Baffler Writer Baffled by Distinction Between Means and Ends

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I see your clown photo, and raise you another clown.

My belief that parties should not threaten to default on the national debt in order to extort concessions has angered, of all people, left-wing writer Chris Bray in the Baffler. My argument, expounded upon at tedious length, is that parties should resolve their differences through normal legislative channels, so that disagreement does not trigger worldwide economy calamity.

Bray seems to disagree. I say "seems to" because, while Bray has lots of insults ("glorious, wonderful, delicious sponge cake of meaninglessness") and a picture of a clown that I take as a symbol of disparagement, it is genuinely unclear whether he understands this position.

To Bray, my argument that parties should not threaten default is an argument that they should not try to advance their policy goals at all:

Chait actually seems to believe that the way our system should work is by the opposition giving some speeches about their political position but not meaning anything by it because, at the end of the day, both parties support increasing the debt limit. And that’s how politics are supposed to work: dithering bloviating.

Chait believes the Democrats did right to oppose the Bush-created budget crisis and the Iraq war, though not excessively—certainly not in a way that might have been a real impediment to that administration’s success. He believes that the role of the opposition party is just to “give speeches” and “posture against the president,” but only if they aren’t “actually trying to stop” the offending policy.

Obviously, I do think parties should try to win legislative battles, but that there is such a thing as improper methods. Now, Bray may disagree — he may think it would be great if both parties routinely started threatening to breach the debt ceiling if they didn't get their way. I'd read that argument! But he doesn't make it.

Presumably, if parties started backing their legislative stances with threats to organize mass boycotts of elections, or to engage in armed revolt, Bray would object to those methods, but such an objection would not mean he thinks politics should be a charade. We may disagree over what constitutes legitimate political methods, but the entire notion of distinguishing means from ends  — a pretty basic moral concept! — seems to elude him.

Bray's entire method is:

  1. Assume that advocating a norm against debt-ceiling threats equals a belief that parties shouldn't try to win.
  2. Think up some elaborate insults, add clown photo.
  3. High-five.