Taranto jumps the shark

I probably spend too much time responding to The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto. But he’s ordinarily an intriguing intellectual opponent, even if Obama’s election and re-election pushed him a bit over the edge.

But with today’s column, Taranto completely jumped the shark. I started to reply by Twitter, but 145 characters just isn’t enough to respond to this column-length bit of lunacy.

So, let’s take it one point out a time.

First, of Benghazi, Taranto says of the now well rehashed rewriting of talking points following the attack: “But if the purpose of that rewriting was, as it appears to have been, to deceive voters and bolster the president’s re-election prospects, then it was a subversion of democracy.”

As it appears to have been? Taranto, unsurprisingly, doesn’t spell out any evidence of that. Unless you live in the right-wing echo chamber, you know, there is no evidence of that. You know that President Obama released more than 100 pages of email that point to a bit of a turf war between the State and CIA in the drafting of the talking points, both aimed at protecting their own images (along with intelligence sources and methods), and no improper political involvement from the White House.

He then goes on to call the minor IRS scandal “a subversion of democracy on a massive scale.”

“The most fearsome and coercive arm of the administrative state embarked on a systematic effort to suppress citizen dissent against the party in power,” he hyperventilated.

Again, unless you solely inhabit the right-wing echo chamber, you know that the “scandal” was centered on one department in Ohio that, overwhelmed by the sudden increase in the number of applications for 501(c)4 organizations, improperly used screening methods that resulted in more tea-party affiliated organizations coming under scrutiny. These are tax-exempt “social welfare” groups. In order to qualify for their tax-exempt status — which, for obvious reasons, is the job of “most fearsome and coercive arm of the administrative state” to determine — their primary purpose cannot be political. However, liberal groups weren’t exempt from the scrutiny, and it’s a simple fact that conservative 501(c)4s were far more politically active than liberal 501(c)4s. (According to Open Secrets, conservative groups outspent liberal groups 34 to 1 in 2010 and 2012.)

Calling such scrutiny “a systematic effort to suppress citizen dissent against the party in power” is ludicrous. For one, these groups don’t need their designation approved by the IRS before beginning operation. And if the designation is rejected (and they rarely have been), the only real penalty is that the organization must pay taxes on its income. No one was silenced.

Glossing over all this, Taranto says this incident means America has become as despotic as China.

Taranto moves onto the “liberal” media, accusing the media of being more in cahoots with Obama than it’s ever been with any other president or political party. This ideological and political alignment, Taranto warns with no hint of irony or self-awareness, has led the media to abdicate “their guiding principles of impartiality, objectivity and sometimes even accuracy.” The man works for a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch, and he wants to lectures others about abdicating impartiality, objectivity and accuracy? Never mind that the conservative media that he is part of is far guiltier of abandoning impartiality and objectivity, and has never cared much about accuracy. But how could Taranto miss that the biggest mainstream media blunder in recent weeks — ABC’s reporting on Republican fabrications of those recently released emails as if they had seen the originals — worked against Obama, not in his favor?

In fact, the only example of media bias Taranto presented in his lengthy diatribe was a Washington Post story on the IRS scandal that called Democracy 21, a group that expressly advocates for better government, a “good-government group.” Wow. What a stretch. He then goes even further and accuses Democracy 21, which advocated stricter scrutiny of both Crossroads GPS and the pro-Obama Priorities USA, of encouraging an abuse of government power.

But where Taranto really jumps the shark is when he talks about how the left’s ascendancy in the ’60s and ’70s is responsible for today’s political polarization and institutional left-wing dominance.

It oversimplifies matters only slightly to say the liberal left owes its cultural authority to three events in the 1960s and 1970s. The culmination of the civil-rights movement in 1964-65 established its moral authority. The antiwar movement’s success at securing defeat in Vietnam established its political authority. Watergate discredited the Republican Party. (It also made heroes of journalists and provided impetus for restricting the political speech of those who are not media professionals.)

The political result of all this was more polarization. The ascendant left became dominant in the Democratic Party, driving conservatives into the Republican camp, which in turn encouraged liberal Republicans to become Democrats. The cultural result–the effect on journalistic, educational, charitable and scientific institutions–was both polarization and left-wing domination.

First of all, it was not the liberalization of the Democratic Party that drove conservatives to the Republican camp. It was the Republican Party’s decision to capitalize on passage of the Civil Rights Act, and embrace the shameful “Southern Strategy” that welcomed racist Southern Democrats into the party. The conservative upswing in the Republican Party didn’t “encourage” liberal Republicans to become Democrats. The Republican Party has been undertaking a periodic purge of liberal, moderate and, lately, insufficiently conservative Republicans for years.

And I lived through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I don’t remember any of those decades as a time of liberal ascendance, culturally or politically. Bill Clinton, don’t forget, was elected as a moderate Democrat.

Taranto does seem to realize that none of the scandals currently consuming the Beltway will amount to much, absent an unlikely direct connection to the White House. So he’s left making an incoherent argument based on a willful inflation of the facts that the fact that these scandals can’t be hung on Obama is actually worse for the nation because it’s “a sign that the government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.”

James Taranto, meet shark. Shark, James Taranto.

Perhaps Taranto needs a vacation. California, maybe. Just leave your leather jacket and water skis at home.

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