Up until a few weeks ago, I had never paid much attention to Megan McArdle. But then, I was linked to this blog post. And now, like many before me, I have to ask: Does this person really write for The Atlantic? How is that possible? What the hell is going on at The Atlantic?
This particular post begins with McArdle noting that Ron Nixon of The Times busted "some alleged spending-hawks in a fine bit of hypocrisy"; namely, several "Freshman House Republicans ... [who] rode a wave of voter discontent into office last year [and] vowed to stop out-of-control spending, ...[are now] quietly trying to funnel millions of federal dollars into projects back home." McArdle next turns to the purported point of her post - the thoroughly pedestrian observation that "if you want to cut spending, you need to be against it in the specific, rather than just the aggregate." Finally, in the last paragraph - and this is what she wanted to say all along - McArdle demonstrates that, when it comes to this brand of hypocrisy, both sides do it:
The failure to think specifically applies to taxation, incidentally. I know a very large number of east coast progressives who are outraged when they suddenly discover that middle-class ol' them, who doesn't even have enough money to repair the cracks in the ceiling after property taxes and school bills and one not-very-nice vacation to Nova Scotia, are technically "the rich" for the purpose of assessing taxes. They, too, are not thinking specifically about where the money is. They're just thinking it would be nice for Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates to have less stuff, while people living in housing projects have more. But there, as with cuts to the nebulous cloud of "spending", the math doesn't work. If you want to raise more tax revenues, stop thinking about corporate jets and the carried interest, and start thinking about eliminating the mortgage interest tax deduction for all earners, and allowing the AMT to kick in on the upper end of "middle class" incomes. In other words, start thinking about taxing New York Times reporters, not a very small class of rich people.
My problem with this post is not that McArdle is serving up the cult of balance Kool-Aid (although she's certainly doing that). My problem is that in order to create balance, McArdle is pretty obviously fabricating a "very large number" of hypocritical progressives to offset the actual GOP hypocrites called out by Ron Nixon.
I mean the math just doesn't work. I sincerely doubt McArdle personally knows even one or two real-life, walking-and-talking East Coast progressives who: 1) make enough money that the proposed tax hike applies to them, but not much more (they need to have cracks in their ceiling and take second-rate vacations, after all); 2) mistakenly believed the proposed tax hike did not apply to them; and 3) upon learning the proposed tax hike applied to them, spontaneously reacted like a libertarian's caricature of a progressive. Claiming one or two acquaintances meet all of these criteria is dubious, but it is virtually impossible that McArdle personally knows a "very large number" of similarly situated, identically uninformed, spontaneously hypocritical East Coast progressives.
So okay, I know this isn't the worst thing in the world. But it bothered me. This is The Atlantic.
This prompted me to start looking into Ms. McArdle a bit. And she's... well... evil. The hit job she did on the Mark Ames/Yasha Levine article may well be the worst of it. However, for pure sleaze it's hard to beat the baseless Elizabeth Warren smear (see here, here and here). And then, of course, there's her defense of Goldman Sach's securities fraud. So, hard to say.
But, with respect to the issue of fabricating sources, I soon came across this little gem from Ms. McArdle:
Yesterday, I rode the bus for the first time from the stop near my house, and ended up chatting with a lifelong neighborhood resident who has just moved to Arizona, and was back visiting family. We talked about the vagaries of the city bus system, and then after a pause, he said, "You know, you may have heard us talking about you people, how we don't want you here. A lot of people are saying you all are taking the city from us. Way I feel is, you don't own a city." He paused and looked around the admittedly somewhat seedy street corner. "Besides, look what we did with it. We had it for forty years, and look what we did with it!"
Now I realize it's an open joke that certain journalists invent cab drivers to introduce a theme, but the thing that sets McArdle's man on the bus apart is the racial component. Inventing an eldery, African-American man to admit African-Americans ruined the neighborhood and then have him give his blessing to gentrification because "you don't own a city" is something that Ms. McArdle could only express by fabricating an African-American to say it. Ms. McArdle's man on the bus exists to do McArdle's dirty work. And it's really dirty work.
It would be like a male reporter fabricating a female source who said: "You know, before I had children I didn't get it, but now that I'm a mother, I'm really not as committed to my career. I hate to admit it, but I can understand why women get paid less." Obviously a male reporter could not express such an overtly sexist sentiment himself. However, he could get away with it if he was quoting a woman.
And that's the thing: The McArdle man on the bus is not the Friedman cab driver everyone jokes about; the McArdle man on the bus is the Stephen Glass cab driver. And that's a much uglier thing.
The ideas being expressed by McArdle and Glass are overtly racist - tolerable only because the supposedly real people expressing the ideas are members of the targeted racial minority. Once you realize the piece is cooked, once you realize the source is fabricated, the racism is even more sinister. There is something particularly pernicious (not to mention cowardly) about fabricating an African-American to serve as a mouthpiece for the author's racism.
And the fact that it's an open joke that this is happening at The Atlantic is a disgrace.