Blogging, Andrew Sullivan, and Vicissitudes of Acclaim

Andrew SullivanI haven’t done that many live blogs. And to be honest, I always feel bad doing them. They don’t strike me as very useful. I like what I do in the hours leading up to the debates. Then I have time to post related things. That is probably useful to people who are excited about the debate and who find me vaguely interesting. But once the debate is on, there is so little time. It’s hard to write more than a sentence before the topic moves on. But I felt a lot better after reading, Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the Final Presidential Debate.

For a contrast, you can check out my own, Live Blog: Third Presidential Debate 2016. What you will see if you take the time (I don’t recommend it!) is that Andrew Sullivan wrote a good deal less than I did and didn’t make a single point that I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean I’m a good live blogger. It means that Sullivan sucks at it. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Why Does Anyone Care About Andrew Sullivan?

The truth is that I’ve never much understood why people thought Andrew Sullivan was a big deal. He’s never been very insightful. In fact, he is the very definition of what Digby calls a Villager. For those who don’t know, The Village:

It’s shorthand for the permanent DC ruling class who have managed to convince themselves that they are simple, puritanical, bourgeois burghers and farmers, even though they are actually celebrity millionaires influencing the most powerful government on earth.

And I think that explains Sullivan’s popularity. In the early days of blogs when people called them vanity websites, you found a lot of people like, well, me: idiosyncratic and ranty. But where could establishment types go when they wanted to tune into this trendy new thing called a weblog? Well, there was Andrew Sullivan: the walking, talking embodiment of Very Serious Thinking.

You know, Andrew Sullivan gets a lot of negative attention because of what he wrote shortly after 9/11:

The middle part of the country — the great red zone that voted for Bush — is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead — and may well mount a fifth column.

He gets the attention because of what he says about the coasts. And rightly so. But notice who easily he speaks for “the great red zone” in the middle of the country. This is a place that Sullivan knew precious little about. But that’s what makes him a Villager: he tells the power elite that what they want to hear is what the average Joe is for.

Andrew Sullivan Used to Be Good at Something

The one thing that Andrew Sullivan was ever really good at was provocation. He was the James O’Keefe of his day. And the things he’s know for — publicizing The Bell Curve and Betsy McCaughey’s attacks on Clinton healthcare reform — were mostly wrong and extremely damaging. But being right or helpful or good doesn’t matter in our economic system. He sold a lot of magazines.

So it is no surprise that he would watch the presidential debate and have less insight than I do. He never has had insight into anything.


I found it interesting that Sullivan’s live blog at New York Magazine used no live blogging software. Instead, at the top of the article it said, “Please refresh to update.” That really is pathetic.

Chris Wallace and the Austerity Tax

Dean Baker on 2016 July Jobs ReportAt the debate last night, moderator Chris Wallace challenged both candidates on the question of cutting Social Security and Medicare. The implication is that the country is threatened by the prospect of out of control government deficits. The question was misguided on several grounds…

The country’s problem since the crash in 2008 has been deficits that are too small, not too large. The main factor holding back the economy has been a lack of demand, not a lack of supply. Deficits create more demand, either directly through government spending or indirectly through increased consumption. If we had larger deficits in recent years we would have seen more GDP, more jobs, and, due to a tighter labor market, higher wages.

The problem of too small deficits is not just a short-term issue. A smaller economy means less investment in new plant and equipment and research. This reduces the economy’s capacity in the future. In the same vein, high rates of unemployment cause people to permanently drop out of the labor force, reducing our future labor supply if these people become unemployable…

The Congressional Budget Office now puts potential GDP at about 10 percent lower for 2016 than its projection from 2008, before the recession. Much of this drop is due to the decision to run smaller deficits and prevent the economy from reaching its potential level of output. We can think of this loss of potential output as an “austerity tax.” It currently is at close to $2 trillion a year or more than $6,000 for every person in the country.

It is unfortunate that Wallace chose to devote valuable debate time to a non-problem while ignoring the huge problem of needless unemployment and lost output due to government deficits that are too small.

—Dean Baker
Chris Wallace, Supply, Demand, and the Government Budget Deficit