RedState's Erick Erickson, a good-common-horse-sense-style blogger and talk radio host, has picked a fight with Business Insider's Josh Barro, a columnist who is a conservative reformer and can do math. It's not really a fair fight. For example, Erickson claims Barro writes "not very interesting, slightly shallow 'deep think' pieces on conservative reform about which he knows nothing and advocates no such thing." In the next paragraph, Erickson quotes Wikipedia.
Erickson rejects Barro's arguments that the Republican Party needs to change its position on taxes and health care to start winning national elections. But Erickson does not dismantle Barro's arguments. He doesn't even try. Instead, he says conservatives shouldn't listen to Barro, because he's from a fancy coastal city — "a late twenty-something gay male" who lives amid "Washington and the elites" — and because Barro "has worked no campaigns" and "has answered to no constituency." (Actually, Barro worked Mitt Romney's 2002 gubernatorial campaign.) So, Barro is both a terrible insider and disqualified by his lack of insider credentials.
Barro responds that Erickson represents the "worst" of Republican politics because "the party’s reliance on a resentment-based appeal has caused its policy apparatus to atrophy. Erickson is not alone among conservatives in thinking that 'academic and technocratic' approaches are best left to pointy-headed liberals." This is also a problem, he says, because the electorate has fewer and fewer Ericksons.
Back in the early years of George W. Bush's second term, liberals were in an all-out panic about the epidemic of bullshit. On Bullshit, an essay by Harry Frankfurt originally written in 1986, was published as a little hardback in 2005, and spent 24 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was exactly the time Erickson's career as a conservative pundit started taking off. But in the last several years, the digital revolution in journalism has had many costs, but one critical perk: the swift skewering of bullshit. Last month, The New York Times's Paul Krugman noted that bullshit isn't as easy as it used to be. "The difference is the existence now of a policy blogosphere (in economics, of course, but in a number of disciplines too), which makes bluffing harder," Krugman wrote. "In the past grotesquely ill-informed articles on, say, the Clinton health plan could sit out there for years, with only a handful of specialists aware of just how bad they were; now the pundit emperor's nakedness is all over the web within days if not hours." Krugman was writing about economic punditry, but it's true of so many things.
And that's why it's been a tough stretch for Erickson. Last week, he bemoaned a study that 40 percent of moms are the primary breadwinners in America, and claimed working moms violate nature. "When you look at biology — when you look at the natural world — the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role," Erickson said on Fox Business. When challenged, Erickson claimed that science was on his side.
"It is a matter of fact that children in a household with a mother who spends more time at home than out of the home, with a father who is earning the bulk of the income for the home, are the most well-adjusted youth in society. You may not like it. You may not like me saying it. But it's a fact."
But science was not on his side. A meta-analysis of 69 studies published between 1969 and 2010 found that when moms worked before their kid turned 3 years old, the kids did no worse academically or behaviorally than the kids of stay-at-home moms. In some ways, they did better. On Friday, Fox News' Megyn Kelly invited Erickson on to defend himself. "This is a list of studies that says your science is wrong and your facts are wrong," Kelly said. "Why are we supposed to take your word for it, Erick Erickson's science, instead of all these experts?"
Erickson said he didn't believe the study, because, he claimed, it showed children of wealthy families turned out okay, but middle class ones did not. But at Scientific American, Melanie Tannenbaum explains Erickson had it exactly wrong.
"However, when looking at samples where the families were on welfare, children whose mothers worked while they were very young (1-3 years old) actually performed significantly better on measures of overall achievement and had significantly higher IQs , although there were no differences when it came to performance on formal achievement tests."
Bullshit used to be a lot easier. A guy like Erickson could get away with saying "something something small town America something something family values." But even Fox News doesn't have patience for that anymore.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.)