All the news that’s fit to incinerate

November 17, 2011

Three weeks ago, I asserted that Drew Westen had achieved anti-perfection with a New York Times piece. But he may have outdone himself last night. Last time, people were joking on Twitter that his article had been so completely shredded that the only thing left to go after was the grammar and punctuation. Mr. Westen may have been following that conversation, because not only did he bring all the nonsense we’ve become accustomed to in his latest piece, but he has also decided to start using unnecessary quotation marks, like “pre-existing conditions” and “adult in the room” and “grand bargain,” the last one selectively.

So there’s once again plenty of room for take-down commentary.

But you have to get up pretty early in the morning to have first crack at Mr. Westen: Brendan Nyhan was on the case via Twitter shortly after publication last night, and Jonathan Bernstein did an excellent full-length takedown before 7:30am. More are surely to follow; it’s just preposterously poor quality for a college daily. Or the global paper of record. If you think I’m exaggerating for effect, I urge you to go read the article. It’s a stunning achievement for something that’s not even 1400 words long.

Here’s one thing that bothered me that hasn’t been covered yet: Westen seems to have no sense of the role and power of the President within the political system. (This makes him two for two, since I’ve already covered his misunderstanding of the legislature; maybe next week he can write about the health care lawsuit!)  Brendan Nyhan pointed out the most egregious example of this — Westen’s claim that the President was crazy for leaving decisions about legislation to Congress — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Five times, Westen suggests presidential ownership of things that are unambiguously shared responsibilities with Congress:

  • “When [Obama] made his ‘grand bargain’ over the summer”
  • He created the Congressional committee”
  • “After his grand bargain on the debt”
  • he has empowered a ‘supercommittee’ to make just the kinds of decisions”
  • “a decision to override a plan produced by his own Environmental Protection Agency

Maybe I’m just being a cranky Whig because of Rick Perry’s assault on Congress this week, but this stuff really bothers me. Too many people already think the president is an all-powerful political actor. I hate seeing respectable media sources allowing it to be repeated as if it’s not up for debate. I know all the presidential candidates say things like “under my plan” and “when you compare my tax plan with his plan,” but the assertion that the President has unilateral control over policymaking or policy implementation simply does not reflect either the constitutional arrangements of the federal government or the practice of contemporary federal politics.

The President cannot create congressional committees. The President cannot empower congressional committees. The President does not declare “grand bargains” by fiat. The President cannot raise or lower taxes. The President cannot increase or cut spending. And the executive branch is not exclusively owned by the President. The job of the EPA is to implement and enforce laws passed by Congress. Arrggghhh! And lest you think this is just a style and usage issue for Westen, in other places in the article he says “the White House and the Democrats” when referring to the legislative process. Just kill me.



10 Responses to All the news that’s fit to incinerate

  1. Steve on November 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

    This clown has a twin at the Washington Post who writes short novellas about economics. Ezra Klein, apperently, has just enough superficial knowledge of economics to be dangerous. Are editorial boards so overwhelmed with navigating the regular crack pot responses from the right and left that they drop the ball on simple fact checking?

  2. Kevin R. Kosar on November 17, 2011 at 11:11 am

    The new York Times has a habit of hiring folks who know doodly squat about politics to opine on it. Westen is a particularly egregious example. He’s an Emory psychology professor. If Westen doesn’t think a pizza shop owner should be “running the country” because politics is too sophisticated, then it follows that a psyhcology professor like him should not be opining in the NYT on politics and governance either, as he is NOT an expert on politics or government.

  3. Ralph on November 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Did you pull a “Westenism” at the end there?

    “The job of the EPA is to implement and enforce laws passed by Congress.” Just like “the executive branch is not exclusively owned by the President,” neither is it owned exclusively by the Congress. And those laws, in most cases, aren’t just Congress’s. They’re approved by the President too. And we know he plays a role in shaping them through veto bargaining, public appeals, etc.

    But your point is spot on, this guy obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about half the time.

    • Matt on November 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Well, it wasn’t my intention to imply that Congress owns the executive branch; if it comes across that way, it’s my poor writing. When I say the executive branch is not exclusively owned by the President, I don’t think that implies exclusive ownership by Congress. But perhaps it could use some clarification: my point was that Congress has a role in places Westen seems to only see presidential authority.

  4. […] It’s a myth.” and “The NY Times Should Be Ashamed of Itself (Again).” See also Matt Glassman. Spotlight No […]

  5. Friday Cup o’ Coffee « Democracy Chronicles on November 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    […] Matt Glassman’s Reaction to Drew Westen: […]

  6. Friday Cup o’ Coffee | Democracy Chronicles on November 18, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    […] Matt Glassman’s Reaction to Drew Westen: […]

  7. Ready Steady Stoned | Matt Glassman on November 21, 2011 at 12:01 am

    […] a whole lot of people will shred the op-ed, Westen-style. I mean, Brendan Nyhan is already tweeting up a storm. I’m not going to go line by line […]

  8. […] open option. It’s a myth.” and “The NY Times Should Be Ashamed of Itself (Again).” See also Matt Glassman. Apparently all a violence about Obama murdering a open choice was along a same lines as most of […]

  9. Whigging out | Matt Glassman on November 30, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    […] really been something else. I’ve reviewed Rick Perry’s plan for Congress.  Drew Westen rubbed my whiggism the wrong way. And the debate last Tuesday was better suited to a monarchy than a republic under […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *