The Klein vs. Sullivan Blog War Heats Up

I probably wouldn’t comment on the bizarre blog war between Ezra Klein and Andrew Sullivan if I hadn’t commented on one aspect of this recently while it still involved a matter of substance. In addition it offers an opportunity to comment on my policy in quoting from other sites, especially those which I often disagree with.

While the discussion previously involved matters of health care policy, primarily related to HillaryCare, this blog war has now devolved to one of arguing over whether the other is honest or is suppressing free discussion of ideas.

Ezra writes, “I have never, not once, written or published anything I believed to have been untrue.” I believe him. Saying something based upon one’s personal opinions or view of the facts, even if it appears untrue, does not mean someone is lying. Even beyond the dispute between these two, I find claims of dishonesty to be quite common in the blogosphere. Even the moderation que here is full of comments from people (both left and right) who leave comments (which I do not find worthy of posting) which basically claim I’m lying when they disagree with me without disputing a single fact I’ve provided.

Ezra also complains about how Sullivan makes a point of his age in a previous post (which I also quoted in my previous coverage of this dispute). His age is certainly not proof of being in error, but in the case discussed I believe it was relevant. Ezra was basing his views on HillaryCare based upon the more recent discussion of the issue which conflicts with the facts known by those of us who were around at the time. This does not mean Klein was lying. It only means he was mistaken (in my opinion, of course). In reading Ezra’s posts on health care I generally feel he is well informed, well intentioned, and attempting to honestly discuss the issues. This does not mean I believe he is always correct. The health care field is extremely complex and those who are outside the field often make errors when attempting to interpret events from outside. I bet this is true of reporting (both by bloggers and professional journalists) of many fields beyond health care. Sometimes age and experience in the real world, as opposed to research conducted by a blogger or journalist, is also of value.

Age also provides another important lesson as to the dangers of sticking entirely to one ideological viewpoint in evaluating all issues. Neither the left or right is always correct and reality often conflicts with the positions taken based upon ideology by both sides.

Brendan Nyhan argues that both Ezra Klein and Andrew Sullivan have something in common as they fight each other:

What’s so strange about this argument — which I agree with is — is that Sullivan engaged in the same sort of reasoning as Klein after 9/11 and before the war in Iraq, a period in which he repeatedly suggested that criticism of the war on terror or war in Iraq had the effect of aiding terrorists or Saddam (he’s since changed his views). For instance, he wrote that “The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead – and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column” and called the BBC “a military player” that is “objectively pro-Saddam.”

In both cases, Klein and Sullivan argued that we must divorce the (supposed) effect of a writer’s words from their intent. To criticize the war effort, according to Sullivan circa 2001-2003, has the effect of aiding the enemy and is therefore illegitimate. To express a hawkish liberal view, according to Klein, has the effect of supporting George W. Bush’s foreign policy and is therefore irresponsible. In each case, they are trying to silence views they dislike, though Sullivan’s tactic of equating speech with treason is far more objectionable.

So when will Klein and Sullivan realize they share common ground?

I’m occasionally questioned as to why I quote from Andrew Sullivan, especially as I’ve often discussed in private some comments from him which I’ve quite strongly disagreed with. Again, while I believe Sullivan has been wrong on some topics, this does not mean he has been dishonest when he expressed his views. The primary reason why I read Andrew Sullivan’s blog is that it shares something in common with Liberal Values. The political blogosphere is largely divided between left and right and in the case of the majority of blogs it is possible to predict which side a blogger will take on an issue without reading based upon their affiliation. While we may disagree with each other on particular issues, both Andrew Sullivan and I have one similarity in our blogs as we both express views outside of the liberal versus conservative framework which dominates the blogosphere.

Often I also find some value in quoting something from writer outside of the liberal blogosphere who says something I do agree with as demonstration that the view transcends the usual left versus right divide. On the other hand, while I may do so from time to time, in general I see little value in debunking many things I disagree with from conservative writers. This applies not only to Sullivan. This is why I will sometimes quote writers such as David Brooks when he drops his hyper-partisanship and make sense, or why I recently gave credit to Michelle Malken when I found a link of value from her despite frequenting disagreeing with the material on her blog.