Objectively, the Chait Insanity Theorem Holds

Brian Beutler’s take on Chait’s Insanity seeks a middle ground between “Racism Is All” and “Shut Up About Racism,” and does so deftly enough to receive Chait’s general approval, expressed in a tweet: “The only part of [Beutler’s] criticism I actually disagree with is the part where he says he disagrees with me.” Yet, if Beutler’s analysis turns on an argument that may accord well with left-liberal political assumptions, the basis for those assumptions remains unproved and is likely unprovable – or, from the Republican conservative point of view, remains critically un-disprovable:

[M]any if not most liberals correctly believe that the GOP’s organizing modus operandi is plutocratic in nature, but that a plutocratic agenda is politically unsustainable without being fused to a distinct populism of some sort. For both historical and natural reasons, the GOP’s populism is often the populism of white racial resentment. This is a cardinal fact. It also makes it difficult to trace a boundary between the right’s racial and non-racial public appeals.

“[C]ardinal fact” and “correctly believe[d]” signify only Beutler’s commitment to his own precepts. They may refer to an idea of the “objective,” but they are not in themselves objective. They inform us only, as we might have expected, that Beutler and those who share his assumptions will find it very difficult to see his argument as anything other than objective, or see his beliefs as other than simply true.

We have no alternative planet Earth on which a nation “just like America except without racial terms of reference” evolved in relation to wealth distribution, health policy, and voting rights (if any!). We would likely need several such planets, perhaps around 30 or so, in order to arrive at a statistically meaningful sample, but, sadly, we have only one. My point is not that Beutler’s analysis is wrong, only that to assume, as he does, that it is simply right forecloses any actual discussion. While accusing Chait of turning the left-liberal theory of objective racism into a straw man, he proceeds to do essentially, if in more moderate tones than non-professionals will, what Chait says or said left-liberals are prone to do: Make an argument that, if followed consequentially, would tend to de-legitimize the entirety of the conservative agenda without the necessity of ever having to argue it on its own terms or as conservatives understand it.1

Beutler likely believes that more or less the entirety of the left-liberal agenda is morally as well as “objectively” superior to the right-conservative agenda, and that an electorate susceptible to reason (i.e., occupying a Rawlsian original position behind a veil of ignorance as to its “objective” interests) would simply adopt the former and reject the latter, or, in other words, that, if somehow barred from making an appeal that, for “historical and natural reasons,” relies on “white racial resentment,” Republican conservatism would have a much weaker hold on the American agenda. Aside from a brief assertion regarding voting issues, Beutler’s sole evidence in this post is Republican resistance to Medicaid expansion. His logic remains circular. Referring to GOP governors, he asserts that “absent intense, racially charged pockets of resistance, the various logical foundations of their decisions would disappear.” How Beutler knows that this collapse would necessarily occur, without access to that set of alternative Americas, I do not know, but on the surface it appears that his left-liberal faith reports to him that it must be so. Beutler also tells us that Republicans will “dismiss [the argument] outright and angrily as race pandering or racial McCarthyism.” He informs us that this view is “mistaken,” and suggests that it is a product of “willful blindness” that stands finally on “willingness to rationalize away the outsize impact not expanding Medicaid will have on people of color.” In other words, we know that the motivation must be racist because the policy produces disparate impacts – because, in the end as in the beginning, it is “objectively racist.” He proceeds to acknowledge, or partly acknowledge “abstract arguments against the [ACA-enabled] Medicaid expansion,” and he even observes a conceivable “legitimacy in the preference for smaller government,” but he is certain that they cannot account for the “breadth of resistance” and “full array of motivations.” The decisive factor supplying that deficit, as he has already insisted, could, he believes, originate in racism (or a racially inspired “populism”) only.

The problem, aside from the lack of an objective test for the objectivity of the objective racism argument, is that Beutler’s fundamental “objective” assertion, of the dependence of Republicans on an “objectively racist” appeal, has already pre-determined the results of all possible arguments. Given Beutler’s and possibly Chait’s and possibly all of left-liberalism’s assumptions, as we discussed under the Chait Insanity Theorem, and as Beutler’s own argument demonstrates, consequential elaboration of this position eliminates the space for political discussion at all, at least wherever “historical and natural reasons” have led to a situation in which “non-white” sectors of a population disproportionately overlap with poorer sectors of the population. Under left-liberal assumptions, the argument against direct government aid to those sectors of the population will always be objectively (white) racist. In short – and on first glance many left-liberals may be happy to accept this notion – until either a comprehensive program of economic re-distribution or a comprehensive nationwide “de-racialization” of sympathies or preferably both have been completed, the Republican conservative argument against versions of the former will always run afoul of the broad political-cultural commitment on the latter.

A few Republican conservatives (and others) may further disagree that de-racialization of society, beginning with de-racialization of political discourse, is desirable, but the vast majority, and obviously the ones “outright and angrily” rejecting “racial McCarthyism,” will, small wonder, remain disinclined to accept terms for public discourse that enforce left-liberal assumptions, either the particular ones regarding objective racism, or the larger ones on the impact and justice of expanded delivery of services to the poor through programs like Medicaid. To be a Republican conservative is to disagree with the latter assumptions. In some instances, to be a Republican conservative may even include regret that, as a practical political matter, a valid critique of government programs supposedly intended to aid the poor or “underprivileged” is unnecessarily obscured or diverted by disparate impacts on racially or ethnically or, one might even say, historically and naturally defined sectors. Beutler and possibly Chait, as true left-liberal believers, will be reluctant to believe that anyone could possibly think such a thing. For them, there is no argument – thus Chait’s insane point, if not clearly his position.


  1. Instead, it shifts the political battle to territory – in short, of competition between “races” as a legitimate object of discussion without prejudice to conclusions – that the central assumptions of American post-war political discourse make untenable, and for very good reasons. []

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  1. In Castro’s Cuba, this type of isolation and polarization was called the ‘little tail’ coletilla, it was applied to opposition media, like the Diario de La Marina, to make their opinions unacceptible to any unwary reader,

    Chaitred, doesn’t have anything to say about the shambles that Obama has left this country, no small surprise, the chocolate rations must flow,

    • You make a good point, or the possible beginning of a possibly good point, and then you ruin it with a subjective assertion that will leave many who, say, compare THINGS OF 2014 to THINGS OF 2008 calling for more and more shambles ASAP and by any means necessary, and, further, by the nearly universal ad hominem impulse, will lead them to drop your first point as the kind of point only someone who made your second point would find interesting. It would do your credibility some good if you would note that the Castroite tactic is hardly a uniquely leftist tactic. It’s politics, Jake. Instead you pin a coletilla on yourself.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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