They fight over Obama. They fight over Israel. They still fight over Bush. They really fight over food. No, it’s not your extended family mucking it up over Christmas dinner. It’s the Atlantic bloggers, who form their own diverse and makeshift kinship. They’re not all ideological siblings, but that only makes the conversations more interesting. Here is a look back at some of the most significant shouting matches between Atlantic Voices in 2009.
When Barack Obama nominated Charles "Chas" Freeman to a top intelligence post, he set off a wide-ranging debate about Freeman’s opinions on China and Israel.
Jeffrey Goldberg : “Jon Chait did a fine job dismantling the realist-run-amok Charles Freeman in the Washington Post yesterday, and highlights his most egregious belief, that the Communist regime in Beijing was within its rights to order the wholesale slaughter of students in Tiananmen Square.”
James Fallows: “This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of. ... I think it is worth reinforcing the idea that the people who know Freeman and China policy best think the complaints about him on this front are a crock.”
Andrew Sullivan: “The Obama peeps never defended Freeman. ... There is no possibility of change on the Israel-Palestine question. Having the kind of debate in America that they have in Israel, let alone Europe, on the way ahead in the Middle East is simply forbidden.”
James Fallows : “After learning something about the now-resigned Chas Freeman, ... I have received enough pro-Freeman letters from his working associates in the last two days to make we wonder: is there anyone who actually dealt with the man who considered him a crackpot, an anti-Semite, a menace—terms thrown around by his critics
Jeffrey Goldberg : “What was bothersome about Freeman was not his criticism of various Israeli policies. What bothered me most was his accusation that 9/11 was brought about mainly by American support for Israel, an accusation that seemed designed to deflect attention from Saudi Arabia, whose king is a patron of Freeman’s think tank.”
Should the government have an obesity policy? Our bloggers chew it over.
Megan McArdle: “Look at the uptick in stories on obesity in the context of health care reform. Fat people are a problem! They're killing themselves, and our budget! We must stop them! And what if people won't do it voluntarily? Because let’s face it, so far, they won't. ... Every intervention you can imagine on the voluntary front, and several involuntary ones, has already been tried.”
Marc Ambinder: “McArdle approaches obesity as if it were a Foucauldian construct: a category invented by the government to justify an exercise of power. ... McArdle is right that it it’s not fair for government to lecture people about weight loss and exercise, but she’s right for the wrong reason: policy choices—ag subsidies, zoning laws, education and budget priorities—create a flow that, absent any intervention, are sweeping many young kids, particularly poorer kids of color, into obesity. Government’s role isn't to scold; it’s to make better policy choices.”
Marc Ambinder : “The relevant question for policy-makers is not whether there is a mono-causal explanation for obesity, it is whether policy-makers can and should do something about it.”
Megan McArdle : “So it seems that James Fallows and Marc Ambinder and I all agree that the increase in obesity in the American population is environmental, though they seem to think I disagree, despite my having made this point several times, and have thus spent a fair amount of time disproving a point no one has made.”
Andrew Sullivan : “Fallows sides with Ambinder. Like Megan, I have a visceral dislike of being told by government how to live my life.”
In October the New York Times reported that New York City’s calorie-counting laws were not changing customers’ habits. Megan McArdle and Corby Kummer slugged it out.
Megan McArdle: “A couple of times, I've noted that while I'm at least theoretically in favor of requiring calorie counts on menus, I was pretty skeptical that this was actually going to work. Now the first study of New York’s labeling program is out, and the results are ... nothing.”
Corby Kummer: “Getting individuals to recalculate calories at the cash register was never the main point of the rules, and isn't now. Calorie labeling has already had remarkable impact on the foods that fast-food companies make and serve. Yuppie avatar Starbucks immediately changed its default milk from whole to 2 percent, so it wouldn't have to admit that a Frappuccino could amount to practically as many calories as you should eat in a whole day.”
The Fort Hood massacre was a Rorschach test for our bloggers. Did it hold lessons for Islam in America? Or military screening? Or did it mean nothing?
James Fallows: “In the saturation coverage right after the events, the ‘expert’ talking heads are compelled to offer theories about the causes and consequences. In the following days and weeks, newspapers and magazine will have their theories, too. Looking back, we can see that all such efforts are futile. The shootings never mean anything.”
Megan McArdle: “This guy was some form of lunatic or psychopath, and it seems pretty clear to me at this point that he was inspired by terrorists. But there’s no evidence that he was a terrorist—that is, that he was hooked into some organized network.”
Jeffrey Goldberg: “When an American military officer who is a practicing Muslim allegedly shoots forty of his fellow soldiers who are about to deploy to the two wars the United States is currently fighting in Muslim countries, some broader meaning might, over time, be discerned, especially if the officer did, in fact, yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ while murdering his fellow soldiers.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates: “Jeff asks what we'd say if a devout Christian had attacked Planned Parenthood. Fair enough—we have a pretty good corollary in George Tiller. I could be wrong, but I don't recall a lot of ‘media elites’ trying to divine what Tiller’s death said about Christianity itself.”
Jeffrey Goldberg: “One of the lessons of this shooting, alas, might be that the military needs to become more aware of the possibility that at least a few of America’s Muslim soldiers might succumb to the same impulses that apparently set Hasan on a violent path, and screen, and monitor, accordingly.”
President Bush’s prescription drug bill, or Medicare Part D, was bashed as a pharmaceutical hand-out. But what are the implications for Obama’s own expensive health care plan?
Andrew Sullivan: “Unlike many of these tea-partiers and their supporters, I actually took on the Bush administration’s big government tendencies, fiscal recklessness, and massive expansion of executive power at the time. I opposed the Medicare prescription drug benefit as unaffordable—and no one can argue that what looks like the current healthcare reform would cripple future finances as profoundly as that Bush entitlement.”
Megan McArdle: “Call me ‘no one,’ then: I don't see how you even could argue that this bill will cost less than Medicare Part D. I mean, we don't have a bill, so technically, who knows. We have a series of statements that Obama wants to do a bunch of stuff that does not really sum to the $900 billion he promised.”
Andrew Sullivan: “The Medicare prescription drug entitlement almost immediately was projected to cost $1.2 trillion over ten years—more than Obama’s cost-projections. The CBO’s estimate of long-term spending in the program is $8.2 trillion. Unlike Obama’s healthcare plan, which focuses on the younger uninsured working and middle class, Bush’s massive bribe was directed at seniors, a demographic set to grow very fast in the near future.”
Megan McArdle: “These are not quite the right comparisons to make. For starters, those figures aren't really the right ones. As the web page from which Andrew picked that Washington Post figure notes, the CBO’s estimate of the ten year cost was considerably lower at the time. Also, the $8.1 trillion is a GAO report, not a CBO report, and it’s from 2004. Also, the Bush OMB was fond of issuing hysterical projections so that it could wow us with a ‘surprisingly’ low deficit number every mid-term review.”
What does it mean to be “pro-Israel”?
Andrew Sullivan: “My own definition of pro-Israel would simply be, I think: support for the existence of a secure Jewish state in Palestine. That’s my position, and it is as deeply held as it is open to all sorts of arguments about what is best for its security and the interests of the US. I think it should easily be enough to earn one’s credentials as a Zionist, as I proudly and passionately remain.”
Jeffrey Goldberg: “People who don't like Israel very much hold it to a special standard, created for one scapegoated country alone. On this count—and only this count, so far as I can tell—Andrew sometimes fails the test. There are times lately when he seems to single out Israel for special excoriation, and times when he holds Israel to a double-standard.”
Andrew: “Why should we continue to enable the Israelis' persistent desire to seize more Palestinian land, evict more Palestinian families, and create yet more facts on the ground that make any final deal more and more outside our reach? These actions have been designed in part to humiliate Obama.”
Jeffrey: “I'm simply arguing that the focus of negotiations, and of American policy, should be on creating a viable, contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This means, among other things, pressuring Israel to make concessions on West Bank settlements.”
Should we cut Bush a bit of slack for the deficit he ran up as president?
Megan McArdle: “Any president would have done about what Bush did—some combination of spending it, and cutting taxes. The American public was not going to happily pay an extra 6 percent of its income to Uncle Sam so that we could pile up some massive wad of cash.”
Andrew Sullivan: “Is she actually saying that any president would have cut taxes heavily and also increased domestic spending heavily and added a new (unfunded) crippling healthcare entitlement—as he launched a $3 trillion war on two countries? Is she saying that Al Gore was proposing this in 2000?”
Megan: “No, I didn't say that any president would have spent on the specific, often stupid things that Bush did. They would have found their own specific, often stupid things to spend on.”