Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mickey Kaus Is A Hack

Yes yes, I know. That's so totally shocking. Kaus is a hack. But I was just over at Legal Fiction, where Publius disses Kaus, but refers to him with the obligatory "sometimes-astute Mickey Kaus" reference before saying that the guy is wrong, yet again. But is it really necessary to give credit to someone, simply because they sometimes get things right? Is that really a standard deserving special mention? I get things right all the damn time, but Pub hasn't even referenced my astuteness even once!

And it's not just Mickey. I see the same kind of stuff written about Thomas Friedman, Andrew Sullivan, Richard Cohen, Christopher Hitchens, and many other famous, but wrong pundits/columnists who occasionally side with the liberals. And what's up with that? Why do we give any props to these guys, who are almost always wrong? As I point out in Pub's comment section, anyone can be right sometimes, and it takes more skill and consistency to always be wrong. And we have lots of lesser-known guys on our side who are almost always right. So why are we giving any praise to these fools?

I say that, but I already know the answer. It's because we like to appear moderate, and it looks good to praise someone who normally disagrees with you. Additionally, when we see confirmation from someone who shouldn't agree, we take that as a double-positive. Like when conservatives use the "liberal" NY Times and New Republic as confirmation of how non-partisan a position must obviously be. The only difference is that, with the conservative's authoritarian-based attitude, they somehow expect the NY Times stance to trump our own, and believe that we'll fall in line because of the newspaper's influence upon us. And then they take it as a sign of extremism on our part if we don't change our position to match the Times.

But I don't work by that principle. If anything, we should triple-check anything that these guys come up with, because their brains are so obviously wack. In school, it's generally considered to be pretty stupid to cheat off of the guy who fails all the tests, even if he does get some of the answers right. And I refuse to use an idiot as my confirmation. It's always important to doubt ourselves, but the confirmation comes from your own diligence, and perhaps double-checking with other smart people; not in checking with the guy whose answers are expected to be wrong. That's just common sense.

These guys aren't even shooting 50%, so why do we treat them as if they're infrequent expert marksmen; when what we really mean is that they don't always suck.

The Quickie Kaus

But I'm an evidence-based kind of guy, and I realized that I hadn't read Kaus's site in a long long time. So I thought I'd give it another looksie. And while it wasn't as offensive as the last time I read it (during the election season, when he had too many cheap insults to toss off against Kerry), it was still fairly offensive. And the weirdest thing about Kaus is the mixture of conventional wisdom, written in a contrarian's style, but with the over-the-top hubris and smug manner of a full-on wingnut. Especially with his absurd use of exclamation points(!!!), which you'd think he'd have run out of by now.

Overall, he's really not saying anything too important or earth-shattering, but he acts as if he is. He's like a conservative hack, but who lacks the ideology to do it properly. It was all style and little substance. In fact, it was actually much more reminiscent of a gossip column than a political blog. Gossip columnists don't care about truth. They just like to dish out gossip. And that's what Kaus is all about. It's not about conveying truth or getting a bigger picture or making the world a better place. It's just about finding more snark to dish out, and having fun doing it. He's clearly wanting to rub our noses in something, but I was at a loss to figure out what it was; or if it was my nose at all!!

And so I skimmed a few of his posts, which I couldn't necessarily agree or disagree with, until I read this one from Wednesday, regarding a WaPo article titled "U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq". And I almost skipped past this one too. But then I thought, "why am I taking Kaus's word for what this article said. Isn't that the whole reason why I'm here?" And of course, as I found out, his summary of the article was completely absurd and offbase. And his basic complaint wasn't really that the article was flawed, but that it wasn't the article he thought he'd be reading.

Which is typical of guys like Kaus. They make the world fit their views, rather than vice versa. And if they pay enough attention to realize that what their opponent said didn't match up to what they expected, they complain about that too! In this case, Kaus is upset because the Post didn't provide evidence for an article it didn't write.

Fantasies Begetting Fantasies

And so Kaus writes stuff like this about the article: "Am I the only person who found it thin and unconvincing? When I read, in Wright's lede, that the "Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq," I expect to see a depressing Kerry-like acceptance of a post-pullout stable military autocracy or acceptance of an Iran-style religious state--something that would really suggest that the invasion wasn't close to being worth the costs."

And he points out a bunch of things from the article which were things we already knew. About lack of electricity and security, and whatnot. And he mentions that the article quotes one U.S. official about Iraq becoming an "Islamic Republic", but writes "But there's no indication that this "Islamic republic" won't be democratic--e.g. that it will be de facto ruled by mullahs as opposed to elections." His main point being that the evidence given in the article doesn't match up to what the headline claims.

And if this article was about providing new evidence that Iraq "wasn't close to being worth the costs", then Kaus is right. There was no new evidence of that (though the old evidence is fairly damning on that point). But that's not what the article was about. The article was about U.S. officials lowering their sights on what can be achieved in Iraq...just as the headline says. And the evidence needed for that article would be quoting U.S. officials saying that they aren't so optimistic about what can be achieved in Iraq, compared with what they believed before. Which makes sense, as this article is about the opinions of U.S. officials, and not on new evidence.

And my proof of this isn't taking secondary evidence from the article, but taking the related stuff. Like this quote: "What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

Now mind you, this quote doesn't say the "war wasn't worth it", something that Kaus expected to find. But it is a sign that the U.S. has lowered its sights of what can be achieved in Iraq...just as the headline said. Or this quote: "U.S. officials say no turning point forced a reassessment. "It happened rather gradually," said the senior official, triggered by everything from the insurgency to shifting budgets to U.S. personnel changes in Baghdad."

Again, it doesn't say "the war wasn't worth it", but despite Kaus's best argument, the headline never said that either. And it ends with this quote, from someone who is no longer a U.S. official, but is likely to represent their opinion:
"The most thoroughly dashed expectation was the ability to build a robust self-sustaining economy. We're nowhere near that. State industries, electricity are all below what they were before we got there," said Wayne White, former head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team who is now at the Middle East Institute. "The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries, large private manufacturing, the national electric" system. Ironically, White said, the initial ambitions may have complicated the U.S. mission: "In order to get out earlier, expectations are going to have to be lower, even much lower. The higher your expectation, the longer you have to stay. Getting out is going to be a more important consideration than the original goals were. They were unrealistic."

And there were more quotes like that in the piece. And again, the headline was about the U.S. changing their expectations, and the article reflected that by showing their opinions, along with citing facts which would explain why these officials have lowered their sights. And nothing in the headline or lede suggested that it would provide brand new evidence of why this is happening, or that it would show that the "war wasn't worth it", as Kaus expected.

So what's up with that? Kaus even adds this at the end: "P.S.: I'm not saying the Bushies haven't drastically lowered their expectations recently. I'm saying Wright doesn't show it." And yet I just quoted several parts of the article which clearly do show lowered expectations. Which was the point of the article, and what the headline and lede directly referred to. And remember, not one of the quotes I gave was even mentioned in Kaus's hackery.

Propagandic Expectations

And I suspect that part of Kaus's problem is that he's a victim of the propaganda mindset, so prevalent in our conservative thinkers; and sees everything through the prism of what the writer must want to be happening. If someone writes a negative article about Iraq, they must be implying that it wasn't worth it and that everything is falling apart. And so Kaus looked through the article for evidence to backup that unstated propaganda, and couldn't find it; and then declared the headline to be misleading...even if the headline did summarize the article nicely.

But if, instead of assuming that it was anti-Bush propaganda, he took the headline at face-value; he'd have seen that the U.S. officials quoted in the piece were saying that their expectations were lowered. And that it wasn't an opinion piece against the invasion, but rather one giving factual quotes from anonymous U.S. officials. And had Kaus been upset at the anonymity or something, I could understand. But that wasn't his problem. He was upset because the propaganda that he had imagined wasn't supported by the article that was written.

So Kaus denounces an article that wasn't written, and ignored the one that was written. And what's worse, he didn't even refute any of the points he imagined had been made, but just made snide remarks implying them to be false or irrelevant; based on nothing else than that they might be false or irrelevant. More to the point, he invented an article that fit his expectations. Just like his ilk has done for years, even getting us into this war. And ironically enough, it was this fantasy-based way of looking at life that forced Kaus into the warhawk category, which even now forces him into writing the absurd post that I'm referencing.

Typical Fantasist

And this is crucial to understanding everything that Kaus writes. I mean, how could anyone intelligent bungle such an obvious and straightforward piece? Sure, few people get everything right (your host here being the obvious exception), but how can someone who lives this deeply into a fantasy be considered right about anything? It's one thing to have ignored the article, but to denounce it as he did, even searching it for quotes and points in the writer's favor, and he still gets it wrong?? How is that possible, from a sane person? The very point he was making was clearly and obviously wrong, and there can be no doubt about it. Yet we're supposed to listen to this guy? Kaus gets one of the precious few blog links from the great Josh Marshall, while a working schlub like me gets ignored? That makes no sense.

And again, I had almost ignored this post by Kaus. Even though my point was to find this sort of fantasy-based hackery, I almost gave him a pass on this mess, believing that he couldn't really have bungled such a straight-forward article. Hell, the only thing complicated about it is if you were trying to find something wrong with it. If you were trying to find a bias. So you'd actually have to go out of your way to disagree.

But so it was with poor Mickey, and all because he's still an unrepentant warhawk who has to disagree with any such story. Luckily, my spidey senses told me that there might be a problem here, and I saw that the article was the exact opposite of the one that Kaus portrayed it to be.

Other Hackery

Anyway, I skimmed quite a bit of the other stuff, but I really couldn't find anything to sink my teeth into. He seems quite opinionated, but it was almost always impossible to understand why he had that opinion, or what you should do if you disagreed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that he was stating facts either, as he generally wasn't. But it was really all more like reading a gossip column. Because he never explains anything, and just accepts everything in an "it is as it is" kind of fashion.

Oh, there was a post about "Comparable Worth" which I know little about, so I can't protest it. Though this article by a supporter of the idea doesn't seem to match up with Kaus's absurd explanation of it. The article I just cited made it sound somewhat reasonable, if not all-encompassing. And Kaus's explanation made it sound ridiculous and something that everyone reasonable would reject and has rejected. Especially as Kaus only referenced the idea of forcing wages down for male workers, while the supporter's article only referenced raising wages for females. But again, Kaus wasn't interested in informing his readers of why they should oppose Comparable Worth. He just wanted to attack it and its supporters. And if any information regarding the idea happened to slip through, well, nobody's perfect. Even the worst of us can't be 100% fact-free.

Oh, and just to tie-in with what started this post, he cites old articles from the "neo-lib" New Republic and Washington Monthly as evidence that it wasn't just cons who were against it. Because anything that any liberal source writes ends the discussion of partisan bias.

A Nihilist's Nihilist

But that's part of Kaus's M.O. To misstate what his opponents believe, without really saying much else. And he always finds exactly what he's looking for, because that's all he wants to find. And the only reason that I can find for why he's not a complete wingnut is just because he wasn't one to begin with. Good upbringing, I guess. In fact, from the little I read, he seems more like a nihilist who doesn't care enough to say that all is for nothing. He wants to toss-out snark and disparage everything, but in a kewl-kids "I'm just sayin'" kind of way, so we don't mistakenly believe that he actually cares about any of this stuff.

Is it fair to conclude this, while only having dissected one post, referenced one other, and read only a handful of posts? Yes. Because there really wasn't much else to his site. Were one to write an opposing post to this one, one which showed Mickey to be a genius extraordinaire, they'd have a much harder time than I did with this one. Because he stays focused on speculation, cheap insult, and vague references which he feels no requirement to substantiate. Even the tight-lipped link bloggers, like Atrios, have an obvious message of where they're going and stand up better for what they're posting on. Atrios is the King of Snark, but even he has a positive message of how things should be and what we need to do to move forward.

But Kaus just seemed like a complete mixed bag of hooey, the intent of which seems solely to let us know how great Mickey is and how everything he's ever believed has turned out to be accurate (or at the least, that you can't prove him wrong, using the strongest definition of the word "proof"). He's almost all negativity and second-guessing, and despite his prominent place in blogdom, I can't imagine that our discourse would be affected at all by his absence. Had Mickey Kaus not existed, I seriously doubt man would have invented him.

And this is because his blog has nothing to add to the political world. Rather it's just a reflection of his own mind, and bares little or no resemblance to the real world. Sure, he might get stuff right, but that's purely luck and has no consistency to it. Any other blogger given a similar prominent place on Slate's website could achieve as good of a record for astuteness as Mickey Kaus; and many bloggers could do far better. Again, I didn't disagree with much of what he wrote. I just saw no reason to agree with anything either. Instead, I just saw a hyperactive self-important man who lives in delusional world of gossip, misstated hyperbole, and many many exclamation points(!!!).


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, you're wrong.

So very, very wrong.

Doctor Biobrain said...

You're absolutely right. I guess I just hadn't seen it like that before. I apologize.

Anonymous said...

Wow - that's much more thought and attention than Kaus deserves. And you nailed him perfectly (I read him pretty regularly, for levity.)

TTN said...

Nice -- way to make Kaus your bitch.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that sounds like why I avoided Kaus after following a link to him a few times. One thing, though: you start off saying that Kaus is intelligent but blinded by his bias, but later you talk about his "M.O." and seem to say that he deliberately mischaracterizes what his political enemies say. Which is it? Personally, I think it's the latter: he knows quite well that they aren't saying that and is deliberately misleading his readers. I base that on two facts: a) he is clearly smart enough to read simple plain-English articles, and b)he sounds nasty and petty.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent treatise on the undeniable and remarkable hack-ness of Mickey Kaus. I have long marvelled at how openly hack-like Mickey Kaus is. What's even more amazing is that there are still people who are such losers that they buy into his smug infantile self-satisfied schtick.

Anonymous said...

An excellent, detailed analysis of an unworthy subject, as you claimed elsewhere. Years ago, I filed him in the "don't read: boring and confused (but how did he get somebody to pay him to write this crap?)" category.