I Feel A Little Guilty Writing About Rehabbed Neoconservative Pundit Max Boot

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Max Boot (Photo from New America Foundation)

I feel a little guilty writing this column about Washington Post columnist Max Boot because he is a rehabbed neoconservative, who center-left Democrats and the media establishment have already given too much attention because he is against President Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, Boot is a species of pundit, who becomes increasingly insufferable as threats fueled by proto-fascism intensify.

On January 8, Boot penned a column that responded to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s success in an “astonishingly short period.” He argued she was problematic because she cares more about “ideological correctness than factual correctness” and compared her to Sarah Palin.

“In some ways, Ocasio-Cortez reminds me of Sarah Palin, a comparison neither woman will appreciate,” Boot declared. “Palin was another talented young communicator who made a big splash in national politics before having her lack of knowledge painfully exposed. Instead of studying up, Palin gave up any pretense of seriousness and has now disappeared from the debate.”

“This is a cautionary tale for Ocasio-Cortez. She is a politician of immense gifts who can have an outsize impact — but only if she masters the intricacies of policy and curbs her fatal attraction to political celebrity and vacuous soundbites,” Boot added. “Trump has gone dismayingly far with his reliance on ‘alternative facts,’ but it’s not a formula that his opponents should emulate.”

Boot called particular attention to a fact-check that was done by the Post on Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that the Pentagon had trillions of unaccounted money and that money could be used to pay for “two-thirds of the cost of Medicare For All.” He highlighted a series of other fact-checks that were conducted.

The issue with Boot taking a handful of examples, where Ocasio-Cortez used generic rhetoric, to attack her is that many of these fact-checks leave no room for ambiguity, even if she made misstatements.

For example, when Ocasio-Cortez talks about an upper middle class no longer existing, Boot does not bother to consider what she views as “upper middle class.” He merely references a study that showed the upper middle class has grown significantly. But the study labeled a family-of-three that makes $300,000/year a part of the upper middle class. What if she considers those people rich?

As the author of the study stated, “Many people talk about the conditions of the middle class but few define it, and the term upper middle class is equally ambiguous.”

Another fact Ocasio-Cortez did not get exactly right involves Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bed quotas in immigrant detention facilities. She said ICE is required to fill “34,000 beds with detainees every single night and that number has only been increasing since 2009.”

The Post called this claim an “urban legend.” Yet, an NPR story from 2013 reported this as fact: “The mandate calls for filling 34,000 beds in some 250 facilities across the country, per day, with immigrant detainees.”

Detention beds have increased. They have gone up to at least 50,000, but the reason why her statement is not exactly true is President Barack Obama’s administration dropped this arbitrary requirement around 2016.

For what it’s worth, Ocasio-Cortez recognized in a tweet that “fact-checking is critically important. It’s not always fun. But that’s okay! It pushes me to be better.”

That did not stop Boot from comparing Ocasio-Cortez to Trump when there should be no comparison. As Washington Post reporter Sal Rizzo noted, she has only been fact-checked twice. Trump has been fact-checked for thousands of false and misleading claims by the newspaper.

More importantly, someone like Ocasio-Cortez is fact-checked because the establishment views what they represent as “extreme.” They are concerned the public will be captivated by their ideas.

They do not feel the same way about center-left or center-right politicians, who they expect to constantly try and bring balance and compromise to government. In fact, fact-checking them too closely may hamstring them, since they’ll have to answer for misrepresenting the truth.

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz summarized a salient example in his post on Boot’s column:

In December 2017, Susan Collins told Meet the Press that her avowed commitment to deficit reduction — and support for Donald Trump’s tax bill — were perfectly consistent because “economic growth produces more revenue and that will help to offset this tax cut and actually lower the debt.”

There was no serious evidence to support that extraordinary claim a year ago. And there is now overwhelming evidence that Collins wildly misled the public about the fiscal costs of her preferred tax policy. To their credit, many mainstream news outlets fact-checked the senator’s claim at the time, and have exhaustively reported how reality has contradicted the GOP’s broader claims about the tax bill.

And yet Susan Collins’s willingness to defend a package of tax cuts for the rich and corporations — a policy at the far-right fringe of American public opinion — by claiming that they would actually reduce the deficit has not led the mainstream press to portray her as a fact-averse, far-right extremist. In fact, just last week, the New York Times referred to Collins as one of the Senate’s “most moderate members.”

This is why we should talk about Boot and the function he performs.

In this moment, Boot is most valuable to the establishment because he is a conservative, who believes Trump has gone too far. They see him as a voice of reason.

Not only can that voice of reason warn against the actions of Trump and Republicans, but for them, his voice can reinforce the reservations center-left Democrats have against progressives, democratic socialists, and others in the wing of the party energized by Senator Bernie Sanders.

Boot lectures the progressive base with his perspective that is supposedly informed by his conservative understanding of how their “extremism” will cost them in elections against Republicans. Center-left Democrats seize upon his words to suppress the base’s influence, restrict debate, and limit the politics of the possible.

The winners are corporate interests, political action committees with special interests, and anyone with a stake in maintaining the status quo, because Boot lashes out left-leaning or left-wing politicians or activists seeking to provoke change.

Center-left Democrats promote pundits like Boot. They attack rising stars in the Democratic Party, who energize the base but are deemed threats to the Democratic Party establishment.

When the Democrats nominate someone who can run as a “smarter Republican” against Trump in 2020, it will be the Boots of the pundit class who played a decisive role. It will also be the Boots in media who bear some responsibility for depressing turnout and helping Trump compete for a second term.

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