Totally twitty Chait hate
by Robert Waldmann
Totally twitty Chait hate
I admire Jonathan Chait. In particular, I admire his denunciation of those (e.g. Barack Obama) who criticize “some in my party” without naming names. His rule is that if one criticizes an argument, position or view, one should name and quote someone. Otherwise the temptation to debate straw men is irresistable. This fits Chait’s general (confessed) inclination to be mean — he doesn’t mind criticizing people by name.
I often think of Chait’s rule and, when attemting to enforce it use the phrase “two minutes Chait” (rhymes with “two minutes hate”).
His recent post “This Won’t end Well for House Republicans” caused me to advocate (in comments) a much more extreme rule. I argue that commentators should never paraphrase or quote indirectly. I think a good rule would be that all references to anything written or said by anyone must be of the form of a direct quotation followed (if necessary) by an argument that the person really means something other that what they apparently just said.
I think that allowing paraphrases and indirect quotations makes the temptation to, say, claim that Al Gore said he invented the internet, irresistable.
My example is Chait himself. He wrote
Nancy Pelosi once said that Congress had to pass the Affordable Care Act in order to find out what was in it. Republican demagogues pretended Pelosi was confessing to having hidden the details of her bill until its passage, but, as anybody who read the context of her remarks could see, that is not what she meant. Pelosi was dismissing the bill’s bad polling as an artifact of public ignorance. The law’s individual provisions were highly popular, and she believed the law, once functioning, would gain public support, because it would help far more people than it harmed.
Often I bore myself. Here by grinding a very old ax. You are right to criticize Republican demagogues for misleading people about what Pelosi meant. But you misquoted her. According to Matt Yglesias (who I trust because he presents a direct quote with, you know, quotation marks) she said ““We have to pass the bill, so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.” She was not confessing that she belonged to a group which didn’t know what was in it. She was saying that other people (who were attending the ” National Association of Counties’ 2010 legislative conference” didn’t know what was in it.
Your paraphrase “Congress had to pass the Affordable Care Act in order to find out what was in it.” is materially false. You assert that she asserted that Congress didn’t know what was in it. She did no such thing. I am honestly disappointed that, when your point is that her meaning was distorted, you used a false indirect quotation which is consistent with the misleading interpretation (and not with your interpretation).
You have a rule that, when you criticize, you name names (and quote quotes). This is a very good rule. I think you should have another rule. When you claim someone said “that” something is true, you should rewrite — use a direct quotation. The case of Nancy Pelosi who didn’t say that Congress had to pass the bill to know what was in it (like the case of Al Gore who didn’t claim to have invented the internet) demonstrates to me that indirect quotations and paraphrases have no legitimate useful role in the political debate.
They are often used to mislead (or to lie as in the cases of Pelosi and Gore). Pixels will be killed if you stick to quoting and then interpreting rather than suppressing the exact words and paraphrasing. But I think that you can’t be trusted to paraphrase again. I recommend that all political commentators (including you) stick to direct quotations only from now on.
Here I add that Pelosi isn’t entirely an innocent victim. She was too polite to be accurate. The word “can” implies that her audience couldn’t find out what was in the bill even with diligence. I am sure that what she believed was “since you can’t be bothered to read the bill (it’s only 2000 pages long) and believe Republican lies about it, we will have to pass the bill to force you to find out what is in it”. But she is a politician, so she automatically assured people that they weren’t at all to blame for their ignorance. Her statement was false. At the time people could find out what was in the bill. It just would require a totally disproportionate effort. The claim that they couldn’t (implied by the “can”) was a claim that the contents of the bill were hidden, not just long and boring.
That Republicans and “dozens of political journalists who should have known better” argued that she had confessed that the contents of the bill were hidden is outrageous. It is a demonstrable fact that the bill wasn’t hidden. The debate over the bill was public and extremely detailed. Only people to lazy to check could believe that the details were hidden. The case demonstrates that “dozens of political journalists” are too lazy to do their jobs.
Similarly, Al Gore’s claim “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” was 100% accurate. It does not imply he claimed he invented anything (the word doesn’t appear). It does imply that he claims that the internet was originally a US government project funded by Congress & that he was a congressman who took the initiative of pushing for funding. Also that the transition to a new sector of the private economy was managed by a committee chaired by Al Gore.
Now what could possibly be gained by allowing people to paraphrase to, for a hypothetical example, [Al Gore claimed he invented the internet] ? Very few pixels are saved. The meaning is completely distorted. Paraphrases are very useful to dishonest people.
I really think that a direct quotes only (in political debate and commentary) rule would be an improvement.
To Chait I say: “context” my ass, text would have been good enough.
A little more context into Pelosi’s remarks should be included.
” Here is what happened. After a year of deliberation and wrangling, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate each passed a different version of health care reform in 2009. On November 7, the House passed its version of the bill on a 220-to-215 vote. On December 23, the Senate voted 60 to 39 to end debate on the bill, eliminating the possibility of a filibuster by opponents. The bill then passed on a party-line vote of 60 to 39 the next day.
Soon after the Senate passed the Affordable Care Act, Scott Brown was elected to take Ted Kennedy’s seat and the Democrats consequently lost their filibuster proof 60 votes in the Senate. Consequently, the most viable option for the proponents of comprehensive reform was for the House to abandon its own health reform bill, and instead approve the Senate-passed bill. They knew they could not get an amended bill passed by the Senate since they would not have 60 votes to end a Republican filibuster. However, a number of House Democrats who had reluctantly backed the president on health care reform didn’t like a number of provisions in the Senate version of the bill such as a provision that would have provided a higher rate of Medicaid reimbursements for Nebraska – the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback” that was designed to win the support of Democratic senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
House Speaker Pelosi made a deal to get the reluctant Democrats to go along with passing the Senate version of the bill. If they would vote for the Senate bill, then the Democratic leadership agreed to immediately introduce and pass separate legislation under Budget Reconciliation amending the Affordable Care Act to address those members’ grievances. The House passed the Senate bill on March 21, 2010 by a vote of 219 to 212. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by Obama on March 23, 2010.
Pelosi then introduced the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010
to make changes to the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats used reconciliation to pass the amendments. On March 26, 2010, the Senate approved the amendments, 56 to 43, and the House passed them, 220 to 207. Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 into law on March 30, 2010.
So Obamacare—The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—was actually passed in normal fashion without the use of Budget Reconciliation. However, Democrats did use Budget Reconciliation to amend the Act shortly after it was signed into law.”
The Senate bill obviously was unsuitable to pass the House. Any changes in the House would have resulted in the death of the bill in the Senate, as Scott Brown was there. Thus, without passing the Senate bill without change, the House would have killed the ACA.
Fairly obvious that Pelosi’s plan was to pass the Senate version and then change it via reconciliation. In other words, vote for the bill and then find out what is in it down the road. Fairly certain Pelosi was playing this long before her above mentioned speech, based on the simple fact that there was no other avenue open to passing the bill.
We need a lot of self-examination: why did Pelosi and Democratic leaders not go on a vicious and relentless counter-attack calling this out for the lie that it was — and the journalists for their horrible laziness? Why did Democrats let Gore twist in the wind over the ongoing series of lies about what he had said? Why would they not all them lies — us the “L” word when it was absolutely justified, that is?
Robert could you please get the link to your past work fixed. Neither Robert nor Waldmann links to your past efforts.
The sidebar is broken at the moment….I requested the MEV folks (the people who can code) to fix it last week but not yet obviously. Best I can suggest at the moment is to use the search function.
I think you are talking about the link here not at rjwaldmann.blogspot.com. “We” are working on it. Scare quotes, because I don’t know anything about how the angrybearblog website works, except that I have a contributor user name and password. I don’t even know who is working on the problem.