In Praise of the WSJ Ed Page—No, Seriously!

By James Fallows

You know that an analysis of modern politics is careening toward "false equivalence" territory when it says that "extremists of the right and left" are, in their symmetrical and indistinguishable way, messing things up for the rest of us.

I've kept looking for a particular data-point that would substantiate the idea that today's dysfunction really is symmetrical: the moment when "extremists on the right" would crack down on one of their own for rigid and inflexible views. There have been inklings: for instance, Newt Gingrich's line early in the campaign that "right-wing social engineering" via the Ryan Budget was as bad as the left-wing kind; also, numerous Republicans' attempts to distance themselves from pure birtherism. Or the general GOP admission that Sarah Palin was perhaps not the best possible choice for VP. Jon Huntsman's "call me crazy" Tweets and comments don't quite count, since the more such things he said, the less he seemed connected to the party itself. A similar "he's not really speaking for the party" discount must be applied to Ron Paul's consistent and admirable critique of neocon warmongering.

But now there is an illustration! The Wall Street Journal's own editorial page -- the heart of the heart of the brain of the movement -- has cautioned a freshman Republican Congressman about the know-nothingness exemplified by his attempt to gut a crucial part of Census Bureau surveys.
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You also have to admire and love the way the Journal couched the point, emphasis added:

Every now and then the GOP does something that feeds the otherwise false narrative of political extremism....

Since the political class is attempting to define the GOP as insane and redefine "moderation" as anything President Obama favors, Republicans do themselves no favors by targeting a useful government purpose.[!!!]

Artfully put. Still, good for the Journal in speaking up on behalf of actual knowledge, which a government agency happens to produce. Plus, among the good items on the WSJ editorial section yesterday:

- Reprinting a properly astringent Forbes item by Rich Karlgaard (who fwiw is an experienced Cirrus SR22 pilot) on the decline of America as displayed by the Facebook IPO. Eg, as point #3 of 7:

 3. Facebook left nothing for the common investor. The insider pig pile of PE firms and celebrity Silicon Valley angels took it all...When Microsoft when public in 1986, its market value was $780 million. Microsoft's market value would rise more than 700 times in the next 13 years. Bill Gates made millionaires of thousands of ordinary public investors. When Google went public in 2004 at a $23 billion valuation, it left less on the table for you and me. Still, if you had invested in Google then and held your stock, you would be sitting atop a 9x return. Zuckerberg and his Facebook friends took it all.
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- Bonus point, also from yesterday's WSJ: an editorial that is the strongest evidence yet that Chief Justice John Roberts is feeling the heat and suspecting that he will be cast as the modern Roger Taney (right -- look it up) if, after what he did with Citizens United, he overrules the health-care law. The evidence is the editorialists' entreaties that Roberts pay no attention, none at all!, to accusations "that if the Court overturns any of the law, he'll forever be defined as a partisan 'activist.'"

They're right, of course. How could anyone possibly think that John Roberts -- he of the forelock-tugging "I just call the balls and strikes, ma'am" / country-boy / Uriah Heep self-presentation at his confirmation hearings seven years ago -- would run the slightest risk of being considered a result-oriented political operative just for ensuring that big rulings always come on out in favor of his political allies. Ignore this carping, Mr. Chief Justice. Ask yourself, WWRBTD*!

[Update Just now I see on Fox News a panel whose whole subject is the threat that liberals will "blackmail" Roberts into feeling that it would be a "historical error" and overreach for him to engineer an overturn of the law. I take this as a sign that "Roberts as the next Taney?" meme is getting through. In a different way, Reagan's solicitor general, Charles Fried, has been sending a reuptational warning signal to Roberts.] [* The key to WWRBT do is that Taney's middle initial is B.]

[Update-update. The Washington Post account of the 78-22 vote on confirming Roberts has this fascinating historical note. Here's the passage explaining why some Democrats voted for Roberts and some voted against:

 The Senate Democrats' 22 to 22 split illuminated the influence that presidential politics and red-state, blue-state considerations play in a party struggling to end nearly a decade of unbroken GOP control of Congress. Among those opposing Roberts were presidential aspirants who typically veer to the center but now are eyeing the liberal activist groups that will play key roles in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states in 2008. They included Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). Also voting no were two senators facing potentially tough reelections next year in states with powerful left-leaning groups: Maria Cantwell of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Maryland's Democratic senators voted against Roberts.
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Democrats voting for Roberts included several facing reelection contests next year in states that Bush carried twice: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

What's interesting here? The name of freshman senator Barack Obama (Ill.) did not even appear in the story.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/in-praise-of-the-wsj-ed-page-no-seriously/257544/