the continuing fraud of Mickey Kaus

Daniel Larison once took me to task (check the comments) for saying that Mickey Kaus is a faux-liberal; it’s been my opinion that Kaus’s “I’m a liberal, just a reformer!” shtick is just that, shtick, a way for him to create  a nitch for himself. It’s not just his stance on things like unions, education and welfare reform, it’s the absolute and total prioritization of every conservative piece of his “neoliberal” agenda over the few sad shreds of genuine liberalism. It’s always unions. It’s always those good-for-nothing teachers. It’s always snarking about Obama. And that isn’t just the case now; it was the case during the entire Bush era, the period of the most damaging and destructive conservative failure in recent history. A man who lives through the Bush years and continues to act and talk like the greatest threats to American abundance and happiness are unions and welfare mothers is a liar or an utter fool.

I wonder, for example, if Kaus’s most vocal defenders could look at his reactions to this stimulus bill and continue to claim that the man has any desire to support liberalism or the Democratic party. In a massive stimulus bill, confronting the largest economic crisis in Kaus’s lifetime, which very well might determine the economic futures of millions of Americans for years to come, Kaus’s focus has been on… welfare reform. Yes, and not even a large welfare reform, but what is genuinely a minor change that amounts to a tiny part of a huge and vitally important bill. Because that’s what a liberal is worrying about, on the edge of an economic precipice and in the face of a slowdown that threatens poor Americans everywhere– those welfare-receiving fatcats. Don’t believe me that this is a tiny, tiny part of the stimulus bill? Just ask Mickey Kaus!

No, the stimulus bill doesn’t fully unravel welfare reform–after 1996, welfare is no longer an individual “entitlement,” for one thing (a term or art that triggered a whole slew of court-enforced rights). The time limits and work requirements are still at least formally in place. States can still do what they want, in theory, within much broader limits than under the old AFDC program. Many states, with little money to spare, may still refuse to try to expand their caseloads (even if they now have an 80% federal subsidy to do it). A debate on the issue might, in fact, help ensure that states don’t go crazy and recreate the bloated and socially disastrous welfare caseloads of the three decades before 1996.

Wow, what a damning case! A small change that probably can’t result in the results Kaus fears in the first place! It gets better.

More important, the debate would stop the Money Liberals in the Washington “antipoverty community”–e.g., Peter Edelman and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities crowd– before they can complete the rest of their agenda, which does involve unraveling welfare reform (eliminating work requirements, for example).

Because lord knows that scare quoting “antipoverty community” is the sort of thing someone who really cares about the liberal cause would do. Look, just load up Kausfiles and read the first ten, twenty items. What percentage of his posts contain anything at all that you would call sympathetic to the liberal cause? That bother to demonstrate an attitude of anything other than contempt and derision for the party and the ideology he claims to be a part of? Yes, people should broadly be permitted to define their own political identity. But if Kaus wants me to call him a liberal, I can say that he is an incredible ineffective, counterproductive and useless one.

Oh, and as a bonus, near the top of his blog today Kaus has one of his “Me? A liberal?” moments where he seems to let go of his pretentions to progressivism entirely, saying ” get an “Even … liberal blogger” cite. Hahaha. Take that, Even the Liberal New Republic.” See? It’s funny because Mickey Kaus isn’t a liberal! Whoops! Cat’s out of the bag!

Update: You should read Daniel. I have to say, I think that there simply is no way to read his regular “they called me a liberal! me!” sayings (and you can check the record) other than his disputing the idea that he’s a liberal. I’m open to arguments otherwise but I have never heard them.

Update II: Alright, alright. As a matter of principle, and not pragmatics, Larison is right. It is still true that, as a liberal, Kaus has certainly done far, far more than to hurt his cause than to help it.

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39 thoughts on “the continuing fraud of Mickey Kaus

  1. An obvious disanalogy between Kaus and Larison: Larison is ruthlessly intellectually honest, and Kaus just plain isn’t.

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  2. Are you kidding? How about being part of the “neoliberal” vanguard that utterly undercut the Democrats and liberals ability to fight back against Bushite conservatism, the greatest American disaster of my lifetime? When you take part in an effort to force your party and your ideology into a stance of constant and total capitulation, and then your party and ideology are deeply damaged from it, yes, you are to blame. And that is a lesson that I am not alone in learning, and we won’t be fooled again.

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  3. But Freddie, it seems to me that you’re arguing that unless a liberal is “liberal enough” then they’re not really liberal at all. So neoliberals worked across the aisle with Bush and co. so what? So hopefully some centrist Republicans will work with Obama, too. Does that mean they’re working to defeat the conservative cause? Whether or not you like the guy, I just fail to see where the distinction between liberal or not really matters.

    So critique neoliberalism, or Clintonian centrism…bickering over self-imposed labels seems to be a distraction from larger issues.

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  4. Freddie,

    Perhaps I am unfamiliar with the history you’re invoking, but I don’t see what you’re talking about. The most damaging thing that Democrats and liberals did to themselves during the Bush era is to go along with the Iraq War, and neo-liberals were certainly among prominent liberal hawks, but Mickey Kaus opposed the Iraq War.

    On immigration, Kaus opposed Bush as vocally as any liberal. The other Kaus obsessions — welfare reform, teachers unions, cars — seem peripheral to the major issues that went wrong over the last 8 years.

    What are the most damaging legacies of the Bush Administration? Foreign meddling? Budget deficits and profligate spending? Torture? Incompetence at high levels of government? I find it hard to see how Mickey Kaus enabled any of these things.

    Are you telling me that strident support of welfare reform and opposition to teacher’s unions are meaningful things that damaged Democrats and helped empower Bush?

    What specific stance did Mickey Kaus take that damaged liberals or empowered Bush?

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  5. So neoliberals worked across the aisle with Bush and co. so what?

    No. Neoliberals made progressivism into an object of ridicule while claiming to be reformers and utterly destroyed the ability of the ideology to defend itself against movement conservatism, which, I say without hint of controversy, has spelled utter disaster for the country for 8 years.

    What specific stance did Mickey Kaus take that damaged liberals or empowered Bush?

    The stance that liberalism is always the problem, the stance that the best way forward for any liberal in any situation is to tack to the right, the stance that the greatest danger to this country is always from the left and not from the right. None of those categoricals is anyway unfair or at all a misrepresentation of what Kaus thinks and says; if you think so, you have not accurately followed his position. Kaus does not just often critique liberalism; he makes critiquing liberalism his constant purpose, and he does it in a way that is not constructive, bur corrosive, because it assumes and asserts that the problem is always liberalism and its values. Kaus and the neoliberals didn’t reform liberalism, they destroyed its foundations, and perpetuated the idea that the media should always look skeptical on any kind of left-wing ideas of people. That attitude seeped into our culture and created the conditions that left no credible opposition to the Bushite right. The consequences for our country have been terrible. The damage had been done by the Iraq war; liberalism had already been hamstrung, and liberal already turned into an epithet. That’s not just because of Rush Limbaugh and a compliant media but because of people like Mickey Kaus telling liberals that they should feel ashamed to demonstrate fidelity to our most basic, most important policies and positions.

    Mickey Kaus has contempt for liberalism. Read his blog, and see if you can tell me with honesty that this isn’t the case. A reformer works to better his ideology and its core principles; Kaus has worked only to damage them and to marginalize those who would stand for them. And the time has come for decent people whose side was not the one responsible for the utter failure of the last eight years to say “enough”.

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  6. Hmmm…well, like I said over at Larison’s blog, I guess I just don’t read Kaus enough. Then again, isn’t it possible that Kaus, in his mind at least, is working to better his ideology? That he believes a centrist variety of liberalism is actually best?

    I only go back to this because it so irks me when say, Michelle Malkin or someone in her far-right coalition lambastes a centrist conservative in this very same way.

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  7. I only go back to this because it so irks me when say, Michelle Malkin or someone in her far-right coalition lambastes a centrist conservative in this very same way.

    Yes, but Malkin does so from the position that it’s better to be conservative than to be liberal. Kaus renders liberal a term of shame. I’m going to post a compendium of quotes for you guys sometime soon.

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  8. Yes, but Malkin does so from the position that it’s better to be conservative than to be liberal.

    Right and you’re operating from the stance that it’s better to be liberal than to be conservative. I fail to see how, other than being on opposite sides of the spectrum, it’s any different…? I don’t mean to compare you to Malkin–simply the tactic of decrying someone from the center as a “traitor” or as unfit to be “one of us.”

    But put that compendium together. I’m sure that essentially you’re correct that such centrists can cause the base of either Party a good deal of trouble. Kaus may indeed have done some damage to the liberal cause, just as Arlen Specter has probably hurt some rightish causes, too.

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  9. The stance that liberalism is always the problem,

    But Kaus neither thinks liberalism is always the problem, nor asserts that it is. The fact that he emphasizes problems with the left does not mean he thinks it is always the problem.

    the stance that the best way forward for any liberal in any situation is to tack to the right,

    Health care is a clear counterexample. Kaus argues that a vastly increased federal role in health care is desirable, and for decidedly liberal reasons: he thinks social equality demands and is furthered by everyone being in the same boat, sitting in doctor’s office waiting rooms together in the same way that they wait in line at the DMV.

    the stance that the greatest danger to this country is always from the left and not from the right.

    He neither thinks nor has asserted that as a general proposition. On immigration, he argued that the greatest danger to the country was from Bush and McCain. He voted for Obama, so he presumably thought that a President McCain was a greater danger to American flourishing.

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  10. Right and you’re operating from the stance that it’s better to be liberal than to be conservative. I fail to see how, other than being on opposite sides of the spectrum, it’s any different…?

    Malkin is proud to be a conservative. I am proud to be a liberal. Kaus is contemptuous– contemptuous, utterly and completely, and I choose that word with care– of liberalism. Not of what has become of liberalism, not of where liberalism is headed, but of liberalism himself.

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  11. Kaus is contemptuous– contemptuous, utterly and completely, and I choose that word with care– of liberalism. Not of what has become of liberalism, not of where liberalism is headed, but of liberalism himself.

    I’d like to see a Kaus quote asserting as much. What core tenets of liberalism does Mickey Kaus have contempt for? You disagree with the means that he emphasizes, and sometimes that means that he argues for, but I see little evidence that his ends and the ends of liberals are fundamentally at odds.

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  12. Kaus is contemptuous– contemptuous, utterly and completely, and I choose that word with care– of liberalism. Not of what has become of liberalism, not of where liberalism is headed, but of liberalism himself.

    I didn’t realize liberalism was a “he.”

    But in all seriousness, I mean look at all the conservatives who are quite literally contemptuous of conservatism, or at least the conservative movement. And I wonder if there is some liberal movement that Kaus may be contemptuous of, rather than of liberalism in general. Just speculating here.

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  13. Freddie is right on target here. Think of there being in any such political debate, at least two things that one can be at issue: one, what particular set of positions is _acceptable_ to be debated in the first place; two, what particular position is _correct_. Positions that are within that window of acceptability, but which one disagrees with, one argues against; positions that are not even within the window of acceptability, one simply mocks, or actively conflates with other beyond-the-pale positions (as “fascist” or “socialist”, etc.). Freddie’s problem isn’t that Kaus has argued for his brand of semi-liberalism as better than the rivals. It’s that Kaus has written in such a way as to suggest that the rivals shouldn’t even be seriously considered in the first place.

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  14. Okay, so it’s more a matter of style than substance here? That makes sense, I suppose. But even if that’s the case, how does saying “then Mickey Kaus isn’t a liberal” do anything? Wouldn’t it be more effective to critique his style if that’s the essential problem?

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  15. Kaus has written in such a way as to suggest that the rivals shouldn’t even be seriously considered in the first place.

    This is not so. Kaus doesn’t point to people who want to, for example, undermine the 1996 welfare reform law and say, “You’re idiots, nah nah nah.” His style is to offer a series of concise, specific arguments that what they’re going is wrong, and why it is wrong. The tone is sometimes contemptuous, yes, but he always offers substantive, specific reasons to back up his stances.

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  16. FYI, and old Kaus profile here: http://www.newsthinking.com/story.cfm?SID=185

    And one additional thought: Mickey Kaus is a liberal, but he is also someone who isn’t primarily interested in advancing the causes of a political movement. His is the journalistic project. Air arguments. Advance conversations. Adhere to logic. Be contrarian for the sake of stirring things up and aiding the ferment of ideas.

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  17. Be contrarian for the sake of stirring things up and aiding the ferment of ideas.

    But always, always, always to annoy and degrade liberals, Conor. That’s simply the case.

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  18. But always, always, always to annoy and degrade liberals, Conor. That’s simply the case.

    This is demonstrably false, and the demonstration is an easy one: immigration reform! Did Mickey Kaus depart from the pundit consensus and ding Bush and McCain to annoy and degrade liberals? Obviously not. So I guess that isn’t “always always always” his motivation.

    This isn’t to say that Kaus doesn’t take some pleasure in annoying liberals who disagree with him on the issues that he obsesses about — he does, or at least he seems to.

    But one can take pleasure in annoying those whose political philosophy you share. Go read Secular Right, and tell me that Heather MacDonald doesn’t take some pleasure in annoying the subset of conservatives who adopt what she regards as irrational religious stances. Does that mean she is not a conservative? Tell me that David Frum didn’t enjoy publishing a piece on his site about how the RNC had Sarah Palin’s wardrobe in trash bags, or that Andrew Sullivan doesn’t enjoy tweaking Hugh Hewitt or driving them mad at The Corner, or that Kathleen Parker didn’t take some pleasure at annoying Palinites, or that Chris Buckley didn’t take some pleasure annoying fellow conservatives.

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  19. I’ve never considered Kaus an influential spokesman. The more liberal “liberal” (or should that be “liberal” liberal) organs like MoveOn, TPM, AmericaBlog, OpenLeft, HuffPost, on and on and on, seem to be much more important in setting opinion.

    I’m sure M.K. has a following, Democratic Leadership Council types, Herold Ford southern Democrats, Blue Dogs, on and on and on.

    So a question.

    Is M.K. something other than a spokesman for the above groups? How influential is that jerk?

    I’m thinking that Kaus is not very important.

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  20. “His is the journalistic project. Air arguments. Advance conversations. Adhere to logic.” Except he just plain doesn’t do this.

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  21. Somewhere, Mickey Kaus is smiling over all this sturm und drang.

    I’m with Bob. I don’t read Kaus because I find his shtick rather boring, and I’m not sure why anyone would particularly care how accurately he identifies himself. He is in a sense a troll, albeit one who’s developed a platform big enough that he can troll on his own blog instead of posting on other people’s, and getting all worked up over his jabs is exactly the result he’s after.

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  22. I have always thought that Mickey Kaus was just a professional liar. I take his brand of “liberalism” the same way I take the PUMA claim to “lifelong Democrat”. They’re both making that part up. It’s ratf*cking at its most obvious.

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  23. You write: “Because lord knows that scare quoting “antipoverty community” is the sort of thing someone who really cares about the liberal cause would do.”

    I think this sentence provides insight into your failure to understand Kaus. Kaus scare quoted “antipoverty community” in order to indicate:

    1) that there exists a group of liberal elites who have made “poverty” their industry and seek sustainable(!) poverty networks that keep them in jobs and keep people dependent on government. Peter Edelman, for instance, broke with Clinton over welfare reform and represents precisely the kind of liberal that Kaus believes produces bad policy contrary to both the interests and popular sentiments of the American people. Clinton, the neo-liberal, broke with the “liberal cause” on welfare (among many other things), won two elections, and is generally not thought to be traitorous to the “liberal cause.”

    and

    2) the *idea* of an antipoverty “community” should be self-evidently inane to anyone interested in the question of poverty. This “community” thrives in direct proportion to the ineffectiveness of their policies. Americans are open to solutions to eliminating poverty, but are not interested in self-sustaining bureaucracies.

    That you don’t get either implication here and simply believe that anyone who supports the “liberal cause” supports whatever the “antipoverty community” is up to evidences a Bush “with us or against us” style of reading comprehension.

    Wanting to achieve certain liberal objectives (say reducing poverty) does not axiomatically mean you support things that sound like “liberal causes.” The calculus is not, antipoverty=liberal, anything done with that label=good. Kaus is trying to say that the interests of this community are at odds with their purported liberal goals and these policies were discredited by 40 years of the welfare state and the relative success of welfare reform.

    Maybe you think, or hope, that Obama represents a return to full-on big government liberalism. When I voted for Obama it was with the hope that he didn’t represent that at all, and to the extent that I (and perhaps Kaus) are interested welfare-like provisions in the stimulus bill it’s to gauge 1) what are Obama’s real political values, e.g., does he really support returning to pre-Clinton welfare policy, 2) is he in control of what’s going on or is he being distracted by advisors, selling the plan, the need for speed that these provisions are just pork style giveaways to states and the “antipoverty” community, 3) how will the press treat the issue (I’m sure Kaus enjoys remembering how much of the “liberal” press was against welfare reform, then, after it seemed to be working, treated it as a great democratic achievement, and now are largely ignoring the issue because they don’t want to think about it and don’t want to tarnish Obama because they know the issue would be very unpopular to the center.

    Kaus is probably a little too inside baseball for you (or, in other words, just more informed than you). A higher level of context is often needed to get the point he is making since he is rarely say, “yes–this stimulus bill is good” or “prop 8 is bad.” There are limitless “liberals” saying those things–what could he possibly at, unless, of course, he does have something to add–that’s why his posts are usually wrinkles on much larger issues.

    You must generally miss the deeper tensions/contradictions he’s getting at. For example, if card check eliminates the secret ballot, is that “pro” or “con” to unions, to union leadership, are they the same thing, etc? Within that, are unions good for workers in the current economic landscape, what effect do they have on job creation/retention, and if they don’t benefit the worker (e.g., the guy who has a great union salary but whose company can’t afford to pay it, closes, and now he has nothing), what do we do about it? It isn’t just union=good=democrat, AFL-CIO wants card check, thus you want card check. For the young crop of overeager “brownshirt” style liberals, though, anyone who harps on card check is immediately suspect. The “cause” cannot be doubted!

    Similarly on immigration, does an influx of low skilled workers who take lower salaries help or hurt the working classes? Even if it hurts them, is it more important to treat all humans humanely than to protect working class wages and prevent big business abuse of unempowered workers? Is the latter the “real” liberal position. No room for disagreement? Do “real” liberals think that government policy which tries to minimize the breaking of its border laws is bad/wrong?

    Maybe liberalism is just a social identity for you. If it is, that’s too bad. Liberals now have the chance to be the party of ideas, and instead many seem interested in professing fealty to unreconstructed pre-Clinton thought. A move towards more welfare, strengthening of teachers’ unions, unabated illegal immigration–there’s a good case to be made that each of these impedes “liberal causes.” Unfortunately, making a valuable contribution to the debate, and indeed understanding seemingly obtuse writers like Kaus, generally involves more than a quick cruise around wikipedia and your favorite blogs culminating in a two paragraph “take” on the matter. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of white noise, but it misinterprets being broadcast for having content.

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  24. tee hee.

    I thought this subject rang a bell. I’m on that same thread on Eunomia last August, first time I ever read Liarson, I think.

    For the record, freddie is right about everything except that he’s wrong about being wrong about that one thing he said he was wrong about.

    Kaus is NOT entitled to call himself a “liberal” and then place himself into the civil discourse as an influential commenter under that designation. Larison’s example of himself fails because he critiques mainstream conservatism from a decidedly (and defended as such by stating conservative premises) conservative position.

    Kaus attacks liberals and liberalism not from a position on the liberal/left or by making an explicit defense of his position in terms of liberal values, but by adopting either conservative premises or, more often, by simply being superfically snarky (i.e., from no ideological grounding at all).

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  25. Yeah, I saw you on that thread when I read this piece Jack. Small world. You make a very good point, by the way. There is a striking difference between Kaus and Larison’s positions, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think you’ve summed it up quite well. Essentially, it’s not style, it’s platform. Regardless of the contempt Kaus may use, he is coming from a position decidedly to the right of basically everyone on the Left, and doesn’t even bother to hide the fact….

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  26. “The most damaging thing that Democrats and liberals did to themselves during the Bush era is to go along with the Iraq War, and neo-liberals were certainly among prominent liberal hawks, but Mickey Kaus opposed the Iraq War.”

    Mickey Kaus opposed the Iraq War? It was about the time we went into Iraq that I would visit his website, and he wrote nothing of substance against the war. He’s no liberal, he’s a fraud.

    And why does opposing Bush’s immigration policy make him a liberal. He’s to the Right of Bush on immigration. He’s the equal of fascist Malkin on immigration.

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  27. Pingback: Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges… | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

  28. Pingback: Political Orthodoxy « Just Above Sunset

  29. In a massive stimulus bill, confronting the largest economic crisis in Kaus’s lifetime, which very well might determine the economic futures of millions of Americans for years to come, Kaus’s focus has been on… welfare reform. Yes, and not even a large welfare reform, but what is genuinely a minor change that amounts to a tiny part of a huge and vitally important bill. Because that’s what a liberal is worrying about, on the edge of an economic precipice and in the face of a slowdown that threatens poor Americans everywhere– those welfare-receiving fatcats.

    Freddie, this whole paragraph is littered with hyperbole.

    Please elaborate with specific detail – I want confidence predictions – on how this one bill “very well might determine the economic futures of millions of Americans for years to come.” I’ll take this critique seriously when you do so.

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  30. George nails it, and is perhaps too kind in giving the label “social identity” to Freddie’s dogged, florid, and very studied piety.

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  31. Freddie is just speaking with the voice of youth an inexperience. I appreciate Kaus a lot; he is very much a Dem of the DLC variety as am I. He obsesses overs stuff — like opposition to the surge — that occurs when liberals “cocoon,” which is very, very easy to do. He obsesses over it because it’s stuff that can derail entirely the liberal/progressive project — and he’s right. Freddie’s too young to appreciate how a visceral dislike of welfare empowered conservatives for a long time. Kaus is panicking that in fighting for a stupid provision in the stimulus — and that’s right, Freddie, it’s small, so why did it need to be there? — Democrats are giving conservatives a bat to hit them with. Kaus is right.

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  32. Freddie spends a lot of time talking about how various people are vile and hatable. He even wrote a vicious post against Slate’s movie critic. He is like Ann Coulter, in that he’d rather go on the attack than talk civilly about issues. Gain some professionalism, and stop wasting your time and writing skills spreading malice and hate. There are ways to disagree with someone like a grown-up.

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  33. Anton Sirius nails it: Kaus has turned “troll” into an existential, nay metaphysical identity. Look, Conor, and all you chin-pulling Well-Respected Men: Most centrally, Kaus clearly feels that labor–in contradistinction to the state of affairs in every other modern industrialized democracy–has no legitimate place at the table with business and government. He seems to despise eddicators as a vocational class (and they, in my experience, certainly despise him–wonder why?). Just as centrally, Kaus evinced deep and abiding concern that old-style welfare was soul-killing the Great Welfare Mothers of America–but has never to my knowledge evinced the slightest interest in addressing the child-care/transportation/medical/whatever needs of impoverished workfare mothers–you know, the ones he claimed to care so much about in the first place. In his single most impressive grandstand kibitz/called grand slam, Kaus was a huge cheerleader for the Governator and heaped contumely on Gray Davis: like that’s worked out well! And his immigration stance is steeped in xenophobic, economically naive ignorance and a palpable antipathy for Messicans–and I’m sorry, that’s true even if he goes blue in the face and screams slander: It’s just palpable and undeniable in the texture and fabric of his commentary. AND he hates Bob Marley–doesn’t just not cotton to him–HATES him! At least that’s how I remember it; I haven’t read the guy for several years. Really, there’s a lot of ideological cross-dressing going on in this thread–so I’m gonna flounce on outta here….

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  34. Following a Andrew Sullivan link I found this at timesonline. Bryan Appleyard has a list of recommended blogs. He writes of kausfiles, “Part of Slate magazine, Mickey Kaus’s blog is a good stop for witty and non-PC politics.”

    Ok, The Times comes at things from the right so this recommendation is not a surprise. But it sort of lends credence to Freddie’s original complaint. If The Times finds it “a good stop” us lefties might have big problems with it.

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