Kausism

Just below, Mark sticks his shiv into Mickey Kaus. I’m with him. Despite the fact that I agree with Kaus on particular issues (I was with him, basically, on welfare reform, and I’m certainly on Kaus’ side where education reform is concerned), he seems stuck in a time warp, where everything still looks like 1991. If it were still 1991, I’d understand. But–and I assume Kaus’s calendar is the same as mine–it’s not. The Republicans have done serious damage, for example, to how Congress is run, and this has had terrible consequences for the distribution of taxes in America, our fiscal condition, environmental politics, etc. To push Mark’s metaphor forward, Mickey is like the soldier who claims to be with your army, but somehow keeps pointing the cannon in the wrong direction. It is perfectly possible to hold many of the same views that Mickey does (not all of them–his position on Social Security couldn’t be more wrong) and still conclude that the really important question, today, is how to establish some sort of institutional control for the Democrats, in order to stop the worst of what the Republicans want to do (for example, even if you’ve got some concerns with raising the minimum wage, for example–and I do–the idea of tying it to making the estate taxation is almost comically regressive) and set the agenda for what Democrats would do if they get full control of Congress and the executive (like passing universal health care and restructuring the tax system).

Mickey seems to think, even now, that the most important task is to point out all of what is wrong with the Democrats. But in a two-party system, you have to pick a party and go with it. It is genuinely unclear to me what it is that Mickey actually LIKES about the Democrats, and why he prefers them to the Republicans. It is also unclear precisely why he thinks his current distribution of fire at his own troops is actually strategically sound. The real explanation is that Mickey’s approach has nothing to do with a strategic assessment of where criticism is most valuable. Instead, Mickey has simply developed a talent for attacking Democrats–it’s what he’s good at. So he keeps doing it. I understand that. I see in myself some of the same instincts. But these instincts are like evolutionary impulses that were productive adaptations to an environment that no longer exists. We’re in a new world Mickey, and have been for some time.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.

24 thoughts on “Kausism”

  1. A few years ago Kaus told the "L.A. Weekly" (with a straight face) that while he prefers the Democrats, he also greatly prefers to criticize them publicly because "they respond to criticism while the Republicans don't." In other words, Kaus' public attitude toward the GOP reminds me of that scene in "Through the Looking Glass" in which the White King tells Alice, "There's nothing like eating hay when you're faint!" When Alice questions this, the King snaps, "I never said there was nothing BETTER. I said there was nothing LIKE it."

  2. Kaus became officially dead to me in '04. I wish everyone would blacklist him so then I'd never have to be reminded of his writings.

  3. The more likely way to look at it is that he just trying to sell papers. So he writes what his readership wants to read. Too bad his readership is made up of Republicans.

  4. Slate's readership isn't made up of republicans. It's doubtful if Kaus is actually an asset to Slate from a commercial standpoint, I suspect more of a drag. But Weisberg is a Mickey Kaus himself, that's why they're keeping him.

  5. "Mickey seems to think, even now, that the most important task is to point out all of what is wrong with the Democrats. But in a two-party system, you have to pick a party and go with it."
    I know it's not *exactly* the same. But this sort of comment — and much of the complaint about Kaus — reminds me of some Republicans who say anyone who offers criticism of the Iraq war is being unloyal to the U.S. and supporting the terrorists.
    Loyalty to the U.S. is consistent with frequent and sharp criticism of our actions, isn't it? The critics aren't just taking partisan cheap shots, are they? So why is preference for the Democratic party consistent with frequent and sharp criticism of its errors?

  6. Is this some kind of joke? Does anyone care what Kaus "really" thinks on any topic? I've never read, or heard, that he has any kind of appointed or elected position–he isn't employed to do anything or make anything happen. He is just a talking head, a paid pundit and shill. That being the case, what is there to "agree" with? He may occasionally happen on perspectives or opinions with which you agree but his agreement is worth exactly zero. His function is to shill for the right wing, to attack democrats, and to humiliate and destabilize any kind of opposition to the current status quo. Agreeing with him on one thing (school reform?) is like agreeing with my elderly comatose aunt–it has no real world effect. Agreeing with him on actual public policies on which he writes regularly would be simply agreeing that democrats are always wrong–that's the real subtext of what he writes, that's the real focus of his "work" to the extent that we can say he has "work."
    Kaus is a paid shill for the GOP and for the wealthy. His rhetorical association with the democrats or with any worthwile policy initiatives are simply shams.
    aimai

  7. To address something completely off topic, is anyone else annoyed with the format of Kos' blog and the way he writes?

  8. aimai,
    If Kaus's "function is to … humiliate and destabilize any kind of opposition to the current status quo," why was the last post here ("Note to Mickey Kaus") largely about his opposition to the status quo guarding of the teachers' unions?

  9. roger sweeny,
    anyone who thinks that the *teacher's union* is one of the problems facing america at this moment in time needs to have their head examined. I have two school aged children and am very involved in education–not some unmarried, unreproductive pundit–and I know that education has suffered in this country under Bush. There are many reasons why we don't get great teachers and great schools anymore–if we every did–among them (obviously)
    the removal of the glass ceiling that enabled highly educated women, such as myself, to do things other than teaching.
    the crumbling of the infrastructure of schools built when public interest in public schooling was high.
    the continual contempt and degradation heaped upon teachers and the communities they serve
    the declining power of the dollar
    declining investment in education
    declining interest in education for "the poor" or "others" or even "the middle class."
    the list goes on and on.
    the teacher's union, to my mind, isn't even on the horizon of problems that schools, teachers, and communities face.
    But in any event the "status quo" refers not to "shit that's already in place" but "powerful people." The teacher's union may be powerful–I don't see it that way–in its limited domain but it scarcely even begins to nudge its way through the top rank of more powerful interests in this country–the military, the military/industrial complex, big pharma, the insurance industry, the republican party. The teacher's union is a joke compared to that.
    Anyone–anyone!–who wastes a minute of our precious public discourse on "the teacher's union" as our country founders economically, morally, and politically in the morass of Iraq and GOP control of the house, senate, judiciary and executive is simply not a serious person. Certainly, they can't be called any kind of contrarian taking on the "status quo"–they are simply taking the low road, demagoguing an issue in the manner most favorable to those who pay their salaries.
    aimai

  10. Yesterday: Liberal blogosphere goes to great lengths to help oust a sitting Democratic Senator in a safe seat in favor of a primary challenger who is at serious risk of losing in the general election because said Democratic Senator isn't liberal enough for them on foreign policy.
    Today: Liberal blogosphere rakes Mickey Kaus over the coals for concentrating too much on what he doesn't like about Democrats and not enough on what he doesn;t like about Republicans.
    Irony getting too thick in here.

  11. Does Mickey Kauss actually have any cannons to point in the wrong direction? It seems to me that he is packing, at best, an intellectual popgun, so who cares where he points it. Kauss is a bush league Rush Limbaugh, who attempts to differentiate his brand by pretending that he's actually a Democrat.

  12. To SD: where, pray tell, is the irony? Liberals dislike Lieberman for exactly the same reason they dislike Kaus: he "concentrates too much on what he doesn't like about Democrats and not enough on what he doesn't like about Republicans."
    Personally, the biggest reason I dislike Lieberman (besides his enthusiastic willingness to support Bush on the subject of torture and abuse of POWs) has just been stated by Jonathan Chait as well: "Above all, he has maddeningly failed to acknowledge just how badly the Iraq war has turned out, which is different from insisting that we have to fix the mess we created. After all, many hawkish Democrats such as Senator Joe Biden of Delaware supported the war and don't want to retreat but fully acknowledge President Bush's catastrophic management of the occupation."
    Joe Klein remarked in "Time" just last week on the literally mindless nature of Lieberman's perpetual chant that things are actually going well in Iraq — when Klein pushed him on his reasons for repeating this, Liebermen confessed that he didn't really know whether things were going well there or not. Krauthammer and Martin Peretz complain that Lamont is a lightweight on the crucial issue of how to fight the overall War on Terror. They may be right — but what they fail to mention is that Lieberman is every bit as lightweight on this issue.

  13. aimai,
    I am sorry you think I need to have my head examined. Though I suppose that is evidence for your contention that teachers are denigrated. You see, I am not "some unmarried, unreproductive pundit." I am a public school teacher.
    Actually, you "heap" a lot more "contempt and degradation" on me than the "community [I] serve." I don't see "declining investment in education" here or across the country. Figures show spending on schooling continues to rise. When it comes to politics, I don't see "declining interest in education." NOBODY wins office promising to spend less on the educational system. EVERYONE says some variation on, "we have to do better."
    Of course, we can question how serious they are.

  14. Bruce:
    Here's the irony: If Liebermen had not been opposed in the primary he would have easily been re-elected, keeping the seat in Democratic hands and providing a vote for a Democratic organization of the Senate – which may well matter as the Senate is closely divided. But with Liebermen shut out of the Democratic nomination he will likely run as an independent, which makes it highly likely that the seat will not be held by a Democrat – either Liebermen could win (he's ahead of Lamont in post-primary polling) or the Republican could win. The general election voting population is, obviosuly, more conservative than the Democratic primary voting population.
    So the folks who have worked so hard to knock Liebermen out of the nomination have made the decision that its more important to have the right positions on the issues than it is to support the party unconditionally. They have refused to back the party line just because its the party line. And bully for them.
    And that is precisely what Mickey Kaus does all the time. His politics are largely in the mainstream of the Democratic party. He does, however, dissent from party orthodoxy on a handful of issues. So the question before him is: do I argue for what I believe is right, attempting to change the ideological mix of the party in a way that I think leads to better policy and better long term political outcomes, even if doing so leads to worse short term political outcomes? He could, after all, shut up and just follow the DNC party line. But if you think that's the right answer, remind me why you fought to unseat a sitting Democratic Senator and put a safe seat in play?

  15. roger sweeney,
    if you are a public school teacher then you are certainly entitled to your own opinion–though not, of course, your own facts. The fact that the money spent on schools may be going up, in some districts and for some purposes, has nothing to do with the fact that we are disinvesting in our children and our public schools in terms of the real dollars that would be needed to solve their problems. I'm sorry that for you, in your line of work, the teacher's union is a bigger problem than it would appear to be for the rest of us who are concerned with other issues (which kaus, of course, does tackle, if only from the wrong side) such as the iraq war, health care, etc…
    aimai

  16. My main problem with the guy is that I find it fundamentally impossible to take a grown man seriously when he chooses of his own free will to go by the name "Mickey."

  17. aimai,
    Per-pupil spending in the public schools has consistently gone up since the Second World War, even adjusting for inflation ("real dollars").
    Perhaps you mean something more subtle when you say "we are disinvesting in our children and our public schools in terms of the real dollars that would be needed to solve their problems."

  18. To SD: The point about Kaus is that he criticizes the Democrats far more than he criticizes the GOP — and that he hardly ever makes it clear that, on balance, he prefers the Dems. And that is the difference between him and Lamont's supporters — I very much doubt they would say, or even hint, that they prefer the GOP candidate to Lieberman. Their purely strategic difficulties in deciding which candidate to support in the primary were entirely due to the seriously idiotic 2-stage way American political elections are set up.
    (Bush, however, may be about to simplify that matter where Connecticut is concerned: Tony Snow flatly refused today to say that Bush endorses Alan Schlesinger in the general election.)

  19. Kaus had one idea — he thought there would be a bigger socio-political payoff if Dems concentrated on limiting social inequality instead of ameliorating economic inequality. It was an interesting idea in the mid-90s and I particularly liked the national jobs program component. After welfare reform was enacted Kaus seem to lose interest in the subject. For the past ten years, his only contribution has been providing TNR contrarianism to the masses.

  20. The comments definitely undermine the post. If Teles is right, and all the dumb liberalism of the past is buried, how does he explain his own comment threads, let alone Atrios or Daily Kos?
    The idea that partisan loyalty is an important quality in a pundit might be part of the problem with America right now.

  21. That problem is not going to be alleviated by pundits who insist (when pressed) that they are really on one ideological side — but who aim most of their public criticism at their own side at a time when there is a first-class battle for sheer political survival going on against the other side, using the bizarre argument that their own side "responds more readily to criticism". Quoting Kleiman below, "MPs don't usually run on the battlefield shouting enemy slogans and shooting errant soldiers in the back."

  22. "The comments definitely undermine the post. If Teles is right, and all the dumb liberalism of the past is buried, how does he explain his own comment threads, let alone Atrios or Daily Kos?"
    And of course the comments thread on random web sites reflect the views of people who possess great power and great responsibility. As much as say the people who run the country.
    The fact is that the US has been run for 6 years by a majority Republican Congress (except for 1 year in the Senate), a Republican Supreme Court, a Republican President. The Republican President has been responsible for the most disastrous foreign policy blunder of our times in Iraq. And all Kaus can do is obsess over BrokeBack mountain viewers instead of confronting this maladroit administration.
    Andrew Sullivan, by contrast, never claims to be a Democrat, yet he attacks both sides, and criticizes the Republicans over Iraq smply because they are responsible for this disaster.
    "Portrait of Mr. Mickey Kaus. A small hateful main, with his own strange obsessions. Mr. Mickey Kaus, the newest resident of the Twilight Zone"

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