In Punditry, Honesty Is the Best Policy

Yesterday on Twitter, Matthew Yglesias flagged a 2004 Reason piece on health care that proposed an individual mandate as opposed to the socialistic designs of John Kerry and the Democratic Party. And today at Grist, Sarah Goodyear points out conservative pundit George Will's reversal on high-speed rail. Ten years ago -- in the wake of 9/11 -- he proposed high-speed rail as a safer alternative to short-distance air travel. These days, he sees high-speed rail as a progressive plot to destroy our freedom-loving habits of mind.

This isn't to play "gotcha," as much as it is to note a simple fact about our world: We're all partisans, whether we admit it or not. Reason's opposition to the individual mandate has almost nothing to do with the substance of what is truly a center-right policy and everything to do with current political circumstances. The mandate was implemented by a Democrat. Reason, as a right-libertarian institution, is part of the conservative opposition to the liberal president. Likewise, Will's opposition to high-speed rail is purely a function of partisan politics.

This isn't a bad thing. Yes, partisanship can be taken too far and veer into ideological blindness, but, in general, it is a useful way of organizing our thoughts on policies and politics. Indeed, it's how most voters process political information. Political commentary would be much more bearable if pundits were willing to accept the partisan origins of their biases and skepticism, instead of playing a game where we pretend to be open-minded observers.  Most are anything but.

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