Jonathan Chait (whose New York Magazine site is also experiencing technical problems) addresses the "shock" of right-wing bigotry, as displayed, unshockingly, by Cliven Bundy. But on a deeper level, Chait's piece addresses the growing problem, it seems to me, of really poor reading comprehension among America's commentariat. Here's Chait, discussing a critical assessment of his recent analysis of racism and ideology by Reason's J.D. Tuccille:
Tuccille summarized my point as follows: "No need for debate, it's all about internalized racism." This is the precise opposite of my argument, which held that while conservatism and racism may be historically, sociologically, and psychologically inseparable, it is absolutely necessary to debate conservative ideas on their own terms.
Precise opposite indeed. Chait could not have been more clear, more lucid, more direct in his thesis: ideas--in this case conservative ideas--should be judged--in this case by liberals--on their merits. In less rancorous, less accusatory, less prejudgmental settings, real and intellectual debate could more easily flourish. That's all that Chait's analysis came down to. It positively screamed its thesis of tackling ideas "on their own terms," simple as that. Yet libertarian J.D. Tuccille, of Reason magazine, no less, failed not only to grasp Chait's point, but to misapprehend it entirely.
Or, from the left, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry assaulted Chait two weekends ago with respect to the same article--and she assaulted him for not writing the article she would have written. (A reader forwarded the clip to me, which I have since lost, but I assume it's somewhere in YouTube land.) Chait should have said this and he should have said that and he got his thesis all wrong, charged Perry at great length, on-air, before even introducing Chait. This left him a bit stunned, while I sat embarrassed for the professorial host. Engaging Chait on Chait's terms--which was why, one assumed, he was invited on the show to begin with--seemed utterly beyond Perry's ability. She had to rewrite Chait before she could engage him, or rather not engage him. The on-air debacle left me wondering if she ever really understood what Chait had written.
Were these instances of basic reading comprehension gone bad? Or were they intentional misunderstandings, born of ideological tribalism? Perhaps some of both. After all, there's a lot of both going around these days.