This Week in Ad Hominem Attacks

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

A couple days ago, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pointed to an article by my Reason colleague Ron Bailey on carbon rationing, noted that Bailey had also edited a 2002 book that included an essay questioning global warming, then rather unsubtly suggested that Ron was bought and paid for.

What Chait failed to note is that Bailey has since changed his mind about global warming, and in a very public way. Now, you could argue that Bailey should have seen the light on global warming much earlier than 2006. You might also disagree with his opinions about how to best address global warming now. But you really can’t imply to your readers that Bailey’s global warming denialism is evidence that Bailey and Reason are merely serving their Koch paymasters when five years ago Bailey publicly repudiated the position you’re alleging he’s still getting paid to take. And yes, Bailey is still Reason’s science correspondent. He wasn’t fired for his apostasy. (Note: I don’t write about science or environmentalism, but from what I’ve read, I also believe that we’re experiencing climate change, and that man-made activity is likely responsible for at least a not-insignificant percentage of it.)

So yesterday, Chait again went after Bailey, this time mocking libertarians in general because one of our own, Bailey, once wrote an article that advocated an individual health insurance mandate. Bailey more than aptly responds to Chait here, and Bailey doesn’t really need me to defend him. But I’ll add a couple things, anyway. First, Chait weirdly suggests that this is some sort of libertarian hypocrisy, as if Bailey’s health care article were representative of all libertarian opinion, and that libertarians only now oppose the mandate we all once championed because, I guess, it’s being pushed by Obama.* Thing is, lots of libertarians disagreed with Bailey’s article at the time, including a good percentage of the Reason office.

Hell, someone not utterly blinkered by partisanship might even conclude that Bailey’s article and Reason‘s publication of it suggest that Reason is . . . open to heterodox ideas!  Sometimes we even publish them! In fact, someone willing to see his political opponents in a generous light might even see all this as evidence that Reason‘s editorial decisions aren’t entirely dictated by morning memos sent over from Wichita, Kansas. A generous person might also conclude that all of this suggests Ron Bailey is the kind of guy who forms his opinions based on taking in a lot of information, then abiding by his own sense of reason, logic, and his own personal values—not by who signs his paycheck.

This brings me to my second point. Chait’s post yesterday amusingly (and apparently obliviously) undermines his post from Wednesday. That is, a mere two days after Chait put up a post implying that Bailey and Reason are bought-and-paid-for Koch shills, he puts up a post mocking Bailey and Reason for writing and publishing an article that advocates a policy the Kochs have spent millions of dollars trying to overturn. And he apparently doesn’t see the disconnect.

In related news, the latest Koch scandal (which Chait also touts) is that House Republican leaders have scrapped Nancy Pelosi’s composting plan for the House cafeteria and, instead, have awarded a contract to supply Styrofoam paper cups to a company run by . . . a Koch executive!

Well that does seem pretty outrageous. Except, wait. It’s a former Koch executive. Not only that, it’s a former Koch executive who left Koch to start a company that rivals a Koch line. (Koch owns Dixie Cup.) Oh, and House Republicans had nothing to do with who got the account. It was handled by a contractor that runs the House cafeteria.

Please note that I’m not commenting on the wisdom, or lack thereof, of scrapping Pelosi’s program. Nor am I necessarily advocating the use of Styrafoam cups. Nor am I suggesting that Republican (or Democratic) politicians don’t award government contracts for corrupt reasons. I am saying that you have to try really hard to make Koch a part of this story.

(*The accusation—which Chait doesn’t make, but others have—that we at Reason are just thinly-disguised Republicans is hard to square with the fact that no full-time staffer voted for McCain in 2008. Two (including Bailey) voted for Obama. The rest voted for Barr, or didn’t vote at all.)

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27 Responses to “This Week in Ad Hominem Attacks”

  1. #1 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Nice try, Radley, but you and the Koch brothers aren’t going to fool us with the old double-triple reverse trick on Opposite Day.

  2. #2 |  Aresen | 

    You do realize that, should a site like Balloon Juice comment on this post, you would be accused of covering up Bailey’s AGW denialism?

    And a few selected out-of-context quotes from above would be used to support the allegation.


  3. #3 |  Episiarch | 

    This Koch shit is really excellently exposing just how bonecrushingly stupid, dishonest, hypocritical, and hacktastic partisans are. When they were going after each other, TEAM RED vs TEAM BLUE, they were all partisan morons so these tactics worked. But as soon as they go after some people who aren’t partisan retards like themselves, it becomes instantly clear that they’re utterly full of shit.

    If it wasn’t so annoying it would be kind of fun watching them embarrass themselves again and again.

  4. #4 |  Standard Mischief | 

    If indeed we are experiencing significant global warming from man-made causes, I’m going to have to see significant proof (including raw data) that’s completely separate from the mischief pulled by the “hide the decline” climate-fraud group. (pro tip: don’t leave incriminating evidence in the comments of your FORTRAN program.)

    A few years ago some were arguing that global warming was so bad already that totally reversing it was beyond us as humans, and we needed to work together to minimize the impact as much as possible.

    Then we had an unusually long minimum period at the end of the last sunspot cycle. By normal calculations, I should be making global contacts via skip on ten meters right about now. Today’s sunspot number: 104

    Honestly though, I’d play along with the “sunspot existence deniers” if it would get us a few hundred hardened, molten salt thorium fuel cycle reactors located in densely populated areas so we could also use the low-level waste heat efficiently in a steam district or to keep a bridge or two de-iced in the wintertime.

  5. #5 |  Mattocracy | 

    This is a great summation of someone’s uninformed opinions and why they are wrong. Unfortunately, it will be ignored by those who would then feel silly for having their beliefs undermined.

    What’s this? Evidence to the contrary? Fuck this shit.

  6. #6 |  tim | 

    So that I understand it – if its a liberal – they are secretly being controlled by Soros. If its a conservative or libertarian – they are secretly being controlled for by the Koch brothers.

  7. #7 |  Dan | 

    My favorite Koch conspiracy theory was the one about how the PBS special on evolution they funded didn’t mention global warming and that was proof of something.

  8. #8 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Weekend Edition had a report on the House Cafeteria story this morning that made the switch to styrofoam sound pretty reasonable. It seems that the old biodegradable dishes and silverware just weren’t working: they were disintegrating, bending with the slightest torque, allowing hot soup to leak through, etc. My guess is that the House Democrats got impatient and procured crappy products in a rush to be environmentally correct, so I’d say the Republicans are smart to return to products that are tested and reliable. The report mentioned that the House is looking into adopting washable silverware, too, so I really don’t think the GOP is acting out of environmental malice.

    I consider the solid waste stream a serious environmental problem, by the way. Styrofoam and similar products are an environmental disaster that should be avoided when possible. Biodegradable alternatives, however, are often pat non-solutions. A lot of materials that are easily decomposed in ideal conditions fester for decades in hypoxic zones in landfills. Then, when they do start decomposing, they produce large quantities of methane and acidic leachate that are very difficult and expensive to capture. Some Ancient Roman landfills are still discharging leachate, so biodegradables are a gift that keeps on giving.

  9. #9 |  Andrew Roth | 

    The people making a scandal out of the House Cafeteria story are either uninformed or useless, paranoid partisan twits. On second thought, more likely both. That combination is pervasive in Washington.

  10. #10 |  t1 | 

    “Ad hominem” doesn’t mean what you think it does.

  11. #11 |  shecky | 

    The rest voted for Barr, or didn’t vote at all.

    ughh… Radley, you shoulda quit while you’re ahead.

  12. #12 |  Radley Balko | 

    “Ad hominem” doesn’t mean what you think it does.

    Well by all means, then. Educate me!

    Explain to me how attacking someone based on where they get their funding doesn’t qualify as an ad hominem attack.

  13. #13 |  Elliot | 

    Yes, there is Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW). CO2 emissions do increase the greenhouse gas effect. But the alarmists predict catastrophic warming (CAGW) far in excess of what one would expect from CO2 alone. Warren Meyer has a video presentation and layman’s guide explaining some of the faults with the alarmist claims.

    The thing is, even if the CAGW claims are true, short of reverting civilization back a couple centuries, there’s no way to make a difference. All the “green” initiatives will make next to no difference whatsoever, without completely destroying much of human industry.

    So, the people trying to organize carbon markets are essentially snake oil salesmen, trying to make a profit off of fear, without doing anything substantive to solve the problem.

  14. #14 |  MPH | 

    Radley, say it isn’t so! You haven’t drunk the AGW cool-aid, have you? I suggest visiting the site, written by Steven Milloy, the scientist who wrote the book Junk Science Judo. He explains, in great, gory, scientifically repeatable detail, why AGW alarmism is pure, 100% BS, here: There’s a lot of info here, but here’s my (possibly imperfect) recollection of the upshot.

    First, a clarification. Greenhouses work by preventing convective cooling. The “greenhouse effect” of gasses in the atmosphere do not prevent convection, they absorb infrared radiation, warming the atmosphere rather than allowing the radiation to escape to space. Convective cooling still occurs in the atmosphere.

    If the atmosphere were totally transparent to infrared radiation, the “planetary average annual surface temperature” (PAAST) would be 0 degrees F. Instead, it is 59 degrees F. He then goes on to explain how much of that 59 degrees is due to what gasses (something like 56 degrees are due to water vapor from evaporation from the oceans – something we can’t effect if we tried). The amount attributable to mankind’s emissions is 0.28 degrees F.

    So if mankind had emitted NO, ZERO, NADA, ZILCH, “greenhouse” gases so far in all of history, the PAAST would be 58.72 degrees F.

    In other words, don’t lose any sleep over this (non)problem.

    He also has information on whether being warmer would actually be “bad”. It’s a good site, well researched, and I highly recommend it.

  15. #15 |  t1 | 

    One example: “So yesterday, Chait again went after Bailey, this time mocking libertarians in general because one of our own, Bailey, once wrote an article that advocated an individual health insurance mandate.”

    Noting that someone has previously advocated a position they now criticize is not an ad hominem attack.

  16. #16 |  Episiarch | 

    Noting that someone has previously advocated a position they now criticize is not an ad hominem attack.

    Mendacious, or just stupid? Which is t1? I’m going with both.

  17. #17 |  David Nieporent | 

    There’s a simple explanation: Jonathan Chait is a hack.

    He wrote a piece criticizing Judge Vinson’s decision in the Obamacare case; in the piece, he mocked Vinson for concluding that the mandate could not be deemed a tax. His argument was that this was a “transparently result-driven ideological polemic” because no reasonable person could accept this conclusion. Apparently Chait didn’t realize that every single judge to issue an opinion on Obamacare, including the Democratic-appointed judges who upheld Obamacare, rejected the “tax” argument.

    (Note to some: this is an insult, not an ad hominem. I am not saying that Chait’s arguments are wrong _because_ he’s a hack. I am just calling him a hack.)

  18. #18 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    t1…I don’t even…

  19. #19 |  Rob in CT | 

    Blue/Red captures something like 99% of the politics in this country. Thus, if you’re Blue and somebody disagrees with you, he/she must be Red. MUST BE!

  20. #20 |  James Hare | 

    But if an individual mandate is an unconstitutional step on the way to a fascist state, why was Reason allowing anyone to advocate for it in the first place? The lady doth protest too much, I think.

  21. #21 |  Joel MaHarry | 

    James (#20), I believe you are correct. Balko and Bailey manage to both generate lots of noisy indignation, but obviously they’re trying to distract from the central point — Reason was for the individual mandate before it were against it.
    As for the headline, it’s just inaccurate. Chait eviscerated Bailey over the “Reason” writer’s hypocrisy. Bailey’s character was never at issue.

  22. #22 |  Radley Balko | 

    Reason was for the individual mandate before it were against it.

    This simply isn’t true. One Reason writer favored a mandate as part of his overall idea on healthcare reform. This isn’t difficult to understand. Reason isn’t monolithic. We don’t publish unsigned editorials. Different writers can and do have different opinions.

  23. #23 |  Radley Balko | 

    But if an individual mandate is an unconstitutional step on the way to a fascist state, why was Reason allowing anyone to advocate for it in the first place?

    Because Ron is a full-time staffer who is allowed to have his own opinions. Reason is a magazine of ideas. Which means sometimes some writers will have different ideas.

    And show me where anyone at Reason said the mandate is a step on the way to a fascist state. It’s troubling to think the government can force you to buy something from a private company. But no one at Reason has suggested is fascism.

  24. #24 |  b-psycho | 

    Can I just say how odd it is that libertarianism is being painted as a lock-step Koch money conspiracy when there are major libertarian figures who can’t freakin’ stand the Kochs?

  25. #25 |  KochSister | 

    “there are major libertarian figures who can’t freakin’ stand the Kochs?”

    Not at Reason, there isn’t.

  26. #26 |  JOR | 

    The paleos and Mises Institute folks were hatin’ on the Kochs since way before it was cool.

    And of course, these are the people who always used to collectively deride the “left-libertarians” at Reason, etc. Politics and strange bedfellows and all that.

  27. #27 |  Elliot | 

    People who describe themselves as “left libertarian” or “libertarian socialists” are either cynical propagandists trying to exploit the useful idiots who hear the word “libertarian” and think that’s a good thing, or they are the useful idiots who don’t have a clue what a silly oxymoron such terms are. Self ownership is a fundamental tenet of libertarianism and it’s absurd to try to combine that with a collectivist political philosophy which ultimately denies that you own your life (i.e., if the powers on high deem it so, you have innate obligations to “the people” or to “society” regardless of your choices, or that the needs of others outweigh your own rights).

    At the same time, people who try to combine libertarianism with “conservative” policies (prohibition, anti-immigration, corporate cronyism, foreign interventions, government surveillance) run into similar problems. And, if they’re tossing about the term “left libertarian” to mean someone who is a principled libertarian, they aren’t even using the term as the oxymoronically self-described “left libertarians” mean it.

    Individualism doesn’t fit on the archaic and stupid left/right continuum. And, when people aren’t trying to form some hybrid stupidity, I suspect that in many cases, the “left” or “right” biases among some self-described libertarians is a residual emotional tie to one’s past, before becoming enlightened by individualism. If you were a Democrat before becoming libertarian, then you may tend to overlook the faults of Democrats as they run afoul of individualist principles. The same goes for Republican converts.