The Jim Manzi Era

Back when the idea first launched, I was skeptical of the merits of The New Republic launching a special “in-house critics” blog in which Michael Kazin and Jim Manzi would offer critiques, from the left and from the right respectively, of TNR content.

Now that the exercise has had some time to develop, I think we can re-evaluate and see that things are worse than I feared. For one thing, the month of July has featured zero posts from Kazin. That’s too bad. I’m a great admirer of Kazin’s, he’s written a number of excellent popular books and articles and was intrigued by the idea of him doing some blogging, though of course he has other jobs and not everyone has the taste for the blogosphere. So that leaves us with Manzi, who’s done three posts advancing the notion that we shouldn’t attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Now the thing liberals are supposed to say about Manzi’s work on climate change is that in a universe of right-wing blather and nonsense, he offers a refreshingly empirically grounded take. And that’s true. A world where the climate debate ranged from Bill McKibben on the left to Jim Manzi on the right would be an excellent world in which I get my way.

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But sadly that’s not the world we have. We have a world in which it’s overwhelmingly likely that the 111th Senate will not act to even slightly curb greenhouse gas emissions, and even less likely that the 112th Senate will do so. Under the circumstances, I find the judgment that what a magazine needs to do in July of 2010 is given a higher level of prominence to Manzi’s arguments somewhat bizarre. It’s true, of course, that if National Review or The Weekly Standard wants to give more play to Manzi’s arguments that probably raises the level of the discourse. But pre “critics” the New Republic’s climate/energy coverage was done primarily by Brad Plumer, and diluting Plumer’s work with Manzi’s serves to lower the level of discourse. As my colleague Joe Romm puts it “TNR appears to have proudly hired Manzi to un-fact-check their articles.”

Obviously it’s good that we live in a free society where people debate political issues. But it’s hardly as if the poor, put-upon fossil fuel industry had no outlets for their arguments before the in-house critics blog launched. If your idea is that it’s important to broaden the scope of discourse, then why do so by hiring someone to advance the point of view that already holds the political whip-hand?