January 29, 2004

Matthew Yglesias Misses the Point

Matthew Yglesias misses the point:

Matthew Yglesias: How Bad?: David Bernstein doesn't seem all that enthusiastic about George W. Bush but thinks liberals should love him. Brad DeLong, meanwhile, really doesn't like George W. Bush. Personally, I think Bernstein's half right -- Bush is bad, but not nearly as bad as many liberals think. Beating him is important, but it doesn't have the transcendent importance that many liberals attach to it. The thing of it is that you're bound to have presidents from the other party every once in a while.

The two posts are very much worth reading in tandem.

Yes, there are bound to be Republican presidents. But there is a big difference between a Republican president whose foreign policies are those of Brent Scowcroft and whose domestic policies are those of Paul O'Neill, and a Republican president whose foreign policies are those of Richard Cheney and whose domestic policies are those of... well, it's not clear who is making domestic policy: Bozo the Clown?

Remember, it's not just Democrats who are out here in the Gamma Quadrant. Paul O'Neill, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker are out here too.

Matthew Yglesias is mistaken. David Bernstein, by contrast, is just being silly.

Posted by DeLong at January 29, 2004 07:56 AM | TrackBack


This administration makes me wish that a sane Republican would challenge Bush for the nomination and win. That way we would be guaranteed that these bozos would be gone, one way or the other.

This goes deeper than Republican vs. Democrat. It is a question of a government by arrogant, short-sighted fools vs. reasonable governance.

John McCain, are you listening?

Posted by: Kosh on January 29, 2004 08:27 AM


Dr. Brad,

You are too kind by half when you call Bernstein silly. A more honest appraisal would have been to call him dishonest.

Bernstein claims liberals should love Bush because he spends more on things like education. He makes the classic conservative mistake of equating spending with effectiveness. Liberals might give Bush some grudging respect if he actually improved education, but his policies have only made education worse. It is doubly frustrating that he managed to make education worse while spending more money.

As for Yglesias, he's much better critiquing arguments than evaluating the assumptions underlying them.

Posted by: Retrogrouch on January 29, 2004 08:38 AM


John McCain can't hear you...he's too busy pimping for Bush, and flushing away any respect that many of us ever had for him.

Posted by: Jon on January 29, 2004 08:52 AM


Here's why Bush needs to be replaced by a Democrat (any Democrat):

In the U.S. today, one party controls the Supreme Court, the federal courts, the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the media, and the electronic voting machine companies.

I ask you: Is that healthy?

In addition, we have the permanent war situation in which American citizens can be held without charges and without a lawyer. This war on terror will last indefinitely.

I understand now why Bush was able to look into Vladimir Putin's eyes and see his soul. They are both autocrats--they understand power.

Wake up, people! We won the Cold War against Russia. Why are we now becoming the Russia of the West?

Posted by: V. J. Meagher on January 29, 2004 09:01 AM


...and whose domestic policies are those of... well, it's not clear who is making domestic policy: Bozo the Clown?

Karl Rove maybe? Because Bush doesn't appear to have a coherent domestic POLICY, only domestic POLITICS.

It seems pretty clear to me what Bush's domestic policy is: (1) Reward those who got him the White House by gutting regulatory agencies and looting the treasury, and (2) Stealing from my children and grandchildren to buy another four years.

Every major domestic policy initiative coming out of the Bush White House either (1) rewards the "Power Ranger" campaign contributors (tax cuts, energy policy etc.), (2) the religious right voting block (stem cells, gay marriage), or (3) is a naket attempt to buy the 2004 election by bankrupting the treasury (prescription drugs). Actually that last one is a combination of #1 and #3 as the big pharma power rangers got to write the legislation.

Posted by: Kent on January 29, 2004 09:05 AM


Kosh has my sentiments exactly. McCain seems infinitely the better Republican candidate. Does he have the balls to run as an independant? What does he have to lose? Surely there must be a growing faction of disenchanted Republicans.
Jon -The sound bites I've heard from McCain don't give me the impression that he is 'pimping' for Bush. I'm no Republican but it appears to me he could have a larger 'base' than Bush's SOTU glee club.

Posted by: calmo on January 29, 2004 09:31 AM


The most worrisome part of a Bush second term is the contiued politicalization of the government. After eight year of Bush an entire generation of civil servants will come to see that the only way to do reports is to report what your political masters approve. The idea of the governmnet as an unbiased source of information will have withered and died.

Posted by: Rob on January 29, 2004 09:35 AM


Matthew Y is very smart, but I have the impression he may not have been watching this stuff long enough to distiguish between plain old partisan rivalry (which he seems to assume is the case for many liberals now) and the utter shock and incredulity that many (in my case, not so) liberals feel toward what they see from Bush and friednds. Don't mean to pull the age card, but it may apply here. Maybe the fact that we've had a particularly steady run of veracity-challenged Presidents from the GOP makes it seem that Bush is no different. (I know - only Clinton ever lied in office.) Yes, Reagan and Poppy thought war was a thing to be causually entered (as long as it was with small, defenseless opponents). Yes, Reagan's bunch had some whacky ideas about budgets, too. Nixon had his share of troubles. but Nixon made good decisions about China and the EPA. Reagan's deregulatory efforts had at least some good features, though mixed with bad. I'm having a hard time thinking of a policy that Bush is proposing that, either overall or in its details, is not a huge mistake.

Posted by: K Harris on January 29, 2004 09:47 AM


James Joyner -- well, Clinton didn't run the biggest defecits in history while passing legislation to ensure that they will continue far into the future. Clinton also didn't violate his own professed principles by randomly throwing up silly little tariffs here and there either; he took enormous risks by ramming through free trade against the opposition of much of his own party.

You know, when you say things that are idiotic, people start thinking that you're an idiot. As I understand, there was a time when you were thought of as something other than a Republican hack.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on January 29, 2004 09:49 AM


"Made education worse", retro?

Care to tell us how, with relevant statistics?

I can imagine many things a reasonable person might disagree with, regarding Bush's domestic policy (though many of the things will not and probably cannot be disagreed with at the same time by the same person, reasonably), but "made education worse" doesn't seem to fit any of the evidence I'm aware of.

Now, "made teachers' unions" angry, I could see... but that's not the same as "made education worse".

Posted by: Sigivald on January 29, 2004 09:53 AM


In response to the Republicans controlling the Supreme Court:

I have always thought of the current court as fairly liberal, a lot 5-4 votes to uphold things like abortion, miranda rights, etc. This could be off base in regard to specific cases but I've always felt comfortable with the current court (Beside the fact that were one retiree/Republican nominee away from a police state of course)

Posted by: Drew on January 29, 2004 10:02 AM


>This administration makes me wish that a sane Republican would challenge Bush for the nomination and win.

I think the best hope would be for a 3rd party candidate to siphon off the fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and (are there any?) secular-minded Republicans. But nobody has emerged so far, so it's probably just wishful thinking.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on January 29, 2004 10:12 AM


Sigivald --- You asked for relevant stats on
how education has fared under Bush.

How about this-- employment in elementary and secondary education?
Through the 1990s employment growth in elementary and secondary education bounced around 5% annually
-- between 4% and 6%.

Last year this category of employment rose 2.5%
and as of November of 2003 it was up 0.3%.(source BLS employment data and should include both public and private schools)

I did not look up the growth of elementary and secondary school enrollment, but I am willing to bet that the growth of school age population did not slow to near zero in 2003.

This data implies that under Bush the growth in
the number of teachers employeed has fallen from around 5% to zero. This data implies strongly that under Bush the average class size has increased significantly. The latest data probably is not yet available, but I am willing to bet that this is the case. As the son of a school principal and the father of an unemployeed
school teacher I know that class size is a key
determine of how well kids do in school.

OK -- I've given you stats -- now respond.

Posted by: spencer on January 29, 2004 10:31 AM


Bill Clinton used to speak of how difficult it was to change the status quo in Washington. Given the difficulty, Mr. Bush has greatly changed the status quo. I think the pundits underestimate just how difficult it is to pass fiscally responsible economic policy and how easy it is to follow short term political gain at the expense of the long term good of the country. Bush policy is the borrow and spend version of the tragedy of the commons, credit card debt, or choose your favorite analogy. Without the check of those with a long view, the commons will be destroyed by mutal agreement. Or the individual willingly piles on debt that is insurmountable.

Democrats recognize how difficult it was to bring the budget to surplus and the sacrifices that went into making it happen. They also recognize how fragile it is and how easy it is for a drunken frat boy to wantonly destroy the hard work of others.

There is an inertia in DC that places a limit on how far someone can push the system. Just because Bush does not act like Attila the Hun does not mean liberals should like his policies. Most liberals I know want to solve problems. The Bush education policy (leave no child untested) makes true reform more difficult by enacting more unfunded mandates. The Bush tax cuts make it much harder to address fundamental problems that make a difference in people's lives. The lack of a jobs program affects the revenue available to the government and so on. I see no reason for liberals to be happy with Mr. Bush. Too many of his policies have failed.

Posted by: bakho on January 29, 2004 10:55 AM



My original post provided as much data as Yglesias - I'f I'm as well documented as TNT writers, why should you want more?

Anyway, here's a few links:



Posted by: Retrogrouch on January 29, 2004 11:24 AM


Posted at MY's:
MattY, how could Bush have realistically been worse? I'm serious. What is something worse that a president in the past has done or tried to do that Bush hasn't?
He has given the U.S. a third-world balance sheet. What do you think my daughter's U.S. will look like, MY?
He has undermined environmental protections at every turn.
He has made the U.S. the loathed pariah of the world.
He has put fanatics on the bench and in places of power (Hager just the most recent).
He pursued "Operation: Ignore" to focus on his space missile defense fantasy.
Unemployment is way up. Poverty is way up. States are bankrupt. Soldiers are dying every day.
This would be funny if it weren't spot on.

What Dinky said:
"If your circumstances in life are comfortable enough (like my Naderite friends), it's easy to view politics as merely an intellectually engaging spectator sport. Nothing wrong with that--it's a nice benefit of an Ivy League education. But you don't have to worry that, say, your chances of being hurt in your factory job will increase because the people running OSHA now don't lose much sleep over injured workers, or that your boss will be able to stiff you on overtime pay because of new Dep't of Labor regulations, etc. Otherwise, you might be less sanguine about a second term of the Bush administration."

All upper-middle-class white males should read Ivins' "Bushwhacked." And point out where Krugman is wrong in his assessment.

Did anyone read about everything crammed into the Omnibus bill by DeLay? Overtime, etc.? Like I read elsehwere: Why even have a congress?

Every day is a new horror and set of lies. It will be far far worse w/o Rove there to worry about re-election.

Posted by: MattB on January 29, 2004 11:37 AM


James Joyner -- well, Clinton didn't run the biggest defecits in history...

I'm a little confused - was JJ's post deleted or something? There seemed to be a missing post in the last Bush thread too.

Posted by: JP on January 29, 2004 11:40 AM



One would hope that employment in education would mirror changes in the population of 5-17 year olds. The Census Bureau population estimate of 5-17 year olds has increased 0.223% and 0.061% the last two years estimated (2001, 2002). There is nothing in the data to suggest that 2003 wasn't the same. By comparison, it ran 1%-2% per year for most of the '90s. So yes, growth of school age population has slowed.

By the way, school employment was growing so fast not necessarily because of additional teachers, but also additional administrators, "experts", janitors, etc. who don't directly contribute to student performance.

The use of this metric suggests that yes, indeed, you are more interested in the interests of the union (more workers, higher wages) than the students (better teachers, higher expectations).

Posted by: rvman on January 29, 2004 11:42 AM


Kosh/Jon, late last summer, i was hoping that mccain would understand that it was summer, 1967 in the Democratic party for Republicans, and that regardless of the unlikelihood of success, he would run against bush because it was the right thing to do.

but he didn't.

now, it's much too late, and the schism in the republican party won't be fully exposed until after the election.

rvman, i'm no fan of bureaucracy, but: a.) do you have any actual statistics to back up your assertions about the types of hiring; b.) what makes you think that, for instance, janitors aren't important to well-functioning schools; and c.) what in the world makes you think that people become teachers because they are interested in higher wages rather than student learning?

Your attitude about "c" is an insulting piece of tripe.

Posted by: howard on January 29, 2004 12:09 PM


A follow-up post (linking back to this thread) on MY's blog contends that the Bernstein and DeLong positions on Bush are, in fact, identical.

Unless there is some (seemingly unindicated) irony I'm missing, MY is torturing the arc of DeLong's Bush critiques nearly to death to conclude from them that the main problem is that Bush policies are 'opportunistic' as opposed to 'bad' (counterproductive, dangerous, etc.).

Posted by: Tom Bozzo on January 29, 2004 12:10 PM


calmo wrote, "Jon -The sound bites I've heard from McCain don't give me the impression that he is 'pimping' for Bush."

Well, AFAICT he was behind Bush on the issue of the WMD prevarication. Though I doubt it's pimping, actually. McCain seems principled in many respects, but some if not all of his policy beliefs are extremely conservative.

Posted by: liberal on January 29, 2004 12:19 PM


Sigivald wrote, "'Made education worse', retro?Care to tell us how, with relevant statistics?"

Don't look at statistics; look at the *qualitative* aspects of policy. The "No Child Left Behind Act" claims to try to award good school performance and punish bad performance, based on improving scores every year. This is crazy; you'd expect such a system to be very noisy, and I can't imagine someone versed in statistical decision theory would have written the policy this way.

Posted by: liberal on January 29, 2004 12:25 PM


Bozo the Clown, Prancer, Shrub etc agents of destruction. In some ways this is the ludic version of Lenin's approach to destroying capitalism, at least according to J.M. Keynes, who states " Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency". Shrub cares not about capitalism (or even a hole in his rear) but those who get him elected him do care about replacing capitalism with corporate capitalism, e.g. a self-perpetuating alliance between the state and wealthy managers of corporations with ideological support from the religious establishment. Esto me suena como Franco.

Posted by: CSTAR on January 29, 2004 01:40 PM


"...you're bound to have presidents from the other party every once in a while...."

Matthew Yglesias is observant and a very good writer. He is also something of a dilettante and something of a fool.

No one any longer maintains, in private, the pretence that the Republican Party is still a legitimate, good-faith Player of the Game--least of all, Republicans; so why should the pretence be maintained in public? I cannot see who gains anything by it, and it tars its exponents with the gravest suspicion of moral frivolity.

An earlier commenter says "this goes deeper than Republican vs. Democrat." I understand what he is trying to say, but, in cold fact, nothing goes deeper than Republican vs. EverybodyElse.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on January 29, 2004 03:18 PM


Okay, Brad, so would you say that Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey were better than Bush because they at least proposed spending cuts to go with their tax cuts? I'm just wondering.

Posted by: Keith on January 29, 2004 04:43 PM


Keith, for what it's worth, i certainly would. That, at least, is an attempt at honest policy-making.

Posted by: howard on January 29, 2004 05:27 PM


Second Howard. It's acceptable, in principle, to run on a platform of destroying all social safety net policies and then try to do so. It's not acceptable to run on a platform of preserving them and then try to destroy them. That's what Bush has done.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on January 29, 2004 08:49 PM


>By the way, school employment was growing so fast not necessarily because of additional teachers, but also additional administrators, "experts", janitors, etc. who don't directly contribute to student performance.

>rvman, i'm no fan of bureaucracy, but: a.) do you have any actual statistics to back up your assertions about the types of hiring; b.) what makes you think that, for instance, janitors aren't important to well-functioning schools; and c.) what in the world makes you think that people become teachers because they are interested in higher wages rather than student learning?

Linda Darling-Hammond's The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools That Work does spend a chapter or so discussing the amount of non-teaching staff that has ballooned in U.S. school systems. (Full disclosure: I had her as a prof at STEP (www.stanford.edu/group/step), although not on school reform per se. Bit much for student-teachers.) I don't have it at hand or I'd cite the statistics. I think she suggests the problem is not the hiring in itself so much as the way school administrations are structured, but it's been a while since I read the book.

Sadly, the idea of teaching in a public school for wages is rather laughable. Especially in areas like science and math. If I weren't so nervous about the current administration and the ethics involved, I would regret not heading toward the NSA for a job post-graduation, rather than math education.

>. As the son of a school principal and the father of an unemployeed school teacher I know that class size is a key
determine of how well kids do in school.

A study summarized in Scientific American asking Does Class Size Matter? (search www.sciam.com for "class size") seemed rather inconclusive on that point. I would very much like to think that small class size is beneficial (having discovered that remedial algebra classes of 30+ can rapidly become difficult to handle as a first-year). But can anyone point to a study that does support this? Unfortunately, I'm not well-educated enough to comment on the research methodology here.

OTOH, while it seemed to me that smaller classes were a heck of a lot easier for the teacher to handle, Gail Benjamin in Japanese Lessons: A Year in a Japanese School through the Eyes of an American Anthropologist and Her Children claims that Japanese teachers prefer class sizes of ~40 because otherwise there isn't enough diversity in the classroom, especially for groupwork purposes. I found this surprising and counterintuitive, but because of the different social norms and schooling assumptions, this simply may not be a useful comparison to make vis-a-vis U.S. classrooms.

--going back to lurking on interesting political/economics discussions that are mostly over my head, but how else does one learn...

Posted by: yhl on January 29, 2004 11:14 PM


The differences between the Repubs and the Dems in domestic policy are not trivial, but both would be right wing in Europe. No dem will admit being a liberal. (And I don't personally share the pessimism about the deficit, since the next administration will just have to raise taxes. Sure it's dishonest, but it's not going to cause the US govt. to default).

So if their domestic policies are pretty close, it's their foreign policy that distinguishes them. And Matthew Yglesias shows his hawkish tendencies here. He and Bernstein probably both believe "something needs to be done about these muslims"...Remaking the middle east seems a reasonable goal, and the subsequent deaths of 10 to 100 thousand people an acceptable cost.

Bugs the crap out of me, but most people in America agree, so what are you gonna do? In fact, no serious observer or politician can oppose the war on TERRA, just criticize the way the Admin's going about it. The democrats have absolutely no spine. Blood is on their hands. Mine too, and I'm sick about it.

Posted by: andrew on January 30, 2004 02:00 AM


In defence of Mathew Yglesias
The petty point seems to be:
MY actually defines his position to be somewhat more moderate (kinder? less shrill?) than Brad's.
Brad's position is: There is no worse President than GWB.
So the thread: Brad objects to Matt declining the offer to climb aboard this (his) wagon. And Matt seems to be justifying this move/position with the prudence of 'it might not be the end of the world if Bush is re-elected'. ie He's willing to entertain the possibility that we could get him again.
Matt's position allows him to read BushCo, maybe not afresh everyday, but without committing the article to the trash can unread. Unlike Brad who never tires of trashing Bush, said article is usually head-lined with flaming "Why Oh why...DXIII", smoking with abusive ad hominem remarks.
It is entertaining but at the cost of reading something more substantive, No?
IMHO, Matt does not think Bush is even occassionally right/good. But he reserves his right to think there might be a chance, however slight, that BushCo might do something right/honourable.
I think this is a better response than the ad hominem stomp: Bush IS THE WORST PRESIDENT which is the tag that, if we adopt it, allows us to dismiss him a priori. We need to steel ourselves against this slap-happy manner and denounce BushCo carefully.
I mean otherwise isn't this cheerleading and can't we do better?

Posted by: calmo on February 1, 2004 09:51 PM


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