Another Conservative Genius

Reihan Salam is supposedly one of the smart, fair-dealing conservative intellectuals, which by definition means that any liberal who criticizes him for, say, pimping Paul Ryan’s fuck-the-poor plan, is being shrill. Still, one of Reihan’s howlers caught by Matt Bruenig tells us something about the soft bigotry of low expectations in the unfettered free market for intellectual conservatives:

Reihan Salam wrote a piece against using non-market incomes to reduce poverty. A critical part of the piece claims that this doesn’t reduce poverty under the official poverty metric because that metric only tracks earnings:

The official poverty measure is very useful because it tells us how much people are earning.

Anyone remotely competent knows this is not true. I pointed out its falsity at Demos:

No it doesn’t. The OPM counts as income all cash income from any source except tax credits. If you actually only track “earnings,” the poverty rate using the OPM poverty lines in 2012 would have been 60% higher (74 million impoverished instead of 46.5 million). This sentence is so misleadingly false that Slate should issue a correction. It is indisputably incorrect that this metric measures earnings.

Slate, surprisingly enough, did issue a correction. Matt’s whole Demos piece is worth a read.

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26 replies
  1. 1
    Corner Stone says:

    Reihan Salam, supposedly one of the smart, fair-dealing conservative intellectuals,

    Why are people so desperate to find a “smart, fair-dealing conservative” ?
    There isn’t one. None of these words go together. And they haven’t since the times before Buckley.

  2. 2
    Roger Moore says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Why are people so desperate to find a “smart, fair-dealing conservative” ?

    Because it lets them keep treating politics like a horse race. As long as their are smart, fair-dealing people on both sides, they can treat politics as an honest clash of ideas and report stuff in the traditional stenographic style. But if one side is made entirely of liars and charlatans, they can’t continue to take them seriously and have to treat them as a band of crazies who don’t deserve serious support.

  3. 3
    Another_Bob says:

    I’m not sure if “conservatism” was ever an honest ideology. In any case, the conservative movement is now nothing but a scam designed to control and rip-off ordinary Americans. It panders to fear and bigotry to fool people into supporting policies that are against their best interests. Anyone who espouses this ideology in even a seemingly mild and moderate form is still a liar and a scammer. What a shame that our media are required to continually make excuses for these people and treat them as though they had anything positive to offer. The conservative movement is a plague on this society.

  4. 4
    MattF says:

    @Corner Stone: Reporters aren’t supposed to say “XYZ is lying.” But if the conservative in question is indeed intelligent, you don’t really have a choice. It’s either lying or stupid, take your pick.

  5. 5

    Is it just me or does Salam look like a monster/warlock from Grimm’s Fairy Tales? I am willing to concede that there may be some intelligent conservatives but no intellectually honest ones.

  6. 6
    El Cid says:

    Whenever I see him on the TV box his strategy is the same as many of these right wing pseudo-intellectuals. (They’re pseudo-intellectuals not because they don’t possess some degree of ‘intelligence’ but because they don’t give a shit about the intellectual merit of what they say.)

    They talk over everybody, they center each conversation on their points, and if one point seems not to have dominated they throw another new point in to loudly and insistently get everyone to please please please you must talk about this thing that I’m talking about now now now now now and if not how DARE you suggest any bad thing about conservatives.

  7. 7
    Baud says:

    Reihan Salam wrote a piece against using non-market incomes to reduce poverty.

    Since I don’t like to click, can anyone explain what his alternative is? It’s not just the tax cuts and deregulation shtick that these guys have been hawking forever, is it?

  8. 8
    MattF says:

    @El Cid: Well, sticking to your talking points is irritating but legitimate, IMO, particularly in the talking-head world. But lying… not so much.

  9. 9

    @Baud: You forgot, local control.

  10. 10
    Roger Moore says:


    I’m not sure if “conservatism” was ever an honest ideology.

    I think it can be an honest ideology, but that certainly isn’t the way things are right now. Honest conservatism comes in two main forms: “I’m comfortable under the current system and don’t want it to change” and “Better the devil you know”. The problem is that those are neither universal nor necessarily popular arguments, especially when times are bad, so the people who genuinely believe either of them tend to make up dishonest arguments to win over people who are doing so badly they think they have nowhere to go but up.

  11. 11
    MattF says:

    @Another_Bob: Also, the concept of a ‘conservative ideology’ is rather self-contradictory. I’d invoke Burke on that, except that ‘Burkean’ has become a joke.

  12. 12
    Baud says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    They believe in tax cuts and deregulation. They don’t really believe in local control.

  13. 13

    @Baud: They do keep bleating about it, all the time, local and state control as opposed to Federal control.

  14. 14
    Roger Moore says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    Maybe they talk about local control, but they don’t actually practice it. They believe that whatever level of government they control deserves to override whatever level of government they don’t control. When they run the local government, local control is everything. When they control state governments, it’s fine for the state government to overrule local ordinances they don’t like and to nullify federal laws they disagree with. When they control the federal government, they’re all about federal supremacy.

  15. 15
    trollhattan says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    Mostly know him from Maher, where he is a shouty little fvck whose face is begging, begging to be punched. Sometimes he shouts lies and sometimes he shouts over another guest, but he always shouts. I guess that makes him an intellectual.

  16. 16
    cokane says:

    Salam is weird in that I can’t tell if he’s just a straight up political hack or a deluded true believer. I know him mostly from being the frequent token conservative on Maher. And during the shows he waffles between making the hackiest of “both-sides-do-it” bullshit or saying straight up incorrect stuff. While of course, agreeing with the liberals on the show about how crazy some people on the right are.

    In reality though, he should be ashamed of himself for writing for the white supremacist magazine the National Review.

  17. 17

    @trollhattan: I have only seen his still photos, I have never seen him on TV.
    @cokane: He is not alone, there is Ramesh Ponnuru too on NR, hawking hatred.

  18. 18
    Roger Moore says:


    Salam is weird in that I can’t tell if he’s just a straight up political hack or a deluded true believer.

    I sometimes wonder if they can tell the difference, either. That’s the core of the complaints about the wingnut bubble/epistemic closure. The hacks get locked into the bubble so tightly that they eventually start believing their own bullshit and turn into deluded true believers.

  19. 19
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Roger Moore: It can be an honest ideology, but if it’s honest about what it’s doing, it will repel most people.

    So they have to disguise it. It really is about forming a rationalization for being a selfish asshole.

  20. 20
    Thoughtful David says:

    @Roger Moore:
    This. We have a good example this year here in Virginia. Tealiban delegate Lingamfelter got a law through the lege that took away some zoning rights from the county and gave them to the state. So much for “local control.”
    The same is true also for legislation at any level: “All rules are evil, except those proposed by the Tealiban.” See rights, abortion and rights, voting.

  21. 21
    Roger Moore says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    What gets called conservatism now is dishonest. It isn’t really conservative in the classic sense of being afraid of and resistant to change. Instead, it’s trying to justify the destruction of any government function that might interfere with the people at the top getting an ever bigger slice of the pie. But I think there is a genuine strain of what might be called temperamental or reflexive conservatism, where people are just generally unhappy with change, either out of contentment or fear. The modern “conservative” movement is obviously trying to rope those people in by appealing to their natural conservatism, even as it tries to create exactly the kind of radical change that ought to be scariest to true conservatives.

  22. 22
    trollhattan says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    He’s certainly not someone worth seeking out, he just shows up, uninvited, into your life to cheapen it a bit. Have heard him opinionating on NPR when they need a conservative soundbite. There, he doesn’t shout.

  23. 23
    Origuy says:

    A state senator in Florida wants to make convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza’s movie America required watching in middle and high schools.

  24. 24

    […] via mistermix, the very exasperated Matt Bruenig takes apart the allegedly serious conservative intellectual […]

  25. 25
    Rex Everything says:

    Wow, mistermix reads Matt Bruenig now? Maybe the left really is moving left…

  26. 26
    flounder says:

    Here’s my favorite Salam moment. I book marked it years ago:

    Chicago: Mark Levin denounced Obama the other day for destroying the banking system. Does he think people are too stupid to remember the banks collapsing under Bush and Bush bailing them out with as few strings as possible?

    Reihan Salam: Well, I don’t always agree with Mark Levin, and I don’t agree with him in this particular case. But Levin is very sincere. The remarks that he made are not based on any desire to mislead the public. Rather, they reflect his considered judgments. In a similar vein, I don’t think that President Obama or various left-of-center media outlets intends to “pull one over” on the public when they advance ideas about public policy I reject. I pretty sure they think they’re doing the right thing.

    Basically Mark Levin said Obama crashed the economy (you know, before he was president). Salam, still in the youthful stage of honing his smarmy King Solomon routine, says, well, when you are “very sincere”, it is okay to lie.

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