Jonathan Chait’s recent critique of political correctness insists that the phenomenon has undergone a resurgence. It hasn’t; contrary to Chait’s characterization, it never went away. The difference is that it is now being used as a cudgel against white liberals such as Jonathan Chait, who had previously enjoyed a measure of immunity. Chait is in roughly the same position as Lena Dunham, who is so obviously confused by feminists who insist that she, a spoiled white Manhattan princess of progressivism, has little to contribute to the discussion of the situation of women who do not come from such rarefied circumstances.
Because Chait is intellectually dishonest, I will not go into his essay in great detail. And that isn’t really even necessary. Chait is stumbling, in his way, toward the realization that in political arguments intelligent adults pay attention mainly to what is being said, while fatuous children pay attention mainly to who is saying it. Chait is hardly in a position to complain about that, given his own heavy reliance on that mode of discourse. Chait isn’t arguing for taking an argument on its own merits; he’s arguing for a liberals’ exemption to the Left’s general hostility toward any unwelcome idea that comes from a speaker who checks any unapproved demographic boxes, the number of which — “cisgendered,” etc. — is growing in an appropriately cancerous fashion. “White males” is a category that includes Jonathan Chait and Rush Limbaugh, and Chait, naturally, doesn’t like that much.
But consider this fairly straightforward example from Chait himself, on David Koch.
Here’s a man who inherited a massive business empire. He has been able to spend a gigantic fortune to help bend the political system so as to become more congenial to his own economic interests.
One can make the case that Koch-style libertarianism — which runs the range from low regulation to gay marriage to drug reform — is bad policy. Or one can do what Chait does here: Dismiss the argument because of where it comes from: Rich guys who inherit money, in this view, must believe what they believe out of self-interested and dishonest reasons. If there is another possible explanation, Chait is not much interested in it.
Never mind that Chait gets it wrong: Koch Industries and the political organizations to which it contributes have long argued against (among many, many other things) subsidies that would directly benefit Koch Industries, for example handouts and mandates related to alternative fuels. And it takes a special sort of crackpot to believe that Charles and David Koch are involved in fighting the Patriot Act and subsidizing the New York City Ballet as part of a baroquely complicated scheme to move one step up the billionaires’ list, or to go from being owners of the nation’s second-largest privately held company to owners of its largest. But that backward view is not only explicit in Chait’s work, it’s implicit in his entire understanding of the free-market movement as a conspiracy of self-interested billionaires.
If he wants to argue for an end of ad hominem as a substitute for analysis, then I’m altogether with Chait. But he’s only arguing that people like him should be immune to the very sort of dishonest stupidity that he practices.