Yes, GOP Candidates Are Talking Nonsense

This is a post about fanatical centrists, British debt history and ponies.

Let’s start with the fanatical centrists: Martin Longman, an editor at Washington Monthly, recently flew into a well-justified rage over a “centrist” column in The Washington Post that acknowledges that the deal with Iran is something America needs to agree to, effectively concedes that the arguments of the deal’s opponents are scurrilous and irresponsible, but condemns President Obama for being “dismissive” of his opponents’ arguments.

People often attack me for doing exactly the same thing. I constantly get mail – and sometimes other writers’ columns – condemning me not for being wrong, but for being dismissive of the arguments of those I criticize.

After all, these are important people, so they deserve to be treated with respect, right?


If people consistently make logically incoherent, ignorant arguments, the duty of a commentator is to say just that – not to mislead readers by pretending that these people are serious and making sense. You shouldn’t make gratuitous insults – I have never, to my knowledge, declared that someone’s mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries. But ignorant is as ignorant does, no matter how much influence you have.

Where I’ve been getting pushback lately is in my pronouncements that the whole Republican field of presidential hopefuls is talking nonsense about economic policy. That’s a terrible thing to say, I’m told. But what if it’s true? And, of course, it is.

Consider a couple of recent entries. Jeb Bush, the supposedly sensible candidate, has been pushing the utterly ludicrous claim that he can deliver 4 percent economic growth; so now Mike Huckabee, another G.O.P. candidate, is trying to one-up Mr. Bush by promising 6 percent. Well, I can beat all of them: Whatever they’re promising, I promise the same – plus a pony.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul is decrying the irresponsibility of US fiscal management – why, the United States hasn’t been debt-free since 1835. Clearly, disaster looms, and has been looming for 180 years. But that’s nothing: Britain hasn’t been debt-free since at least 1692. More than three centuries, spanning the Industrial Revolution and much more, of crippling irresponsibility. Just you wait!

Should Mr. Paul, Mr. Bush and Mr. Huckabee be treated with respect here? If they’re outliers, which G.O.P. contenders actually do deserve respect?

I know that it’s disturbing to read columns that portray the entire Republican field as a bunch of cranks.

But it would be a dereliction of duty, and basically an act of dishonest reporting, to pretend that they aren’t. I’m all for respect here – but the people who deserve respect, in the form of honest assessment, are my readers.