A recent Washington Monthly profile of Kos stirred a debate over the merits of, well, the bulk of what we do here at Angry Bear.
Atrios writes that facts, charts, and the like are to some extent pointless in the current environment:
I’ve said this before, but there’s just little point in detail-oriented grand policy proposals when Bush and Republicans are in office. Just about everything their side offers up involves tax cuts, corporate pork, or cuts to programs that help keep granny from freezing to death in winter. The rest are complete disasters for obvious reason, like the Medicare drug plan, and there’s really not much to discuss.
If our team actually had some power we could be debating the merits of various universal health care proposals, or considering just how large a minimum wage increase might be appropriate, or various other wonky things. It would be good fun. But we live in an unserious age where the people running the government have no interest in policy and the people not running government have no ability to get anything passed without having anything good about it destroyed by the
Of course, we spend more time on debunking than “grand policy proposals” per se here, because there’s so much debunking to be done and there is in fact little likelihood of grand proposals going anywhere in the near term.
Kevin Drum offers a modest defense of the value of wonkery:
My own view is that in addition to activism, which blogs obviously excel at, blogs can also be very good at what I call “policy-lite” — short but serious takes on policy issues leavened with enough red meat to make it entertaining. It’s not the same thing as a Brookings white paper or even a 5,000-word Washington Monthly article, but blogs do provide a forum to educate and inform at a non-expert level in between all the snarkiness and partisan catcalling.
“Policy – Lite”? Not exactly flattering, but not exactly inaccurate, either
Henry Farrel chimes in with this more vigorous defense:
Not only is a certain amount of wonkishness on the left a good thing in itself, but it can be an important political weapon. Looking back to the Social Security debate, left-of-center blogs played a real role in helping to torpedo Republican proposals – but it wasn’t only the Cossacks (or even Josh Marshall’s information-gathering campaign to separate the sheep from the goats) that did the trick. Wonkish critiques of the bogus figures and rationales that the administration was floating helped shift the public debate from one about a purportedly necessary and inevitable reform, to one about a political ploy that looked like backfiring.
Finally, Max also weighs in:
Some people are saying that in an adverse political environment, research or policy are not very important. My self-interest here is obvious, but maybe I can still convince you this is a mistaken belief.
One implication that might be drawn from this belief not asserted explicitly is that facts don’t matter. All that matters is who can shout the loudest. I beg to differ. You may be able to shout, but if what you have to say is crap, the volume isn’t much of an asset.
Max even gives two specific examples, Social Security and the purported job-growth-and-tax-cuts relationship, in which both detailed and policy-lite critiques helped inform and even shift the terms of debate away from the Republican-framed talking points.
I’m clearly not neutral, so it comes as no surprise that I side with Max and Henry. While its demise now seemed inevitable, thinking back to the early days of the proposed reform/privatization of Social Security, it seemed a matter not of if, but when and how bad? the would reform be. Similarly, despite its continuing efforts, I think the administration has failed in its attempt to convince people that the tax cuts stimulated job growth, or even that the overall job market is in good shape. For example, the December WSJ-NBC polls (pdf, subscription required) show that, even as gas prices ease, Bush’s rating on the economy is a meager 38 approve-54 disapprove.
Two cheers for wonkery.