Friday, August 5, 2011

The perils of confusing libertarians and right-wingers

Exhibit A: You might make as big a fool of yourself as Lawrence O'Donnell did.

See, there is this video making the rounds of a reporter from Reason magazine talking to Matt Damon (the actor) about incentives to perform one's job, comparing actors to teachers. But much more important than this exchange was O'Donnell's reaction to it:
After casually labeling the Reason Foundation as a right wing Republican group he says: 
The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people.
Reason's editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie fired back:'s video featuring Matt Damon from Saturday's "Save Our Schools" rally is making the rounds. In the vid, Matt Damon tees off on the "shitty" salaries that teachers make and argues that teachers do what they do out of love, so that structural arrangement such as early-and-easy-to-get tenure have no impact on what sort of job educators may do in the classroom. 
As a point of fact, Damon's understanding of teacher compensation relative other professionals is wrong. It turns out that when you control for education level and hours worked, public school teachers do quite well (especially compared to private school teachers, who on average make $13,000 a year less). And that's before fringe benefits, such as employer-paid health care and retirement packages are tossed in to the mix. Or job security. 
But we were talking about Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC's Last Word, who used his "Rewrite" segment to question not simply whether public-school teachers should be scrutinized but whether Reason is anything more than a Republicanoid hack factory that would never dare question, say, the police. 
After showing a part of the video in which host Michelle Fields questions Damon about whether the relative insecurity of acting jobs pushes him to a higher level of performance, the wise and all-knowing - and, according to his Wikipedia page, exclusively privately educated - O'Donnell delivers the following screed
[This is] how crazy the attack on teachers has become. Comparing public school teachers work incentives to the work incentives of movie stars. It has never occurred to the teacher haters that teachers want to be teachers for any reason other than job security. It has never occurred to them that teachers might want to be teachers because they like teaching, because they love teaching, and because they care about their students. 
The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people. 
They have done so accidentally, which is in some cases understandable and forgivable. And some of the them -- statistically very few to be sure -- have done so deliberately, maliciously, with full criminal intent. They have summarily executed people. 
The worst teacher in America could never do as much damage as the worst police officer in America. But the right wing has never even been slightly curious about evaluating the job performance of police officers. Never once has Republican world said hey, maybe we should look into how police officers are carrying out their solemn public responsibility to serve and protect. 
No -- no right wing website in America is investigating or will ever investigate how well police officers do their jobs. The targeting of teachers has been a vicious and politically deliberate action. And it has been so successful that many of its fundamental falsehoods are accepted as true by both Republicans and Democrats in our ongoing dialogue about public Education. 
 . . .while I realize that being Lawrence O'Donnell means never having to say you're sorry, let me add some emphasis to the plain truth:
Because Reason magazine,, and Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes all these things, including this blog) are not right-wing or Republican, I can't speak for those groups or folks inclined those ways.
However, I can and will gently direct O'Donnell to have at least some goddamn inkling of what he's talking about:
Reason has been all over issues of police abuse like those Fullerton, California cops were all over the homeless man they beat to death.
Or the other California cops who killed Allen Klephart following a traffic stop.
Or who illegally detained DC-area journalist Justin Vorus because he snapped photos of cops at work.
Or all the other law enforcement types who are waging a War on Cameras because it makes them have to respect civil liberties.
And while I'm sure that O'Donnell has guests up the ying-yang for his show, he might want to think about asking Cory Maye, the Mississippi man who was first taken off death row and then released from prison altogether in large part due to the efforts of Reason journalist Radley Balko, along with's Drew Carey and Paul Feine, whose "Mississippi Drug War Blues" documentary is a must-watch to any American interested in how the criminal justice system has major problems. Balko, now with the Huffington Post, was even named "Journalist of the Year" this year by the Los Angeles Press Club due to his Reason work on the Cory Maye and other cases.
And when O'Donnell is done digesting all that, he can relax with Reason magazine's July issue, which was dedicated to what we called Criminal Injustice: Inside America's National Disgrace. It's online right now. For free. He just has to click the link.
Or maybe, like Matt Damon, a truly gifted actor who is totally untroubled by the basic facts when it comes to questions of teacher compensation, O'Donnell will elect to live exclusively in a world of his own making.
Make no mistake: Reason in all its iterations supports and applauds the work that the law enforcement system - from the U.S. Supreme Court down to the most local of meter maids and the least-honored of rent-a-cops - does to help keep the country and its citizens safe. Like good teachers, good cops have a tough-as-hell job that is made immeasurably harder by all the bad ones out there. And make no mistake, too, that Reason has been and will continue to look at ways to identify and call out bad actors in public and private life. And suggest ways in which education and law enforcement can be improved to better serve the citizens who pay for both.
Radley Balko writes on his own blog:
Of course, I’m not the only one who writes about this stuff. Maybe O’Donnell has had other people on. So I did a search of O’Donnell’s archives to see how many times he has addressed police abuses. I found one instance, and even that one had a partisan angle. O’Donnell actually acknowledged on Twitter yesterday that he could only think of a single story about police abuse he has addressed since he started hosting the show. (Though he did write a book several years ago about a police abuse case his father handled as an attorney.) Reason has run dozens of articles, videos, and blog posts over that period. 
So what sorts of important issues does O’Donnell think are more deserving than police abuse? Sarah Palin, apparently. He has discussed her more than 50 times. She even gets her own topic tag. 
And O’Donnell isn’t just wrong about Reason. The conservative-learning libertarian Glenn Reynolds have been outspoken and critical of police on issues like no-knock raids, citizens’ right to record police officers, and even ending qualified immunity for cops, a pretty radical (though in my opinion correct) position that I doubt you could find ten members of Congress to support. Sites like Lew Rockwell also run pieces by adamant police critics like William Grigg
So not only did O’Donnell deliver an ad hominem attack, it was an attack that was also embarrassingly wrong on the facts, which he’d have discovered had he done 20 seconds of research. And it doesn’t look like he’ll be issuing a correction. His only response yesterday was the Tweet linked above and to re-Tweet others’ weak defenses of him. 
If O’Donnell really gave damn about police abuse, he’d be looking to forge alliances across partisan and ideological lines to build support for reform. Meaning he’d be reaching out to places like Reason. Instead, in just the second time he has mentioned police abuse in his eight months of hosting a national TV show, it was to use the issue as an ideological cudgel to smack around people with whom he disagrees . . . on a completely unrelated issue.
Ed Brayton agrees:
Balko is absolutely right, progressives should be building alliances with groups like Reason on the issues where we agree. And there are lots of such issues beyond criminal justice, including executive power (which real progressives agree should be limited and subject to checks and balances, while the president and the Democratic leadership only thinks those things matter when a Republican is in the White House), torture and extraordinary rendition, opposition to constant military interventions abroad, the need to cut defense spending, warrantless wiretaps, opposition to the Patriot Act and other constitutional overreaches, and much more. 
Disagreeing with the libertarian positions on environmental regulation and similar issues is just fine; I’ll gladly join you in arguing against them. But casually lumping all libertarians — and this group in particular — in with the “right wing” and pretending that they all take the same position on every other issue is shallow and sloppy thinking.
I used to listen to Penn Jillette's radio show daily. If you've heard Jillette opine on politics for more than a few minutes or watch a single episode of Bullshit, it becomes obvious that his is vehement libertarian of the first order. Lawrence O'Donnell is a good friend of Jillette, and was a guest on that show....maybe five times? Possibly more? He really should know better.

1 comment:

  1. More issues here than space to discuss - that said, I have taken the "test" on the Libertarian web site and I pretty much agree across the board... until you get to social issues. Had I stayed in banking my entire career (I was Republican during that time) I would likely be Libertarian today.

    But when I get to the part of the test regarding poverty/welfare/public assistance, I find the Libertarian position naive and the test labels me as Liberal. This is because I went from banking to being a Welfare Caseworker, and all the "myths" that I held about the underclass in this country became my reality.

    So being a Skeptic, I revere Michael Shermer, for example. But when I hear him talk about the unseen hand of "The Market", I want to have him experience what it is like to actually work with a class of Americans who cannot, and never will, be ABLE to participate in The Market.

    So what's my point? We all have opinions about the ills of our nation, society, etc. But the devil is in the details; there are no easy answers nor simple fixes. One thing there is no shortage of, though, are opinions.

    Nicely done post, by the way.


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