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Mistakes were made

[ 75 ] August 19, 2010 |

This is an admirable post by Matt Yglesias.

What I especially like is his willingness to conclude that his mistake in judgment on a specific issue was a product not merely of idiosyncratic circumstances, but of a structurally flawed way of thinking about the world, and specifically an over-willingness to trust elite opinion (this is especially impressive for for someone from Yglesias’ background, i.e. upper class Harvard grad etc.).

Comments (75)

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  1. wengler says:

    At least it wasn’t an article about how the opposition was right, but they were right for the wrong reasons.

    Seriously though, this was one of the dumber wars in modern history. It was very clear to rational observers that 1)Iraq didn’t have very much conventional ability to resist, 2) Iraq has a history of being ungovernable, 3) Iraq has a history of resisting occupation, 4) starting another war and occupation on the credit card would bankrupt the country of money, and 5) shooting the border guards and rolling through a country blowing shit up for no discernible reason would bankrupt the country of any moral authority(luckily Bush added the torture shit just to round this one out).

    Yglesias has basically laid out in this article that he was sucking up to the people that would be responsible for his future employment. Good on him for admitting it I guess. However being right and yet not paid for writing opinion pieces for a living has given me little solace.

    • Brodysattva says:

      You can call it as dumb as you like, and it’s not even clear Matt would disagree with you, but it really isn’t fair to gloss anything in his post as “sucking up to the people that would be responsible for his future employment.” Specifically, this implies dishonesty — putting a personal/social goal ahead of what one knows to be correct on the merits — and there isn’t really a trace of that in Matt’s characterization of his former thinking. It’s better on balance for someone like Yglesias to write posts like that than to not write them, so I don’t see what’s gained by reading it so uncharitably (in this case, uncharitably to the point of just pretending the post says something that it doesn’t say at all).

      • wengler says:

        Perhaps “sucking up” should be changed to the more favorable “groupthink”. It’s hard to put much trust in anyone that ever supported the Iraq War.

      • Oscar Leroy says:

        Brody: did you read the post? Here’s one of Matt’s reasons for supporting the war:

        “Being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite”

        One could argue that the only reason to attend Harvard in the first place is to be well-positioned to suck up to power, but I never would!

        • Brodysattva says:

          In the quoted bit, Yglesias is very clear that he is attempting to discern his own psychological motivations for having held a particular position — motivations that were not consciously held at the time but rather that he is self-aware and secure enough to be able to discuss in retrospect now. To read that sentence, in the context of Matt’s post, as suggesting that he was being willfully deceptive for reasons relating to social status is incredibly tendentious.

    • ajay says:

      wengler, Iraq doesn’t really have a history of being ungovernable. It has a history of being ruled by a strong central government. It also doesn’t have much of a history of resisting occupation. The Great Iraqi Revolt of 1920 was brief and entirely unsuccessful. Iraqi resistance in 1941 was even more pathetic.

      The rest of your points are good ones, though.

  2. When you compare Matt Yg’s post to John Cole’s list, you see that Matt is getting down to how thought-process is what underlies the numerous errors.

    I think the people who sold America & its elites on this Iraq War–those people understand thought processes really well. Well enough to know which thought processes will produce which political outcomes they want.

    Perhaps these processes should be where the left aims its attack.

    • CJR says:

      When you compare Matt Yg’s post to John Cole’s list, you see that Matt is getting down to how thought-process is what underlies the numerous errors.

      You’re right. Yglesias pretty much and says that he wanted to go against the hippies (hey, isn’t that the wingers’ reason for most everything they do these days?).

      Here we are in 2010 and hippie-punching is still very much in style.

      At least John Cole’s list of why he was wrong was straightforward (basically admitted he was an easily manipulated gullible moron).

      If this was just a matter of “Folks with Blogs” it would be harmless, but I think we’ve learned that the pundit class thinks that the purpose of foreign policy is to make them feel adequate and help ease whatever pain they feel from not getting laid in high school or from having to sit somewhere south of the band kids table.

      I actually don’t think that’s how we should determine how activities around the globe.

      That last sentence is what makes me a commie pinko.

      • Henry Holland says:

        You’re right. Yglesias pretty much and says that he wanted to go against the hippies (hey, isn’t that the wingers’ reason for most everything they do these days?).

        See also: some dude named Robert Farley and that dick Ezra Klein, who quite explicitly gave as his reason the DFH at UC Santa Cruz.

  3. CJR says:

    I was 21 years old and kind of a jerk. Being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite. My observation is that this kind of fake-dissident posture is one that always has a lot of appeal to people.

    I’m so old that I can remember the folks who were AGAINST THE FUCKING WAR being thought of as “free-thinking dissidents,” although no one actually used terms so nice as that.

    He sounds like somebody who decided to listen to Richard Marx and hate Kurt Cobain because “Nevermind” sold a bunch of copies and people started wearing flannel shirts.

    Though kudos for him admitting that he was just a 21-year-old jerk. Now: remind me why anybody cared what he thought?

    • Brodysattva says:

      It’s not so much why anybody cared then — I don’t think anyone’s even suggesting that anybody did care then. It’s the question of whether he can be trusted in general not to be making similarly bad errors now. Wengler in this thread says no, it’s disqualifying in perpetuity. I say that self-awareness counts for a lot, and the humility to air one’s self-awareness in public is a pretty good indicator that one has learned from one’s mistakes. Did you think or do anything unjustifiable and embarrassing when you were 21? Do you think that should define your reputation now?

      • CJR says:

        Did you think or do anything unjustifiable and embarrassing when you were 21? Do you think that should define your reputation now?

        We’re not talking about drinking a few too many beers, are we? I thought we were talking about getting wrong the most important foreign policy related to “should we kill people with powerful weapons” question of one’s generation.

        Maybe clue us in on how is reputation is defined now?

        • It’s not just getting the “should we kill people with powerful weapons” question wrong. It’s also cheerleading sending OTHER (poorer) people off to fight and die while safely ensconced at the Masters of the Universe Training Academy.

          Kind of speaks to his mindset at the time.

  4. I was 21 years old and kind of a jerk. Being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite.

    Pretty easy to be in favor of a war when you are a callow 21 year old, Harvard attending jerk, more interested in joining the “power elite” than putting any skin in the game.

    I’d have more respect for Yglesias had he translated that war fervor into action, quit Harvard and enlisted in the Marines.

  5. mycroft says:

    I’m unimpressed. But since I’m never going to be one of the people who can help Matt out in his career, I’m not the target audience.

  6. Brodysattva says:

    The general brain disease in this thread (wengler, CJR, russiannavyblog) seems to be the perception that the issue is what 21-year-old Matt thought in 2002. Nobody cares. The question is whether having thought something wrong back then (and at a tender age), no matter how egregiously, a person can ever have any credibility on anything again. I’m amazed that so many people think the answer is no.

    (1) Does anyone really want to argue for the general case of that proposition?

    (2) And the specific case seems to be (since claims of Yglesias’s dishonesty or moral turpitude, at least based on the linked post, are not really supportable) that he is simply too dumb to reliably analyze policy. Does anyone who regularly reads his blogging want to argue for that proposition? I don’t get it. He’s a very smart guy, not only right about a great many things but improving.

    • Brodysattva says:

      Adding, the imputations in this thread (mycroft being the most recent) of bad faith to Matt are ridiculous, both on the basis of the linked post and on the basis of Matt’s blogging on a daily basis. I just can’t believe that a bunch of commenters with whom I probably substantively agree on nearly everything don’t think that (a) someone of Matt’s demonstrated ability and policy commitments is actually a remotely valuable member of the progressive coalition, or that (b) the exercise of reviewing and discussing where one has gone wrong in the past is a worthwhile one.

    • wengler says:

      I really don’t think you get it. I turned 19 four days after the Iraq war started. I was so fucking angry about it. He was 21 at the most prestigious university in the US with the largest library and greatest amount of historical and governmental study resources in perhaps in the entire world. And he didn’t avail himself of any of it to make an informed decision. Instead he appealed to established authority where reason alone did not suffice.

      Even a cursory overview of Iraqi history would’ve told you that this was dumb as hell. It’s not so much that he may have been a stupid 21 year-old. Rather it is that as one of the very few paid representatives of the left in the US, he is still beholden to class interests and personal gain.

      • NonyNony says:

        You didn’t even need to do a cursory examination of Iraq’s history. You only needed to do a cursory examination of US history and review the reasons that were given by George HW Bush to not march into Baghdad in 1991. All of those reasons were still operational as of 2003 and they were still good reasons not to do it. Even had the WMD claims been true, it still wouldn’t have been a good reason to kick the country over instead of just continuing the containment policy and waiting for him to either move from “threatening” to “attacking a neighbor”. Yeah people might have died, but then by invading the country we guaranteed that people died anyway, and there was always a chance that Hussein would choke on a chicken bone and his successor would be someone the US could reason with. (Or he could have been like Castro and lived forever – that’s a risk but he still would have been contained and keeping Iran’s theocrats worried about their border.)

        That said, I’m considerably older than Yglesias or you and apparently that colors things for me because I’m not angry at him. It’s rare that a pundit of any standing comes out and not only admits he was wrong but is willing to review why he was an idiot in the first place. It doesn’t make me more willing to trust Matt Y’s judgment in the future – I still think he’s too inexperienced and needs to go out into the world for a while and do something other than punditry for a while to get some more perspective and experience before I’d even think about his opinion carrying weight. In that respect, though, he’s not that much different than the editorial line-up of the Washington Post, and at least Matt Y is somewhat self-reflective.

      • Hell, even a cursory awareness of US history over the ten or twelve years before the Iraq war should have been enough to raise doubt and suspicion as to the validity of the claims made in support of the war. Was there anyone who was paying attention who really thought that war with Iraq wasn’t in the cards from the moment the Supreme Court handed Bush the election? Even if you didn’t sense it then, how could anyone have failed to notice that Iraq was where Bush wanted to go after 9/11? How could anyone have listened to the mendacious stuff that was being put out back then and believed any of it? Yes, I’m looking at you, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, and all the rest of the Senate Dems.

        This whole adventure has been the result of a horrible combination of political cowardice, opportunism, and a general lack of critical thinking. Yglesias admits as much, and the fact that his admission comes ten years after the fact suggests that he’s a bit slow on the uptake. Maybe next time he’ll be more skeptical.

    • Ed says:

      And the specific case seems to be (since claims of Yglesias’s dishonesty or moral turpitude, at least based on the linked post, are not really supportable) that he is simply too dumb to reliably analyze policy. Does anyone who regularly reads his blogging want to argue for that proposition? I don’t get it. He’s a very smart guy, not only right about a great many things but improving.

      I was once as young as Yglesias but I never took Tony Blair to be anything but a pious fraud. (Apparently Yglesias was not a big reader at Harvard or he would have found a great deal of material backing this view of Blair, proffering evidence.) I no longer read little Matt with any regularity but when I do I’m likely to see items almost as fatuous as those he was writing back then. Fortunately he has nothing to fear from the likes of me.

      Unfortunately we cannot draft careerist brats from Harvard and force them to go off and fight the “military adventures” on which they advocate sending poorer folk, but that’s the way of the world.

  7. CJR says:

    The general brain disease in this thread

    Thanks for the unsolicited 2002 flashback.

    Jesus H. Fuck.

    • Brodysattva says:

      Ok, sorry. Substitute “The sense in which I am most puzzled by commenters’ failure to discuss the relevant aspects of the matter at hand”.

      • Thanatz says:

        Very smart guy Matty Yglesias, July 28, 2010:

        From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it.

        In case any one thought that either his morals or analytical capabilities had improved in the last 8 years…

        • ajay says:

          Makes sense. Keynesian approach is for the government to increase spending in a recession, in order to create demand. Spending money in Afghan wouldn’t be the best way to create demand in the US, because not all of the money would come back to the US; but a lot of it would. (Supplies for the troops bought from US manufacturers, for example.)

          It would be better to spend it in the US, because then none of it would leak; but it’s better to spend it in Afghan than not to spend it at all.

          • Brad Potts says:

            Spending on wasteful military applications is a horribly destructive form of stimulus.

            First off, it doesn’t provide much of a stimulus, as more workers are employed, but little more is being produced for them to purchase. If inventory levels have adjusted, military spending is nothing more than inflationary spending.

            Secondly, government spending in specific sectors creates impetus for government to continue to promote those sectors. Greater military spending now means one of two things in the future:

            1. A lowering of military spending. This will cause some major structural problems within labor markets, as workers who were trained and employed within the MIC can no longer find employment within that sector and will meet with a great deal of friction in adjusting. Meanwhile we should expect rippling effects as inventory stocks will need to adjust lesser demand.

            2. Continue military spending at elevated levels which we cannot afford.

            Government spending is very, very hard to get rid of, and any form of government spending that gets tagged as temporary will more than likely just get continued on until major political upheaval occurs.

          • Pepe says:

            Military keynsianism is a myth. And with the exception of ww2 has never worked in the US (and some argue that our involvement in fighting ww2 wasn’t what pulled the US out of depression (we increased production capacity to supply the various combatants, and after the war, all our competitors were destroyed, which really helped).

            Wars help a very few people become very rich; the rest of us, not so much.

            Wars cost lots of money that could otherwise be spent on better and more productive things.

        • mark f says:

          That’s some incredibly dishonest selective quoting, Thanatz. That’s the first of two sentences in the concluding paragraph to a post about how continuing the war in Afghanistan demonstrates the lie that is deficit hysteria. Here it is in context:

          From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it. But it’s kind of nuts that at a time when we “can’t afford” to do all kinds of things, this is what we can afford.

          Even granting that writing a misleading blog comment is small potatoes, Thanatz’s doesn’t say much for his morals or analytical capabilities.

          • Anonymous says:

            Let’s try a little paraphrasis of the “full” quotation since context was apparently so important to understanding its sophistication.

            From a standpoint that completely fails to grasp the basics of Keynesian multipliers, I believe that it’s better to keep continuing to kill Afghans as long as it’s the best “stimulus” our depressed economy can hope for in this political environment.

            As Pepe remarks above, military Keynesianism is a myth, but even if his back-of-the-cereal box conception of Keynes were correct, it would still be an abhorrent rationale for continued occupation. If you fail to see that, I’ve got A Modest Proposal for you….

            • Thanatz says:

              That’s me above, and I mean Yglesias’ back-of-the-cereal box Keynesianism of course.

            • mark f says:

              But if you read the post you’d know it’s not a rationale for continuing the occupation, which I don’t think he’s even in favor of.

              It’s a post about members of congress who vote against domestic spending bills (because the deficit is scary) but for continued war funding (because they think the cause is important enough). Whether he’s correct in calling himself a Keynesian or correct on the theory of military Keynseianism is tangential. His only point is that even so-called deficit hawks agree that deficit spending is a-ok when they think the project is important. Oh, and that he thinks “the performance of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost Province [is not] more important to the long-term interests of American citizens than the performance of the Riverside County Public Schools.”

              I don’t know if you’re being disingenuous, self-righteous or just dumb, but your interpretation isn’t even plausible if you read the whole post.

  8. Martin says:

    I’m with Brodysattva here. I think the case for going in was a good deal better than those contra position are letting on. I also think a lot of commenters here are dumping on MY in an incredibly easy and snotty way.

    The existence of WMDs isn’t even *quite* as central to the pro-war case as we like to pretend. The structural absence in all anti-war argumentation is, “what would have happened if Saddam or his sons were running Iraq in 2005, 2010, 2015?” That never gets adequately addressed.

    I myself basically held a pro-war position (barely, and after much agonizing) until about February 2003. The thing that made me switch, although not with much anger, was that I came to the conclusion that the Bush administration’s handling of what might be regarded as a necessary war would prove to be incompetent. On this point, I was surely right. The likelihood of utterly massive mistakes being made was so high, that the war was not justifiable.

    The reason I say that WMDs were not quite central (still very important, but not all-determining) was that the proper way to regard the situation in Iraq was not so much as the commencement of a new war as the resumation of an ongoing conflict that had been going on during the entire 1990s. Seen that way, the rationale for invading Iraq is not nearly so poor.

    However, the risks were high, and the people in charge were incompetent — that was enough for me. But in principle, the justifications for war from a UN point of view — the many, many warnings, and violations, and so forth — were quite strong. Saddam was a very serious problem that had to be dealt with somehow. The trouble is, George W. Bush was the president and Donald Rumsfeld was the SoD. Those two facts were the best case against an invasion you could have.

    • Brodysattva says:

      Sorry, but in no way is my position in this thread that Matt Y. was correct in 2002-3 or even any less wrong than all the snotty commenters here keep harping on. Rather, as I keep trying to explain seemingly in vain, the question is whether a reputation can ever be redeemed from such an error. I say yes. Everyone else seems to think no. No one wants to engage me on this. I’m finished.

      • Martin says:

        You’re being awfully sensitive, there. The objective reasons for being pro-war, even if not definitive, play some role in the question of whether MY has the credibility to be a commentator now. And I was more focused on your statements at the outset about whether MY was actively making dishonest arguments. Again, my post goes to this point. I’m fine to disavow our little solidarity here. Just don’t get so mad about it.

        • The Dark Avenger says:

          In that respect, though, he’s not that much different than the editorial line-up of the Washington Post,

          With apologies in advance to Eugene Robinson, that’s a pretty low standard you’re advancing there.

          The existence of WMDs isn’t even *quite* as central to the pro-war case as we like to pretend.

          Not to get all 2003 on you, but what color is the sky in your world?

          SEC. RUMSFELD: Not at all. If you think — let me take that, both pieces — the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

          Second, the [audio glitch] facilities, there are dozens of them, it’s a large geographic area. It is the — Answar Al-Islam group has killed a lot of Kurds. They are tough. And our forces are currently in there with the Kurdish forces, cleaning the area out, tracking them down, killing them or capturing them and they will then begin the site exploitation. The idea, from your question, that you can attack that place and exploit it and find out what’s there in fifteen minutes.


          Link

          The reason I say that WMDs were not quite central (still very important, but not all-determining) was that the proper way to regard the situation in Iraq was not so much as the commencement of a new war as the resumation of an ongoing conflict that had been going on during the entire 1990s. Seen that way, the rationale for invading Iraq is not nearly so poor.

          Read the statements about why the country wasn’t occupied after the 1st Gulf War that were given by members of the GHWB Administration after that conflict, those still held true in the time frame you’re looking at.

      • The Wrath of Oliver Khan says:

        If that’s your question, I will agree with you that yes, it is possible to redeem a reputation from an error like this, with the stipulation that I do not believe MY in particular has actually done that.

    • wengler says:

      Saddam Hussein was one guy. Invading Iraq meant you shoot the border guards who were in their own country not shooting at you or doing anything harmful against you. We usually would call that murder- invading other people’s homes, killing them and taking their shit.

      But in Iraq it really is OK cause Saddam wasn’t integrated into the western global market system which meant his country’s oil was a big thorn in the side of the ultimate goal of ruling the world. Our plutocratic rulers do have goals and plans as to how to accomplish them. Unlike those shiftless hippies always calling them moral monsters.

      Now we have victory with a country unable to form a government, a troop presence of 50,000 not even labeled due to political expedience, and a billion dollar embassy compound that really doesn’t look THAT much like a viceroy’s abode. But Saddam is gone all right. And that was all that mattered.

      • Ed says:

        Now we have victory with a country unable to form a government, a troop presence of 50,000 not even labeled due to political expedience, and a billion dollar embassy compound that really doesn’t look THAT much like a viceroy’s abode. But Saddam is gone all right. And that was all that mattered.

        Yes, we’ll have five, count ‘em, five “fortified compounds” protected by no fewer than seven thousand private contractors, upon which the Obama Administration is even more abjectly dependent than its predecessor.

    • witless chum says:

      Saddam was a very serious problem that had to be dealt with somehow.

      This was the part that I didn’t agree with then and don’t agree with now. Saddam certainly wasn’t a threat to me in Kalamazoo and I, like everyone else, thought he had at least a good chem weapons stockpile. I thought we were going to get our troops gassed for nothing.

      Maybe that’s too isolationist, but first do no harm works as a foreign policy principle.

    • Brad Potts says:

      I might have agreed with you back then if I wasn’t already convinced that containment of Saddam was working, and if I wasn’t already convinced that the idea we could improve Iraq’s political situation by blowing the shit out of it was fucking stupid.

  9. Unfortunately, Yglesias still hasn’t gotten over his desire to suck up to the elites, including the pro-business one, as Kevin Drum points out here. Yglesias:

    Regulate business to prevent negative environmental externalities, sure. Basic safety, okay. But the idea that what we need is for a bunch of people to get together and say that it would be better to ban this and that and the other capitalist act between consenting adults just strikes me as the wrong way of going about things. Purely economic regulation of this sort doesn’t have a compelling track record, runs into all kinds of Hayek-esque knowledge problems, and is basically an open invitation down the road for regulatory capture and the use of rules to prevent the emergence of competition. Count me out…

    …I try to adhere to the principle I outlined here and resist the urge to call for regulating the business practices of private firms when the issue isn’t pollution or some other case where the externalities are clear.

    This is just the kind of “let-the-invisible-hand-give-us-all-hand-jobs” bullshit that you would get from any Republican shill. I see no evidence of a change in his “structurally-flawed thinking about the world.”

    • Thanks for that link to the Kevin Drum post. It’s a really good elaboration on how sticking to “economic principles” has led to a world in which humans are treated less humanely.

      • Brad Potts says:

        That is pure silliness.

        Are you calling for random action?

        Economics is supposed to be valueless. It doesn’t deal with shoulds, it deals with hows. No matter what goals you want to pursue, economic thinking will be necessary to pursue those goals. Government action without economic analysis is just shooting in the dark.

        And there is no “economic principle” that states we should treat people less humanely. If you wish to treat people more humanely, you decide that you want to do that, and then try to figure out how to do that. This is where economics comes in.

        If any part of economic analysis has lead people to be treated less humanely, it has been the modeling of huge complex systems that are treated as a single entity rather than what they are: groups of people trying to get by and make things better for themselves.

        These models have gained traction, however, not from the free market (it has little need for them), but rather from government economic policies in search of justification.

        I agree completely with Kevin Drum that power relations are completely out of whack, and that economic modeling really, really breaks down when power relations get to that, but the answer to that is decentralized economic decision making that doesn’t depend on modelling economic systems with no regard for the human element.

        Ultimately, I would simply like to see an alternative to the “‘let-the-invisible-hand-give-us-all-hand-jobs’ bullshit” that both directs the economy towards humane treatment, but doesn’t rely on economic principles that treat people as indistinguishable clogs in a machine.

        • BillCinSD says:

          but one reason power relations are completely out of whack is because economics pretends it is valueless, when that is not true. The exclusion of political economy from economic thinking has destroyed economics.

          Fr instance did you know the value of your life fell by 8% (11% when adjusted fr inflation) in 2004? and fell by nearly $1 million between in 2008? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25626294/

          This is because economics only values lives through the prism of economics, so modeling economic decisions always ends up screwing people.

          Finally I think a good case can be made that Pareto efficiency and really all attempts to remove the political from economics lead to treating people less humanely, the statement is explicit, but that has been how these have been used by people pretending that economics is valueless

          • Brad Potts says:

            I agree. Economic study is almost never value-free and we really have no way of determining whether studies are not ideologically driven.

            I also agree that often libertarians and neoliberals are way too quick to try and use the market to implement solutions.

            That doesn’t mean I dislike the free market, it just doesn’t work the way they want it to.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Maybe it’s because I’m a product (mostly) of public education, but when I read Matt Yglesias, I get a strong whiff of Ross Douthat. The whole Ivy League notion of privilege and presumed superiority wafts off of every sentence. I don’t expect a guy with a Harvard degree to try to come off as Bruce Springsteen, but reflexively looking to social and politcal (and religious) elites for guidance, and then believing that such guidance would in any way be beneficial to the majority of people bespeaks a very sheltered and cosseted existence.

      To Brody’s point: Can such a one be redeemed? The answer: Yes–after actually spending some time in the trenches. Maybe Matt needs to take a year off and register voters in Mississippi, or work in a migrant farmworker clinic in California’s Central Valley, or even pack fish in Alaska. Time spent away from the elite (and the wannabe elite, in the McMegan mold) would do him–and his audience–a world of good.

      • Brad Potts says:

        Lets face it. Yglesias doesn’t matter.

        Until people like in positions like Timothy Geithner are exposed to anything other than the Ivy League -> Corporate Executive -> Government Bureaucrat way of life and exposed to real failure (rather than just having his decisions cause failure for everyone else), we won’t see any change of any value.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Charles Rangel was after something like that when he pushed for universal conscription–that the privileged would be forced to spend time among the non-privileged and would be forced to eat the same ration of turd fed the non-privileged.

          Charles Rangel is now in a heap o’ trouble for doing stuff that would have gotten him an “attaboy” if he were a Repub. Coincidence, I’m sure.

      • strategichamlet says:

        “Maybe Matt needs to take a year off and register voters in Mississippi, or work in a migrant farmworker clinic in California’s Central Valley, or even pack fish in Alaska.”

        Would you say that people who do those things are “Real Americans” and that Matt’s just a “coastal elite” who has his book learnin’ but has none of that real folksy wisdom that comes from slaughtering pigs or whatever?

        • DocAmazing says:

          I would say that he has little enough clue as to what most people have to go through to put food on the table. Here on the coast, we have lots and lots of poor and working-class people. Not to have first-hand knowledge of the circumstances of their lives leaves a pundit more likely to make recommendations that will work to the detriment of poor and working-class people. It’s not so much Sarah Palin as it is Karl Marx. Of course, if you really believe we’re a classless country, there’s not much I can say to you…

  10. Brad Potts says:

    A load of crap if you ask me.

    I am younger than Yglesias, but I could remember at the time being dismayed by America’s propensity to rush to war, so I don’t know where he gets the idea that the US military was unduly constrained.

    I might buy the “elite signaling” nonsense if he doesn’t continue to buy in to “elite signaling”, and if there weren’t any number of elite who actually were elites (experts) who pointed out the folly of the Iraq War before it started.

    And how could anyone have misread the politics at the time? It appeared to be absolutely plain that the WMD case was exceptionally weak, that very, very important members of the executive had plans for relaunching the Iraq War for years, and that the majority of congress was pandering to brown people-hatin’ populism.

    Yglesias knows he was wrong, we know he was wrong. This blog post should have never occurred.

    Especially when I more or less thought of Yglesias as a hippie basher who was way to deferential to the political elite before he wrote this.

  11. mark f says:

    I’m with all the folks congratulating themselves for having gotten it right in 2003, especially the ones who were relatively young at the time. I’m one too! Yay us!

    I’m about Matt’s age. If I were to analyze my own thinking from the time I doubt I’d find I opposed the war for reasons that were more mature or worth being proud of than Matt had for supporting it.

    But I was right, so I don’t have to bother. Woo! Mark F rules! Matt Y sux! High fives to everyone else too!

    • Brad Potts says:

      I opposed the war because I was aesthetically opposed to war and neither the cause or leaders that would lead the war convinced me that I should veer away from my general distaste for violence and killing.

      I believed then and still believe that you could not have supported that war unless you were apathetic towards deaths of thousands of innocent people.

      • mark f says:

        I’m not saying that the reasons I’d have listed in 2003 would look naive or invalid in hindsight. I’m saying that I was 21 years old and perhaps would’ve arrived at that list because I’d made a callow decision to be a “radical” or a contrarian or whatever.

        • Brad Potts says:

          This may be true for me as well, but I really question anyone’s ability to come out in support of the Iraq War as a matter of trying to be a radical without having some serious problems in his/her moral compass.

          First, Yglesias’s numerated list can be shortened to “I felt like American authorities did not have enough authority to control foreign nations” and it correlated pretty well with much of the discourse of the time, so the idea that he was simply being even a “fake-dissident” rings a little hollow.

          Second, and more to the point, I tend to think that one has developed a moral compass by the age of 21, and if one manages to take a dissident position in favor of destroying a society, one’s immature rebellion hardly serves as a worthy excuse.

          Even if you and I were dissidents out of a desire to rebel, at least we weren’t so unconcerned with human life that we didn’t decide to rebel on the side of killing. Even if Yglesias has left that youthful rebellion behind, I still would have questions concerning his lack of regard for those whose lives were destined to be destroyed by the war.

      • dave says:

        Aesthetically? Really? You think that’s a good reason to take political decisions?

  12. Brian: I’m a fuckin’ idiot because I can’t make a lamp?
    Bender: No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.

    Difference: Matty Y says he’s a handyman.

  13. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    I think Yglesias is a privileged twit, but I’m with the crowd that says if you’re young and single and support a war, you better fucking enlist. I was a much bigger war supporter than Yglesias, and I put my money where my mouth is by enlisting. I think people can change their views for the best, but Yg still gives off an annoying “I’m an Ivy league grad who had led a privileged and sheltered life” vibe.

  14. snarkout says:

    Are people unaware that Yglesias admitted he was wrong about the war and publicly apologized about it six years ago?

    …I was wrong. Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn’t going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been. I blame, frankly, vanity. “Bush is right to say we should invade Iraq, but he’s going about it the wrong way, here is my nuanced wonderfullness” sounds much more intelligent than some kind of chant at an anti-war rally. In fact, however, it was less intelligent. I got off the bandwagon right before the shooting started, but by then it was far too late — this was more a case of CYA than a case of efficacious political dissent.

    • DocAmazing says:

      nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones

      Hell of an apology, there, chief.

  15. Ed says:

    This trip down memory lane does remind me that had Gore come to power we might well have invaded anyway. We do seem to have been approaching a consensus among the power elite that Something Must Be Done. At the very least we would have had airstrikes and a tightening of the sanctions that were destroying the infrastructure of the country and the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

  16. Ohio Mom says:

    Well, these days Matt Y. writes a fair bit about education policy, which is something I know a little about. He is wrong, wrong, wrong on that, too.

    He has plenty of very articulate and informed commenters who patiently explain the mistakes he is making. Often they outline the ways in which his elite upbringing is clouding his judgement, and they regularly suggest that he volunteer in his local public school so that he’d have some real experience on which to base his opinions. I obviously can’t know if he reads his comments or not, but I do know that his employer and his girl friend hold the same mistaken views, so I’m guessing he’s not educable on this subject right now.

    Maybe in another ten or so years, he’ll write an apology for all the dumb things he wrote in support of high-stakes testing and the corporate take-over/dismantling of public education. And everyone on this thread can have practically the same discussion we’re having now, all over again.

    • So, basically, the dumb fuck is wrong about everything.

      I have the feeling that when Gibbs was lambasting “the Professional Left” for not being grateful that Obama was President instead of McCain, Yglesias was probably agreeing with him, and raising his little contrarian fist to the heavens, yelling, “I’m not one of them!”

    • larryb33 says:

      His education writing is especially infuriating.

      I don’t think he really cares about anything he posts on. His writing is so detached. Everything is just a thought experiment.

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