Do a couple of blog posts prove politics is “broken”?

posted at 10:36 am on August 14, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

My friend Matt Lewis writes a condemning column today about John Hawkins on the right and Matt Yglesias on the left to argue that politics is indeed broken, and that two pieces written by them prove it.  In the process, Matt makes the same error of which he accuses John, at least, which is to ignore context and scope, both in his criticism of John’s project and in his application of John and Matt as poster boys of all American politics.

Let’s start with Matt’s take on John’s column, which listed the 25 worst Americans of all time:

On the conservative side, RightWingNews’ John Hawkins asked several conservative bloggers to help compile a list of ‘The 25 Worst Figures in American History.’

Here’s the kicker: While conservative bloggers ranked liberal presidents Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, and Franklin Roosevelt at the top of the list of the ‘worst figures in American history’ list (and numerous other liberals made the list), they failed to include some really bad people — like serial killers. …

Certainly, one could make the case that political leaders — because of their reach and immense importance — actually have much greater impact over our society as a whole than any serial killer ever could (though I would argue the Manson murders actually had a major impact on American culture, and essentially ended the “60s”).

But this, of course, is sophistry. Hawkins’ list was not titled “the worst political leaders,” but rather “the worst figures” in American history, and thus, the results seem to betray what we already know to be true: Too many political bloggers view their political opponents as being worse than serial killers.

Just for disclosure’s sake, John usually invites me to participate in his polls, but I’m usually too busy to put much time into them (sorry, John).  This time, I passed for a couple of other reasons.  First, I had already done this exercise five years ago at Captain’s Quarters, about which more in a moment.  The problem with just listing people and then counting numbers is that context gets lost.  That’s Matt’s legitimate complaint here, and also Jim Geraghty’s:

“No Charles Manson? Come on. You’re really telling me Al Sharpton and Michael Moore outrank somebody like Jeffrey Dahmer, who ate people? Race-baiting and rabble-rousing outrank cannibalism?”

But when a political blogger surveys for a list of the 25 worst Americans from political bloggers, isn’t politics the implied context?  When John sent out the query, that’s certainly how I understood it.  Otherwise, such a list would quickly become a descending-order body count for American serial killers, and would be entirely useless and inane.  At the same time, I figured that without a clear explanation, the list would be misinterpreted, as I worried five years ago when I wrote my post.  That’s why I was careful to frame the list with my understanding of the context:

For my consideration, I decided that the status of American had to be part of their “crimes”. In other words, simply picking someone like Ted Bundy or Charles Manson would be too easy. Their evil, though real and in most cases worse than what you’ll read on this list, doesn’t have to do with their innate American heritage. I went looking for the people who sinned against America itself, or the ideal of America. Otherwise, we’d just be looking at body counts.

If anything, my criticism of John’s list would be that it included too many recent figures, which shows a different kind of contextual failing.  That’s a problem with blogging that Matt and Jim miss in their response; it’s too immediate in most cases for long-term perspective.  When a 49-year-old President comes in second all time in worst figures in American history after only eighteen months as President, it shows a remarkable lack of perspective, and ignores at least the potential for redemption.

Next, Matt goes after a really stunning and foolish statement from Yglesias:

But while conservatives were busy ranking liberal politicians as worse than Jeffrey Dahmer, one liberal blogger was busy arguing that the ends justify the means. Responding to conservative blogger Mark Hemingway, liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias fired off the following Tweet:

“Fighting dishonesty with dishonesty is sometimes the right thing for advocates to do, yes.”

When conservative Josh Trevino pressed the point, Yglesias responded, asking: “Do you really think deception is immoral in all circumstances?” (The Daily Caller has more on the Yglesias story.)

There’s not much one can do to defend that.  Deception in almost every conceivable context is not only immoral, but damaging to one’s credibility.  I’ve certainly been wrong before — I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been.  I’m not always the most gracious person when confronted on errors, but I’m not an ogre about it, either.  What I don’t do is deliberately deceive and lie in order to achieve an end, and I don’t think most people on either side of the political divide engage in or condone that kind of activity, either.

In Yglesias’ defense, at least somewhat, it’s pretty easy to be glib and speculative on Twitter, something Octavia Nasr and others discovered a bit too late.  Yglesias is relatively young, which means he has plenty of time to redeem himself from essentially torpedoing his own credibility.

But let’s make it clear that Yglesias’ problems are entirely his own, and John’s his own as well, to the extent the two of them have issues.  Matt Lewis’ criticisms are well founded until he concludes with this:

I know and like both Yglesias and Hawkins (and many of the folks who helped Hawkins select members of the list), and let me stress this is not about them. While it would be wrong to assume these two incidents represent the whole of the political blogosphere, my educated guess is that they do not represent a minority viewpoint, either.

So what’s the sad lesson learned from the convergence of these two blog stories?

In general, too many partisans (or ideologues may be a more accurate term) view their political opponents as actually being more dangerous than serial killers. And thus, in order to beat the bad guys (who, after all, are worse than Manson), they believe lying is justified …

That’s one hell of a jump from Yglesias’ tweet and John’s list of 25 baddies of American history.  Yglesias and Hawkins represent themselves, not anyone else.  When other people lie and smear, well, call them out on it, but painting two bloggers as representative of American politics is somewhat akin to painting Michael Vick as emblematic of American pet ownership.  Matt makes the same error that John did in compiling his list, which is to ignore context.  In fact, he makes another in assigning to John Hawkins the belief that Yglesias tweeted without any evidence that John actually does believe in deception as means to an end.  That’s very unfair, and very unlike Matt, who’s usually a lot more thoughtful than this.

The “sad lesson” that should be derived from this is to pay attention to context — and to resist the urge to paint big-picture, sweeping generalizations from two data points.

Update: John Hawkins has agreed to let me publish his survey e-mail in its entirety in order to allow people to see the context in which bloggers responded:


Right Wing News is going to be running a poll called, “Right-Of-Center Bloggers Select The 20 Worst Figures In American History” on Friday of this week.

What I’m hoping you will do is email me back an unranked list of 1-20 of the worst figures in American history. The figures in question can be living or dead and keep in mind, you don’t have to send me 20 of them. If you can only come up with a few, that’s fine.

A few other details

* Once again, what I need for this one is an unranked list of 1-20 of the worst figures in American history.
* The response deadline for this one is 7 PM EST on Thursday.
* The results of this blogger only poll will go live on Friday.
* If you’d like to be removed from this list, just let me know and it will be done immediately.

All the best

John Hawkins

Update II: Be sure to read Rick Moran’s criticism as well.

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George Soros

Seven Percent Solution on August 14, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Conservatives love this country, and argue that it is the best country in the world. Yet, even here, people like Jefferey Dahmer and Ted Bundy appeared. Thus mass-murderers are part of a sickness of the human race. I think that’s why we can gloss over them.

To liberals they seem more of a “product” of the societal and cultural forces, so they seem more emblematic of America. So they take on a bigger role. At Right Wing Nut House, the guy points out that Ted Bundy might have killed 50.

That’s peanuts to Chief Justice Taney who made the Civil War inevitable with the Dred Scott decision. He wrote an opinion stating that black people could in no sense ever be equal to white people. And for those of you who don’t know this, Dred Scott was not just some escaped slave; he was an educated black man, living on his own, running his master’s business interests in Illinois. And it was argued that he would never be equal in law to white people who couldn’t run a business??!!

If the left wants to argue that racism has caused a lot of damage in America, then think about a Supreme Court majority opinion that flat out stated that blacks were not and could never be equal to whites. And think about how libs today love to take a majority opinion and say “It’s in the Constitution.” Justice Taney is that one man that argued that systemic slavery was in the Constitution!. It took years and thousands of lives and the political wills of the two other branches of governments in order to fix what Taney destroyed. And when the people had spoken, the answer to Justice Taney was “Yes, they are!!

Taney, and Woodrow Wilson–for segregating the government are much worse than somebody who killed dozens of people. As callous as it seems to say, people will know this is true, Ted Bundy killed people who weren’t otherwise killed in car accidents and in bathtub slips. As bad as he was–or as any mass murderers are–they’re blips. If Obama destroys this country, as I suspect he wants to, there will be no shoveling out after that. Freedom doesn’t slip in the bathtub and countries aren’t taken away from us with a drunk driver.

Axeman on August 14, 2010 at 3:58 PM


your logic is FALSE same False logic of Matt Lewis

get your priorities straight, while horrible what is the death of less than a hundred compared to Socialism which already is responsible for the genocide of hundreds of millions with the goal of enslaving all mankind,

mathewsjw on August 14, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Off the top of my head here is the worst 8 (in order)
1. Bennedict Arnold
2. John Wilkes Booth
3. James Earl Ray
4. Arron Burr
5. Joe Nye
6. Major Chivington(Red Creek Massacre)
7. Roger Taney
8. Joe Kennedy Senior

rob verdi on August 14, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Interesting list. It’s difficult to actualize the social and historical tenor of their times. John Wilkes Booth might have been a more sympathetic figure if there was a snapshot of him ala Lee Harvey Oswald. Conversely, James Earl Ray might be more notorious and recognizable if he had been similarly photographed.

Who else? 16th Street Baptist Church bombers? Tokyo Rose? Atlanta child serial-killer? Dahmer? Lee Harvey Oswald? Bueller? Bueller? McVeigh? 9/11 mass-murderers? It will be interesting to see what others come up with.

OT, Robert Stacy McCain strikes me as a contemporary John Wilkes Booth.

The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 4:54 PM

And for those of you who don’t know this, Dred Scott was not just some escaped slave; he was an educated black man, living on his own, running his master’s business interests in Illinois. And it was argued that he would never be equal in law to white people who couldn’t run a business??!!

Capitalism is freedom!

The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 4:55 PM

OT, Robert Stacy McCain strikes me as a contemporary John Wilkes Booth.

The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 4:54 PM

Who did Robert Stacy McCain assassinate?

Oh, wait, The Race Card posted this comment.


sharrukin on August 14, 2010 at 5:12 PM

sharrukin on August 14, 2010 at 5:12 PM

He is just trying to tell you that Charles Ball-less Johnson should be on that list.

Inanemergencydial on August 14, 2010 at 5:19 PM

He is just trying to tell you that Charles Ball-less Johnson should be on that list.

Inanemergencydial on August 14, 2010 at 5:19 PM

I figured Race Card for a LGF kind of guy. I always check the link these days before I click.

I went to that nuthouse once and that was enough. It’s worse than DU, or Huffington Post.

sharrukin on August 14, 2010 at 5:31 PM

sharrukin on August 14, 2010 at 5:12 PM

I’m referring to his Foghorn Leghorn theatrics.

sharrukin on August 14, 2010 at 5:31 PM

I’m a Hot Air guy. Here I am, rock you like Katrina.

As for LGF, CJ nails the right to their own cross, daily. Aside from one lame flub, I challenge you to refute any of his claims and proof of bigotry, prejudice, racism and extremism on the right.

Of all the complaints directed at myself or others (not including hardline-libs) calling the right on its bigot-embrace I have yet to read a substantive refutation thereof. It should be pretty easy for you and others to tell me precisely when I was wrong about a racist or bigot?

Let me know. I’ll be poolside.

The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 5:59 PM

The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 5:59 PM

You’re never wrong Race Card. Guys like you and Chuckie are the conscience that the rest of the conservatives lack. Don’t fail us RC, you’re our only hope!

sharrukin on August 14, 2010 at 6:16 PM

Seven Percent Solution on August 14, 2010 at 3:55 PM

I don’t believe that Mr. Soros will have sufficient impact to warrant his presence on such a list.

I think that Al Gore makes it, if only for the private jet for me, no AC for thee, hypocracy.

IlikedAUH2O on August 14, 2010 at 7:13 PM

I’m surprised Margaret Sanger hasn’t been mentioned yet.

JohnGalt23 on August 14, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Bing. And this filthy witch.

And seriously … no one has Jefferson Davis on their list?! Whether you go by body count or political destruction, the President of the secessionist Confederate States of America has more blood on his biography than anyone in our history who isn’t a communist or an Islamofascist.

Jaibones on August 14, 2010 at 9:03 PM

It should be pretty easy for you and others to tell me precisely when I was wrong about a racist or bigot?

The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 5:59 PM


The only difficulty is volume, Race Tard. You are so consistently wrong, so predictably myopic, and such a pathethic, liberal race-victim that one doesn’t know where to begin.

Do your own search, though. Sort “The Race Card” by most recent.

Jaibones on August 14, 2010 at 9:06 PM

Margaret Sanger and all the baby killers have killed 45 million.

Compare that with any serial killers you want.

DavidM on August 14, 2010 at 9:07 PM

Jaibones on August 14, 2010 at 9:06 PM

Cop-out with full twisting dismount
Judges: 9.95 9.90 9.95 9.70 9.85

Drop the low and high scores; your cop-out was damn near perfect.

I’ve made thousands and thousands of comments but you could not cite one instance upon which to base your continued aggrieved-state.

Besides indirectly calling Hawkdriver a “coward” and directly stating that ddrintn has made racially-lacking remarks I don’t regret my remarks.

I don’t even know whom to tell you to consult. I’ve offended many but wronged few.


The Race Card on August 14, 2010 at 9:32 PM

I couldn’t care less whom you’ve offended or wronged. I just find you to be about as deep and interesting as Ann in CA and about as predictable as Al Sharpton. And you confuse “can’t” with “couldn’t care less”.

Jaibones on August 14, 2010 at 10:43 PM

Who, besides maybe Jimmuh, has done more damage to the USA? OK, maybe I’m an ignoramus. But I don’t know of anyone.

itsnotaboutme on August 14, 2010 at 10:52 AM

F.D.R. comes to mind. Did Benedict Arnold make the list? He was always an interesting figure in American history.

Theophile on August 14, 2010 at 11:45 PM

Yes, I contributed to John Hawkins list…

Yes, all of these people are worse then someone mentally defective and evil like a Jeffrey Dahmer. Why? Because this list includes those who knowingly do wrong to millions and it was composed by the collective replies of Conservative political bloggers. If you ask a “Conservative Blogger” to list the “worst figures” it’s really no different then taking a poll at Rotten Tomatoes regarding the “worst movie” because the list is going to be biased towards that which is freshest in the mind of the person making the list. In the context of political blogging Charles Manson isn’t going to come to mind but when the (D)emocrats start spouting revisionist history lionizing the failed policies of an elitist like FDR, yes, he is going to make the “worst” list of a “Conservative Blogger”.

Yet, isn’t it funny the Left didn’t wet themselves over Keith Olbermann’s nightly demonizations and ad hominem “worst person in the world list”. And why is it that none have risen to the defense of Sarah Palin when she has been smeared by Left wing haters like Andrew Sullivan with unfounded attacks on the legitimacy of the birth of her Down’s Syndrome child? Are they really so angry she didn’t abort him?

So the fact Sarah Palin didn’t abort Trig makes her evil and her children are fair game for published lies and ridicule but Margaret Sanger, the Nazi sympathizing Racist who founded Planned Parenthood to help ease the Black race into extinction is a saint?

So Nathan Bedford Forrest, who founded the Ku-Klux-Klan should have made the list but no mention of recently expired Sen. Byrd(D) who was a serving recruiter for the Ku-Klux-Klan? Sen. Byrd(D) certainly made my list. Ted Kennedy(D) didn’t eat Mary Jo Kopechne, he just left her to drown while he called his lawyers to debate for 10 hours the proper course of action to preserve his political career. So when you poll “Conservative political bloggers” then who should be surprised Ted made the list and Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t?

What is priceless is the meltdown the self-delusional haters from the “reality based community” are having in the comments section. Apparently a few have decided that Saul Alinsky is at the top of the list because of the reverse order of the listing. So of course they criticize the list for including Saul Alinsky when our current national financial difficulties are being exacerbated by a student of Saul Alinsky. His willful ignorance and advocacy for methodologies that advance fascism are therefore going to be in the mind of any political blogger from the Right side of the aisle.

What does this say about those who squeal that this illustrates the stupidity of Right Wingers?

DANEgerus on August 15, 2010 at 6:09 AM

“When a 49-year-old President comes in second all time in worst figures in American history after only eighteen months as President, it shows a remarkable lack of perspective, and ignores at least the potential for redemption.”

Did sitting in the pew of a racist hater like Jeremiah Wright for 23 years suggest our 49-year-old President sees a need for “redemption?”

Did his corrupt associates from the Chicago machine, that helped him divert millions into failed housing projects that further impoverished thousands, ever admit wrong-doing?

Was blaming the (R)epublicans for decades of (D)emocrat party profiteering at the tax-payer expense too petty to be a truly evil act because the cheering MainStreamMedia perpetuated the lie?

Throwing a Trillion dollars of our children’s tax-dollars into the coffers of (D)emocrat party public employees may not be “evil” but the consequences have been dire and the process inherently corrupt. How many lives have been destroyed by repeating historically failed policies?

Was Michelle Obama’s patient dumping really not relevant to the Health Care debate? If not perhaps the recess appointment of a raving Marxist who celebrates the failure of the UK’s NHS as a “model” for the imposition of the very “Death Panels” cross the line when the Government chooses who gets health care and who dies from imposed neglect?

Maybe Barack Hussein Obama’s “Screw-The-Jews” foreign policy won’t result in a nuclear war. Maybe.

But when more people die in preventable border related violence every day then Jeffrey Dahmer ate in his lifetime, and the President advocates half-measures designed to undermine enforcement as well as filing law suits to prevent the enforcement of the laws that would preserve American lives, laws that that President swore to uphold… yes… that is evil.

Yeah… Barack Hussein Obama made the top of my list.

DANEgerus on August 15, 2010 at 6:43 AM


ELMO Q on August 16, 2010 at 2:38 PM