Smear Fail!

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put out a hilarious press release slagging a GOP congressional candidate for his ties to the “right wing extremist group,” the “CATO” [sic] Institute.

Hmm. By my reckoning, Cato’s to the left of Obama on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all issues related to the drug war, indefinite detention, state secrets, government transparency, extraordinary rendition, “enhanced interrogation,” and government surveillance. Cato has also filed pro-defense amicus briefs on the opposite side of the Obama administration on cases ranging from the civil commitment of would-be sex offenders, to suing prosecutors who frame innocent people, to compensating attorneys who win civil rights lawsuits against the government, to ensuring property owners who lose their property in forfeiture cases get their day in court in a timely fashion. Cato was also a hell of a lot more active about holding the prior administration’s feet to the fire for its abuse of the Constitution than the spineless Democrats were.

If Cato is extreme right wing, where does that put Obama and the Democratic leadership?

I’m not even sure the issue the DCCC is complaining about here–free trade–has an easily demarcated left-right breakdown. I’m also not sure how it’s “right-wing” to advocate unilaterally bringing down trade barriers to allow mutual exchange of labor and goods with the people of other countries. You could (incorrectly) argue that it’s unwise, but there’s nothing necessarily right-wing about it. Even if the DCCC is claiming Cato is right-wing corporatist (as opposed to right-wing populist), that doesn’t really hold water either, given that the organization comes down on the opposite side of Obama and most congressional Democrats on corporate farm subsidies, R&D boondoggles, and the bailouts. Hell, Cato wants to eliminate the Department of Commerce! That’s extreme (and correct, IMHO), but it’s hardly right-wing.

But what do I know? In lefty land, I’m just a Republican who does drugs.

(Disclosure: I should have added when I put up this post that I worked for Cato for five years, and now have an unpaid Media Fellow position with the organization.)

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28 Responses to “Smear Fail!”

  1. #1 |  SES | 

    You know, Radley, occasionally I get to thinking that there can be such a think as a rational debate between reasonable people of differing values and hence, different political beliefs. I think that, you know, sometimes when one gets past the demagoguery and team hatred, it might be possible for us to discuss our differences in a reasoned way and come to some kind of measured, respectful accommodation of differences.

    Then you go lifting that rock by reminding us what kind of stomach-churning idiocy goes on at sites like “Sadly, No! (clue what we’re talking about)” and it goes to remind me that no, reasonable dialogue really isn’t possible with most people. And while the conservatives may have insufferable cretins like Hannity and Limbaugh on the airwaves, the left is far from exempt from rallying around know-nothing blowhards. Only with added smugness.

    In as much, there cant’ really be a debate, sometimes, because that’s not what these people want. No, they just want to villainize and engage in some good-old-fashioned team hatred.

    In as much, sometimes schadenfreude is about the only joy I get out of politics as a libertarian.

  2. #2 |  MacGregory | 

    Shit then, guess I’m gonna have to form a 4th party. Anybody with with me?

  3. #3 |  Aresen | 

    “But what do I know? In lefty land, I’m just a Republican who does drugs.”



  4. #4 |  Noel St. John | 

    “But what do I know? In lefty land, I’m just a Republican who does drugs. ”

    Intrigued by that last sentence, I followed the link and read the article, and further tortured my intellect by reading through the comments. Doing so gave me some insight into the lefty base and I just had to shake my head. I’m reminded of 5 year olds throwing temper tantrums and using the same sort of circular logic and ad hominem arguments to attack a position not even remotely understood. (Ahem…not the the righty base is much better.)

    Nevertheless, the DCCC ought to be at least bright enough to know that CATO is anything but right wing! I think this is more of an attempt to smear the image of CATO in the eyes of the equally unthinking toddlers of the conservative base.

  5. #5 |  Bronwyn | 

    Well, if you circularize the political spectrum – which is an easy argument to make – then Cato is to the right of everyone, even if you have to go the long way ’round.

    So there’s that, you know.

  6. #6 |  Michael Chaney | 

    The point of calling Cato “right-wing” is to delegitimize them and send a signal to the readers “don’t bother finding out more about them”. As a libertarian, you quickly get used to the right thinking you’re a leftist and the left thinking you’re a rightist.

  7. #7 |  Mattocracy | 

    CATO is a great organization advocating freedom. That’s why they must smear them so that no one reads their reasonable ideas regarding freedom and liberty. Such intellectual dishonesty makes you wonder if the DNC decided to use play out of the Karl Rove Playbook.

  8. #8 |  digamma | 

    Any liberal who’s read Roger Pilon could be forgiven for the confusion.

  9. #9 |  MacGregory | 

    Democrat, Republican, I am neither and I am both. My head spins when I get labeled.

  10. #10 |  Mattocracy | 

    That release is so damn shameful. So free trade is right wing extremism? Seriously? Free trade is the same as racism, imperialism, and nationalism? Free trade policies were advocated by Bush and they caused our economy to fail? Talk about rewriting history. Heaven forbid we hold the abismail deficit or interest rate manipulation by the FED accountable. CATO’s policies will ship jobs overseas! Even though Hong Kong and Tawain practise free trade and they have no fear of running out of jobs.

    And yet they refer to CATO as advocating unfair trade policies because they dont favor US interests over the poor and down trodded countries of the third world.

    Do you think these people are aware of their hypocrisy and don’t care, or are they really that full of shit?

  11. #11 |  Jeff | 

    Hey, I’m a lefty and I even realize calling CATO right-wing is bullshiat.

    Though for some reason when people talk about attacking CATO I always think of the person doing the attacking as Peter Sellers…

  12. #12 |  Pablo | 

    Years ago I quit using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because most who use those terms have made them meaningless. They are two sides of the same authoritarian coin. After reading this I’ll stop using the terms “left wing” and “right wing.” Maybe “authoritarian,” “statist,” and “fascist,” as appropriate.

  13. #13 |  Kathleen | 

    “and it goes to remind me that no, reasonable dialogue really isn’t possible with most people. And while the conservatives may have insufferable cretins like Hannity and Limbaugh on the airwaves, the left is far from exempt from rallying around know-nothing blowhards. Only with added smugness.”

    In response to SES,
    You know, I have been on both sides of the political spectrum. I’ll admit now that I was a “bleeding heart” liberal for a long time, and still occasionally fall back on my liberal roots. (After moving to Boulder, CO I quickly realized I was more conservative than I thought). It’s almost eerie to read the remarks on “Sadly, No!” as they remind me of a time when I was admittedly too lazy to do research on current events, and instead went with what my fellow liberal friends insisted was the truth. Then, when I was ousted from that podium by cold, hard facts, I became furious, almost prideful, and would just walk away from the conversation without even allowing for a civilized debate. I saw some of this on the comment board at “Sadly, No!”
    I think the reason for such hatred on sites like “Sadly, No!” is two-fold. First, it’s much easier to smear someone’s livelihood from the safety of your computer desk where you never have to speak to that person face-to-face. Second, and more importantly, I think that we oftentimes get so caught up in our own opinions that it’s impossible to listen to the opposite, and possibly true, voice. It becomes a pride issue for some, whose opinion seems so solid to them, that when it is cut down with one single statement or fact that proves the contrary, they don’t know what to do except grow hateful of the truth. And, of course, this happens on both sides of the spectrum, as we’ve seen with the talking heads of FOX News and CNN. Who knows what the solution to this immense problem is? We can’t force people to be civil, and unfortunately people are more content to be up in arms than at peace. That’s my two cents.

    Keep writing the truth, Radley!

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    They are two sides of the same authoritarian coin.

    Exactly! There is ONE coin. What moron is holding up a sign “DOWN WITH TAILS!” or “HEADS SUCKS!”

    The game is to appease the crowd by flipping the coin every couple of years, but IT IS STILL THE SAME COIN!

    Look at the cheering for Brown in MA. Yay! We flipped the coin! WTF!

  15. #15 |  Steve Verdon | 

    If Cato is extreme right wing, where does that put Obama and the Democratic leadership?

    Is this a trick question? They are Statists, authoritarians, bad people? Take your pick they all work for me.

    BTW, same goes for Republicans too.

  16. #16 |  Peter | 

    Quit slagging the Department of Commerce. It’s two largest divisions are EXPLICITLY powers granted to the feds by the Constitution. The Census Bureau and the Patent and Trademark Office are very much constitutional, and both are in Commerce.

    Just saying.

  17. #17 |  Tsu Dho Nihm | 

    They are two sides of the same authoritarian coin.

    Heads – they win; tails – we lose.

  18. #18 |  InMD | 

    I’ve come to the conclusion that in the modern political spectrum “left” and “right” have become devoid of meaning. I prefer to talk in terms of “rational” versus “irrational”. People can have opposed, or somewhat differing yet still rational views when it comes to the role of the state in all manner of human activities. However, when we start entering the realm of irrational views, I find they aren’t worth taking into consideration at all. The problem is irrational views are easier to sell because they require far less explanation. Therefore they are the ones which predominate.

  19. #19 |  JOR | 

    “I’ve come to the conclusion that in the modern political spectrum “left” and “right” have become devoid of meaning.”

    They’re not devoid of meaning. They just don’t mean something about ideas. They mean something more about tribal allegiances.

    Which is fine. Sometimes it’s useful to know what someone’s (broad) tribal allegiances are, but it’s also important to know that tribal allegiances and affiliations can shift in dramatic ways even in short periods of time. It’s also important to understand that there really are ideas, and members of any given tribal confederacy probably do have actual ideas and beliefs and values as individuals, and aren’t just automatons who toe the party line just-because. Rather, they themselves mistake their ideas and the ideas of like-minded tribe members as some sort of ideological foundation for the broader tribal coalition. They go on to happily mistake this coalition as a philosophical tradition going back to Time Immemorial (1950) rather than a pragmatic tribal confederacy duking it out at the ballot box and in cultural norms over goodies and political power with a rival confederacy.

  20. #20 |  How | 

    Hahaha!!! Those commentors at the “Sadly, no” link are as dumb as some of yours!

  21. #21 |  Jason | 

    John T Flynn, in “As We Go Marching” makes the case that nationalism, protectionism, etc, that the Fascists were known for is the result of leftist policies to protect policies that benefit workers.

  22. #22 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Re: #18

    “Left” and “right” typically refer to two different sets of things that people want a government to do (“left” wants government to “take care” of everybody, “right” wants government to “punish” moral offenders). Both want big government, they just want it to do different things.

    The big problem is that, politics being what it is, both sides get what they want most of the time in “compromises”, and we end up with the worst of both worlds.

  23. #23 |  Kit Smith | 

    Nothing serves as a warning beacon to me more that you’re dealing with political hacks rather than people interested in actual debate on issues and trying to find solutions to problems than when someone trots out the “extreme left” and “extreme right” style comments. I typically note the comments coming more from GOP Congressmen and pundits (who apparently believe anyone to the left of Sarah Palin is a communist), but the Democrats are (as illustrated by the aforementioned example) not above doing it as well.

    This kind of commentary drives me absolutely berserk and is exactly why I prefer to read about political events than listen to jackasses discuss them on cable TV.

  24. #24 |  awp | 

    If I am “hard right” for economic freedom and “hard left” for social freedom, does that average out and make me a moderate?

  25. #25 |  Graham Shevlin | 

    I gave up using “left” and “right” some time ago. The terms are useless, in that, as a commenter noted, they really refer to tribal allegiances rather than to political philosophies based on ideas.
    These days I tend to divide ideas and philosophies into authoritarian vs. libertarian, or progressive vs. regressive. The United States has to decide what kind of country it wants to be as it grows up. Is it going to be a country governed by broadly libertarian principles, or a country governed by authoritarians? Is it going to be forward-looking and progressive, or backwards-looking and regressive?
    The Cato institute, like most libertarian-leaning bodies, totally does not fit into the left-right dichotomy, which is false and pretty much useless.
    However, the left-right false dichotomy is a language construct that is so pervasive via the media that most of the people I attempt to discuss politics with are infected by it.

  26. #26 |  Why Not Cut Military Spending? - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine | 

    […] Balko | February 8, 2010 Writing in Politico, Chris Preble of the (right-wing fanatic!) Cato Institute and Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network debunk the bipartisan […]

  27. #27 |  Why Not Cut Military Spending? | The Agitator | 

    […] in Politico, Chris Preble of the (right-wing extremist!) Cato Institute and Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network debunk the bipartisan […]

  28. #28 |  ICED BORSCHT | 

    I only recently discovered the SADLY NO blog. And I can say without a doubt that I have never seen a more shrill and hateful political Web site in all my years of net surfing.

    But — hey, bro — it’s hate in the name of “good,” so it’s all cool and shit!

    My dream job would be a salaried position wherein my job duties consisted of repeatedly bludgeoning the face of every blogger and commenter who has ever frequented the SADLY NO site.

    I’m curious if it’s possible to airdrop all SADLY NO contributors in Yemen or Mecca or some similar shitscape with “Fuck Allah” sandwich boards wrapped around each of their bodies? Might be worth pursuing.