the national interest

Reading Is Fundamental, Charles C.W. Cooke

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Now that Republicans have gained control of the Senate along with the House, they can send their bills to President Obama to veto, thereby portraying him, not them, as the obstacle to progress. National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke has a column arguing that Democrats are now therefore the Party of “obstructionism.” Cooke further argues that I am a “hypocrite” because I was against obstructionism before, and now I am in favor of it.

Cooke is attempting to contrast a column I wrote this week with one I wrote last year. Remarkably, he manages to get the point in each of them not just wrong but completely backwards.

My column this week argues that structural advantages give the Republican Party a lock on the House, and a major advantage in the Senate. Their only chance in the near term to stop the GOP from gaining total control of government is to continue winning presidential elections, where their national majority can assert itself fairly. Cooke renders my argument like so:

Until their chances of winning both Houses change, Chait concludes, Democratic intransigence is the only strategy capable of standing between “a Republican Party even more radical than George W. Bush’s version and unfettered control of American government.” Get ready boys, it’s obstruction time.

Those of us who have spent the last few years insisting that there is nothing revolutionary about political minorities resisting the transient will of the majority might chuckle grimly at this development, wondering as we do so what exactly has changed.

Political minorities? Who said anything about minorities? I am arguing about the behavior of a Democratic Party that has, in this scenario, won a presidential election. Granted, presidential elections may not perfectly reflect popular sentiment. But they are certainly more (small d) democratic than either the House or the Senate, which give disproportionate power to rural white voters. I am not arguing that Democrats should block the agenda of a Republican national majority; I am describing a scenario in which Republicans block the agenda of a national Democratic majority.

Working backward from this misreading of my current column, Cooke proceeds to triumphantly contrast it with a misreading of my column from last year. According to Cooke, the point of that 2013 column was that Republicans are terrible because of gridlock:

Among the sorry group of apologists that took to throwing deranged and self-serving epithets at their ideological opponents was none other than Jonathan Chait, who pronounced in 2013 that those standing athwart the age of Obama shouting “stop!” were guilty of little worse than a coup. The “hard right’s extremism,” Chait proposed, “has bent back upon itself, leaving an inscrutable void of paranoia and formless rage and twisting the Republican Party into a band of anarchists.” In consequence, he charged, Republicans had become “anarchists of the House” — a “gang of saboteurs” who had embraced “procedural extremism” and “hostage-taking” and who were “testing a new frontier of radicalism — governmental sabotage.”

This description is completely wrong. The 2013 column did not argue that Republicans had some moral obligation to submit to Obama’s agenda. The contention of that column was that Republicans were not willing to settle for a mere stalemate and were instead using extraordinary tactics to force Obama to accept their terms. The tactics I referred to included shutting down the government, threatening to default on the debt and trigger a potential worldwide economic meltdown, and blocking any appointments unless the laws those appointees carried out had changed.

I would indeed be a hypocrite if I were now advocating that Democrats threaten a debt default or to refuse to staff a Republican administration. But I am not advocating this. The premise that I would be advocating this doesn’t even make any sense anyway, since these are tactics for use by Congress, and I was referring to Democrats holding the presidency.

Cooke’s entire argument is sub-coherent. Minus his egregious misreading, his column provides no value. He is calling me a hypocrite because one argument that he claims I made but didn’t contradicts another argument he claims I made but didn’t. National Review should withdraw Cooke’s column, donate his day’s pay to a foundation promoting adult literacy, and impose a probationary period in which he is restricted to the use of no more than one middle initial.