Revising Jane’s Law

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 27, 2010

Remember “Jane’s Law,” which was formulated by Megan McArdle back when the Blogosphere was young? It goes like this:

Jane’s Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

We may have to revise Jane’s Law, as Michael Gerson points out:

Following two years of poor economic performance and electoral repudiation, liberalism is casting around for narratives to explain its failure – narratives that don’t involve the admission of inadequacies in liberalism itself.

For some, the solution is to lay the blame on President Obama. He hasn’t been liberal enough. He can’t communicate. “I cannot recall a president,” Robert Kuttner says in the Huffington Post, “who generated so much excitement as a candidate but who turned out to be such a political dud as a chief executive.” Obama is “fast becoming more albatross than ally.”

[. . .]

But there is an alternative narrative, developed by those who can’t shake their reverence for Obama. If a president of this quality and insight has failed, it must be because his opponents are uniquely evil, coordinated and effective. The problem is not Obama but the ruthless conspiracy against him.

So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for “deliberate economic sabotage” from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that “Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.” Steve Benen explains, “We’re talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012.” Benen’s posting was titled “None Dare Call it Sabotage.”

So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating “massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system.”

One is tempted to respond that it is $1 trillion in new debt, the prospect of higher taxes and a complicated, disruptive health-reform law that have created “massive economic uncertainty.” For the purposes of this argument, however, it is sufficient to say that all these economic policy debates have two sides.

Yet this is precisely what the sabotage theorists must deny. They must assert that the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent. But given the recent record of liberal economics, policies that seem self-evident to them now seem questionable to many. Objective conditions call for alternatives. And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives – monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes – they have embraced for 30 years.

Read the whole thing. I would disagree that Paul Krugman has any “reverence” for President Obama, as the New York Times columnist and blogger has long thought that the President is an inadequate leader because he simply is not partisan enough against those nasty, evil, Republicanses. But the rest is pretty much on target. As Gerson points out, the notion that Republicans are somehow conspiring to destroy the economy by arguing for the same policy prescriptions that they have argued for ever since the Reagan Presidency (and let it be noted that Democratic policy prescriptions have not changed all that much in that time, or even since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) is absurd on its face. There is no conspiracy here, and there is no change in policies merely to sabotage the economy so that Barack Obama and the Democrats lose elections. Both parties are being entirely consistent in their policy approaches to formulating and implementing economic policy.

The only reason that we are having this discussion, as Gerson notes, is that Obama supporters are so objectively convinced that their policy prescriptions are the right one, that they believe that advocacy on behalf of any alternative prescriptions are a form of economic treason. Dissent, you will remember, used to be the highest form of patriotism during the Bush Administration, but now, dissent is A Very Bad Thing, that will have one’s patriotism questioned by people whose blogs and columns get undeservedly high page views, and whose reputations are buttressed with undeserved praise.

So, Jane’s Law needs to be amended. The party in power, and its devotees are in the grips of paranoia. It’s nice that Gerson called shenanigans on their rhetoric, but a great many more media figures with powerful microphones need to step in and stage an intervention for Krugman, Yglesias, Benen, and others who propagate the conspiracy theories they appear to be so fond of.

  • Pingback: Ed Driscoll » Revising Jane’s Law

  • shrinkurmudgeon

    It has always being striking to me that the Left accuses the Right of doing the exact thing that they (the Left) do.

    “So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for “deliberate economic sabotage” from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that “Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.” Steve Benen explains, “We’re talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012.”

    In my field they call that “projection.”

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