Sunday, February 17, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times Book Review published a nasty, sneering review of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, a Times business reporter; the review was written by Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, in his finest oh-don't-confuse-me-with-those-icky-progressive-Democrats tone (despite the fact that Johnston, though a fierce critic of greedy plutocrats, is a registered Republican).

Today the Book Review publishes a letter from Johnston, along with Chait's reply to that letter. Here's Johnston:

[Chait] writes that I embrace litigiousness to solve societal problems. In fact, I describe litigation as "scary and nasty" and show ways to reduce lawsuits.

To which Chait responds:

That Johnston can deny that he embraces litigiousness is bizarre. He depicts trial lawyers as heroes and wrote that every American has dreamed of fighting a case all the way to the Supreme Court.

But where's the contradiction in that?

If I'd use the word "heroes" to describe EMTs or cardiac surgeons who save the lives of heart-attack patients, does that mean I approve of the poor choices (smoking, bad diet, lack of exercise) that many of these patients made prior to their heart attacks? If I think soldiers are heroes, does that necessarily mean I love war and want more of it? What about firefighters? If I think they're heroic, does that mean I approve of arson, or smoking in bed, or failure to use smoke detectors -- or 9/11?

Can't I disapprove of ill-advised or even evil acts that make certain professions necessary, and wish to prevent those acts in the future, while admiring the people who labor to minimize their bad consequences?

And regarding the Supreme Court, what Johnston actually wrote (as Chait noted in his review) is this:

Is there an American, feeling the sting of injustice, who has not vowed to fight all the way to the Supreme Court?

Subtle move of the goalposts, Jonathan: "vowed" in response to injustice has become "dreamed" in response to, seemingly, nothing but the abstract wish to sue. But maybe, to you, there's no difference -- because maybe, to you, only a litigation-loving nutjob would ever feel that the system is rigged in favor of the haves.

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