.” It’s one of my favorite Zevon songs. It tells the story of Mancini’s match against Duk Koo Kim in 1982. Mancini won the fight with a knockout in the 14th round. But Kim died four days later from injuries he sustained in the fight. Kim’s mother killed herself four months later. The referee killed himself a bit short of a year later (I can’t say for certain it was related to the fight.)

Zevon’s song takes aim at the hypocrisy of the boxing establishment and the nation as a whole. But it also seems to present a defense of men jumping into the ring and beating each other to death. The truth of the situation is that Kim’s death resulted in positive changes in professional boxing. Even worse, the song presents Mancini as cold blooded in response to Kim’s death, when it was just the opposite. How could it not?

Happy birthday Ray Mancini!

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The Independence Delusion

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias brought my attention to some important but unsurprising recent data, Americans Are Making a Big Mistake About Healthcare. That mistake is that, overwhelmingly, they don’t think that the government subsidizes their healthcare. Overall, roughly 15% of Americans admit to getting their healthcare subsidized. I’ll get to why that is wrong in a moment, but first I want to point out the one thing in the poll that did shock me: only 7% of Americans over the age of 65 thought that they had their healthcare subsidized. How do you spell “Medicare”? D-E-L-U-S-I-O-N.

I suspect that this is due to the fact that people think they have “earned” their Social Security and Medicare. This is not true. You could just as easily say that everything that ever comes from the government has been earned because the people pay taxes and the government provides benefits to those who qualify. Of course, this is not what seniors mean they claim to have earned their Medicare. Almost to a person, the amount of money paid in isn’t even close to the amount paid out.

But these seniors who are convinced that the government ain’t given them free medical care are the ones most likely to vote for conservative candidates who want to cut welfare. So this Medicare delusion is serious business. But of course, it isn’t limited to this. There are all kinds of ways that the government gives out welfare. And the government does it in such a way that the richer you are, the less likely you are to see it as welfare. I discussed this a couple of years ago in an article, Hidden Welfare for the Rich. My favorite example is the mortgage interest deduction, which almost no one thinks of as welfare, but which clearly is. (Read the article!)

Healthcare Subsidy Poll - 2015

Yglesias explained in his article why it is that almost everyone has their healthcare subsidized. It is for pretty much the same reason that the mortgage interest deduction is welfare. Before Obamacare, you generally got your insurance from one of two places: government (Medicare, Medicare, VA) or employer. Clearly, getting it from the government is getting subsidized healthcare. But getting it from an employer is also getting subsidized healthcare. Your insurance is part of your compensation. But you don’t have to pay taxes on it. Thus: a subsidy! What Obamacare does in the healthcare exchanges is to provide people who don’t get their insurance through an employer the same benefit the government has long been giving to people who do get their insurance through an employer.

Ouch! Suddenly all those people complaining about freeloaders just sound like a bunch of privileged jackasses who have no idea that they too are freeloaders. That reminds me of something…

In the late 1970s, someone thought it was a good idea to turn The Paper Chase into a television series. (Actually, it isn’t a bad idea; but I don’t think it was well executed — at least during the first season.) In one episode, Hart was tutoring an African American woman. And he had a real attitude about it because, you know, Affirmative Action. So Kingsfield had him do a paper or something that caused Hart to have to read the Affirmative Action clause of Harvard, and Hart learned that he too might have been helped by the program because of growing up on a farm. And Hart improved his attitude in the way that only an hour long television drama can.

Unfortunately, all those Fox News watching freeloaders are never going to have their “road to Damascus” moment. They will remain convinced that welfare is just something that those people get. The good conservatives deserve everything that they get. This continues to be a huge problem in this country. The modern world is unbelievably complicated. We are all interconnected. But we have set up systems that allow the rich to pretend that they have done it all themselves and forces the poor to think that they are dependent — and that they are alone in their dependence. This is a delusion that we can ill afford.


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The Senator With the Snowball

Sheldon WhitehouseYou can believe NASA and you can believe what their satellites measure on the planet, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball. The United States Navy takes this very seriously, to the point where Admiral Locklear, who is the head of the Pacific Command, has said that climate change is the biggest threat that we face in the Pacific… you can either believe the United States Navy or you can believe the Senator with the snowball… every major American scientific society has put itself on record, many of them a decade ago, that climate change is deadly real. They measure it, they see it, they know why it happens. The predictions correlate with what we see as they increasingly come true. And the fundamental principles, that it is derived from carbon pollution, which comes from burning fossil fuels, are beyond legitimate dispute… so you can believe every single major American scientific society, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball.

—Sheldon Whitehouse
Climate Skeptic Senator Burned after Snowball Stunt

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Republicans Signal Support for King v Burwell

Orrin HatchRemember the good ol’ days when Orrin Hatch was considered a right wing loon? That was fun. Now, of course, he’s one of the more reasonable Republicans in Congress. Well, he and Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso took to The Washington Post on Sunday to trumpet the news, We Have a Plan for Fixing Healthcare. And contrary to the repeated claims of Jonathan Chait, these three establishment Republicans are cheering on the Supreme Court in King v Burwell. If the Supreme Court finds that “the administration acted illegally” and “[m]illions of Americans may lose these subsidies,” well never fear: “Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions”!

I hit back on the idea that Republicans were coming around to see that this case was toxic, It Is Still Best That King v Burwell Fail. This recent OpEd by the three amigos shows that the Republican Party thinks that in this case, as in all others, they can finesse their way through any problems that arise. Basically, they are just pushing Ben Sasse’s idea that Congress would pass a temporary funding bill until they replaced Obamacare with something that doesn’t turn the nation into North Korea. And they have a plan!

Just kidding! As Ezra Klein reported, Republicans Say They Have a Plan if the Supreme Court Rules Against Obamacare. They Don’t. But before I talk about that, let’s suppose that they did. This Congress is going to pass a temporary funding bill?! They can’t even manage to pass a bill to embarrass the president. Are we really supposed to believe that they could manage to get half of the Republican majority in the House to sign onto extending Obamacare? You’d have better luck getting them to pass a resolution that Satan is their lord and master. And I don’t use that comparison lightly, given that most of those Republicans think that Obama and “his” law are Satanic.

So what is this cunning plan? First, as mentioned, they will extend the existing subsidies for some length of time — Sasse mentioned 18 months, so let’s figure that, because the three elephants of the apocalypse didn’t tell us. Then, they will replace it with a new plan. Are you ready for it? Because this is it in its entirety:

[W]e will give states the freedom and flexibility to create better, more competitive health insurance markets offering more options and different choices.

The rest of the article is just the usual boilerplate about “Obamacare’s costly mandates and rules.” And there is this exciting news, “We have had many discussions with our Senate and House Republican colleagues on this issue, and there is a great deal of consensus on how to proceed.” There is apparently so much consensus that this is why they only mention one thing that Obamacare already allows! And that shows what the real point of the article is. It is meant to signal to the Supreme Court that it is okay to gut Obamacare with this silly lawsuit.

Remember, this isn’t Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert writing this OpEd. This is a trio of establishment figures. This is the Republican Party giving its okay to the conservative hacks on Supreme Court to screw over 11.5 million people (it’s only 6 million if you only look at those directly effected). I still think that the lawsuit will be defeated. In which case, The Washington Post has given the Republicans an opportunity to claim that they too want to help working Americans, even though they clearly could not care less.

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The “Moderate” Voter and the Selfish Pundit

William SaletanDigby wrote an interesting article over at Slate yesterday, Attack of Radical “Moderates”: How Tea Party and Liberals Are Both Being Swindled. It focuses on an Ezra Klein article from last year that somehow I missed, No One’s Less Moderate Than Moderates. And this, in turn, involves some recent research by a couple of political scientists who demonstrated something that really should have been obvious: statistical techniques were grouping together as “moderate” people who actually had extreme views on both the left and the right.

I’ve been saying this for years. Digby calls the views incoherent, but I don’t think that’s generally true. In my experience, people are fairly conservative in their social beliefs and fairly liberal in their economic beliefs. There is nothing inconsistent about being virulently anti-immigrant and being in favor of taxing the rich more. And if you think about it, criticizing this viewpoint is kind of offensive. Rich business owners are pro-immigrant and anti-tax. In both cases, the people with those views think that these beliefs are in their best interests. (Working class people are probably wrong to be anti-immigrant, but the economics of the matter is certainly not obvious.)

DigbyBut what neither Digby nor Klein talk about is what I see as the major disconnect: why is it that most people are of the social conservative and economic liberal type, while the standard “moderate” in the media is a social liberal and economic conservative? If you’ve been reading me these past many years, you know my answer: it is that the media we get is not a function of what consumers want; it is a function of the interests of upper class journalists.

Way back in 2012, I wrote, Serious Centrist Saletan’s Selfishness. (I like alliteration too much sometimes.) My point was that William Saletan’s “centrism” (he actually self identifies as a “liberal Republican”) is just a function of what is best for the greater good… of William Saletan:

The reason that Saletan and his peers share this kind of political outlook is clear enough: it speaks to their personal interests. They are socially liberal because the corresponding views improve their lives. They have friends who are gay. They’ve had girlfriends who have had abortions. Their careers depend upon a strong first amendment. So their lives would be poorer and their bank accounts too, if the social conservatives got power in the United States. As a result, they are socially liberal—even extremely so.

On the other side of things, they are rich. Whether on the TV, in newspaper, or increasingly even on the internet, pundits are rich. They are all well inside the top 20% of earners. As a result, Saletan finds it easy to be a booster for so called free trade. No Chinese worker is going to take his job. (Not that there aren’t about a million who could do it as well.) But unionized IT professionals might reduce his income. And increased taxes on the upper class could certainly reduce his income. So it just makes sense to argue that Social Security must be cut while ignoring the obvious fix of increasing the payroll tax cap, which it just so happens would increase his tax burden.

Of course, as Klein quoted one of the researchers as saying, “When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want.” It’s more or less the same thing. For example, no one I know thinks that Thomas Friedman is anything but a joke. However, in the upper-middle and upper classes he has a reputation as a sage. And this is why his next book — “The World Is Shaped Like a Taxi Driver In Dubai”? — will have a media campaign with only slightly fewer resources than the invasion of Normandy.

Think about it this way: people don’t demand this or that person become a columnist. In the pre-web days, newspapers couldn’t even know who was popular with readers. (Although they could tell who was popular with other columnists and the elite!) Now it’s different. But not that much different. When Forbes listed the Top Liberal Pundits, many of the people on the list were not liberals: Andrew Sullivan, Maureen Dowd, Christopher Hitchens, Chris Matthews, Fareed Zakaria, Jon Stewart, Thomas Friedman, Fred Hiatt, Arianna Huffington. Some of these people are conservative — the rest of “moderates” — usually of Saletan mold. This is what Sullivan had to say about being on the list:

For the record, I support a flat tax and, as my liberal readers know, find progressive taxation unjust and counter-productive; I’m skeptical of universal healthcare on European lines and have long defended a free market in healthcare and pharmaceuticals… [And on and one and on. -FM]

The “top” liberal was Paul Krugman and I rather wonder if Krugman would have developed his following and influence in a pre-web world. As I recall, he was brought to The New York Times to write about international economics. It was only because George W Bush was such a terrible president that Krugman turned to domestic matters. But even with all that, I really wonder how long he would have lasted under Fred Hiatt.

The main takeaway here is simple: “moderate” in the media environment is nothing more than code for “what is believed by the elites.” That’s not to say that there aren’t actual moderates. Jon Stewart is certainly one of those. The fact that he is generally seen as “liberal” is an indictment of our political system. But it is clear that we should be very careful in using the “moderate” label — especially as it applies to the American voter. Because very few of them are actually moderate. What they are is populist. And given that what they want is exactly the opposite of what the elites want, it is no wonder that reporting on them glosses over this important distinction.

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