23 March 2013

Attacking Success

Paul Krugman:

OK, this is rich. Or actually, it’s anti-rich. Or anti-rich liberal. Or something.

Anyway, Jonathan Chait informs us that the right-wing blogosphere is all-aTwitter over the fact that Matthew Yglesias just bought a nice condo. Apparently this is hypocritical because you can’t be a liberal and own private property, or something. Chait has a lot of fun with the whole thing, and its notion that a liberal supporter of mild redistribution is the same thing as a Communist; check out his picture caption.

But I think there are two more things to be said here.

First, you should bracket this with the Rob Portman/gay marriage story as an example of the perversion of the ideas of civic virtue and sincerity. On today’s right, not only is civic virtue, nay patriotism, associated with narrow defense of your own self-interest, any deviation from that standard — like being an affluent person who nonetheless supports aid to the poor paid for by progressive taxation — is considered prima facie hypocritical. Somehow, though, this never gets to the obvious conclusion: that defending your nation is obviously hypocritical unless a member of your own family has been killed by terrorists …

But second, notice how quickly a staple of right-wing outrage goes out the window if there’s possible political gains to be made by violating a supposed principle. All through the 2012 campaign we were lectured about the evils of “attacking success“, which was defined as any criticism of how a wealthy individual got that way. But as soon as they think they spot an opening, right-wingers go ahead and … attack success. And unlike Romney, who was criticized for his business practices rather than his wealth per se, Yglesias is under attack simply for doing well.

But this is nothing new. Remember the pure envy-based attacks on John Kerry in 2004?

The lesson here is never to take right-wing huffiness about the process of politics and political debate seriously. These guys don’t actually believe in any rules at all; whatever rule they may lay down in one case, they’ll break in an instant if they think they see an advantage.