Why Jonathan Chait Is So Mean

Jonathan Chait begins a column titled “Why I’m So Mean” thusly:

People often ask, “Why is Jonathan Chait so mean?” It is a fair question, one that has been raised by my close friends, colleagues, wife, and parents, and it merits a suitably thoughtful reply. The latest person to ask it is ubiquitous right-wing misinformation recirculator Veronique de Rugy, who notes that I am “constitutionally incapable of disagreeing with anyone without impugning motives, professionalism, I.Q. or mental stability.”

I’m actually not incapable of disagreeing with people without insulting their intelligence, motives, or other qualifications. I especially enjoy debating the most intelligent and interesting conservatives, like Ramesh PonnuruRoss Douthat, and David Frum, not to mention numerous liberal writers I respect.

But it is true that I do spend a lot of time arguing with the lesser lights of the intellectual world as well, and de Rugy herself is a good example.

Now, de Rugy is a bright gal, possessed of a PhD in economics from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. But that’s a great setup for a column.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ben Wolf says:

    de Rugy is one of the least impressive “intellectuals” in the pundit-sphere. It’s relatively trivial to find gaping holes in any argument she makes but I can’t tell if she’s not that bright, or just lazy.

  2. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Now, de Rugy is a bright gal, possessed of a PhD in economics from the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

    She may be smart, but only on paper.

  3. murray says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    I was about to say that de Rugy makes up the kind of nonsense only a PhD can make. (I tend to do the same in my field – computer science – allas.)

  4. Kylopod says:

    Even without getting into the technical aspects of their argument, it is clear at the start of de Rugy’s piece that she doesn’t understand what the term “ad hominem” means. Here is the quote she uses as an example of Chait’s “ad hominem”:

    “Of course, de Rugy is merely repeating a canard that has been floating around the right-wing misinformation chamber for years and years. I continue to be dumbfounded at the low intellectual standards of a movement, which allows obvious nonsense like this to play such a major role in its intellectual case.”

    None of that qualifies as “ad hominem” by any definition. Ad hominem means, in the words of Wikipedia, “an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.” Calling de Rugy’s claim a “canard” exemplifying the conservative movement’s “low intellectual standards” isn’t an ad hominem argument by any stretch; it isn’t even a personal attack (which is how a lot of people incorrectly define “ad hominem”). And it certainly isn’t something he’s using as a substitute for evidence: if you read the entire piece from the which the above quote is excerpted, you will see that he provides considerable fact-based reasoning to support his point of view. Almost none of which she seriously addresses in her response. (But I suppose I’m engaging in ad hominem by pointing that out.)

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    She’s actually worse than McCardle and that is a low bar. Some of the stuff I’ve seen from this pair it’s toe curlingly embarrassing.

  6. Newt Gingrich is possessed of a PhD too, so that alone obviously does not prove one’s brilliance.

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    I’ve had chance to read the Chait piece now. He’s completely correct about right wing hackery. There’s a sort of Gresham’s Law at work…. awful rightwing hackery drives out the merely mediocre variety. He mentions Moore at the Journal which until a couple years ago I’d read fairly consistently for nearly 50 years. I’ve been reading his stuff intermittently for over a decade and not to put too fine a point it, it’s damned insult to the intelligence. Any reasonably fianancially literate businessman has to roll his eyes. Even the allegedly respectable like professors from Stanford, Chicago and George Mason make complete asses of themselves sometimes presumably on the basis they can fool a fair number of people. You only need to have read some of the flat earth stuff by posters here on the employment numbers parrotting some nonsense they’ve picked at right wing blogs long after it’s been eviscerated by perfectly respectable conservative, non aligned and liberal economic writers. They are misinformation circulators and what’s more to the extent that they are taken seriously they’re probably costing some people a lot of money who maybe can’t afford to lose it. So keep up the good work Chait, these ju ju men need to be exposed.

  8. In fact, Veronique´s claim is more complicated. Since the United States taxes mostly property and income, one can say that´s more progressive than most European countries(That have VATs) or Latin America, that taxes mostly sales. But, on the other hand, the United States has a weaker and pretty regressive safety net, and obviously, capital gains taxes creates distortions even among the rich(While contributing to the low level of savings and all kinds of bubbles).

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @André Kenji de Sousa: Sorry, but no. Chait made a very narrow criticism that using share of total taxes paid is not a legitimate way to measure progressivity. De Rugy went wandering all over the place without making any clear point and never addressed Chait’s point. One would think a PhD in econ could keep straight the difference between effective rate and marginal rate, but she apparently can’t.

  10. Just 'nutha i'grant cracker says:

    @Ben Wolf: She could be a simple idealogue. Many people hold specific ideas as articles of faith–immune to either reason or evidence.

    Take me for example, I take as an article of my faith that when Chait describes Douthat under the heading “the most intelligent..” conservatives, Chait is talking about a mighty shallow pool. No evidence that you might provide will change my view.

  11. David M says:

    The inanity of a lot of the hacks Chait is talking about can be explained by the following:

    It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

    To Joyner’s point, these aren’t necessary people we might think of as stupid or dumb, as they most certainly smart enough to know how to keep their paychecks coming.

  12. Anderson says:

    I doubt Chait is mean to genuinely stupid people. It’s the dishonest hackery that raises one’s, er, hackles.

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @André Kenji de Sousa:

    Since the United States taxes mostly property and income, one can say that´s more progressive than most European countries(That have VATs)

    This is casuistry a bit like Rugy’s sleight of hand over the absolute size of taxes paid by the wealthy. The Europeans have relatively larger public expenditures. The fact that they partly@David M: fund these with generally larger consumption taxes doesn’t make their income tax system less progressive.

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    @David M:

    they most certainly smart enough to know how to keep their paychecks coming.

    This was rather Chait’s point. The ultra rich with political axes to grind can afford to hire a lot of retainers to cultivate their estates interests so much so that demand exceeds supply and they have be satisfied with the semi competent.

    btw don’t know what happened above

  15. gVOR08 says:

    ‘Shilling for the wealthy has always paid better than crusading for the truth.’ – J. K. Galbraith many years ago, from memory, sorry I don’t have the exact quote.

  16. andrew says:

    LOL. Are people pretending that Jonathan Chait is anything but a hack himself?


  17. Brummagem Joe says:


    LOL. Are people pretending that Jonathan Chait is anything but a hack himself?

    This may or may not be true but is he being paid by zillionaires who fund these various conservative think tanks to practise hackery in their exclusive interest? Or can’t you tell the difference?