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Why Are Smart Guys Nate Silver and Ezra Klein Acting Like the GOP's Useful Idiots?

Nate Silver and Ezra Klein, two of the left's smartest smart guys, are saying usefully dumb shit these days. Their down-the-middle "credibility" grab is understandable, but why is the rest of the left so afraid to call them out?

Nate Silver and Ezra Klein, two of the left's smartest smart guys, are saying usefully dumb shit these days. Their down-the-middle "credibility" grab is understandable, but why is the rest of the Left so afraid to call them out? Both of these Guardians of the Wonk Universe occupy varying  degrees of heroic space among liberals, but what they truly crave is an intellectual authority that can't be dismissed as partisan confirmation bias, and this has led them to be horribly, usefully wrong. Liberals are not helping them by cowering at their fully operational Death Star brains.

First, there's Ezra Klein, who began flacking Paul Ryan's poverty plan a few weeks ago, and continued to do so this weekend on MSNBC's Up with Steve Kornacki. In both cases, the credulity with which Klein greeted Ryan's plan was infuriating:

Klein's conclusions about the Ryan "poverty plan" are so dizzyingly stupid that a Twitter rant from yours truly ensued:

Well, that was cleansing. To be clear, I don't think Klein is deliberately being a tool for Republicans, I think this is the natural result of his desire for Vox to be seen as authoritative, and not partisan. Unfortunately, this caused him to ignore the overwhelming weight of historical, factual evidence that Ryan's poverty plan is just another attempt to crack the social program safe, using Democratic ideas as chisels. He gives Ryan the benefit if the doubt because that's What Wonk Jesus Would Do.

Then, there's Nate Silver, who cemented his status as right-wing boogeyman by being able to read polls, and became a hero to the left in the process. Neither role particularly suited him, so he fucked off to ESPN to shed his politics pigeonhole. Then, last week, he proved that as a political commentator, he's an excellent statistician when he tallied up all the mentions of impeachment, and concluded that John Boehner is right, "Democrats Are Way More Obsessed With Impeachment Than Republicans."

As with Klein, I initially resisted the misery of dealing with this annoyance, until Silver's steaming pile of dumbshit was cited by George Stephanopoulos this weekend, when he asked Dan Pfeiffer to respond to Silver's "findings."

The most glaring, obvious problem with Silver's analysis is the premise, as laid out in the headline. Saying that "Democrats Are Way More Obsessed With Impeachment Than Republicans" because they mentioned it more is like saying firemen are more "obsessed" with fire than arsonists. By that "logic," Silver is more obsessed with impeachment than congressional Democrats, who mentioned impeachment 11 times in July. Silver mentions it 20 times in a single article.

But even granting a sliver of validity to his premise, or granting that word tallies are meaningful in any way, Silver suffers from the same goldfish memory that every other mainstream reporter has brought to this story. The world did not begin last Friday, and Dan Pfeiffer did not wake up and invent the idea of impeaching Obama. In fact, the idea of impeaching Obama even existed before January, which is as far back as Silver checked. According to the Internet Archive, cable news mentions of impeachment (minus duplications) track more evenly over the first four years of the Obama presidency, with Fox News even beating MSNBC in 2011. If there's a conclusion to be drawn, it's that the uptick is in reaction to something, like maybe the previous four years of impeachment chatter.

MSNBC                  Fox                          CNN

2014 - 579           2014 - 432           2014 - 129

2013 - 841           2013 - 577           2013 - 285

2012 - 433           2012 - 411           2012 - 201

2011 - 405           2011 - 445           2011 - 334

2010 - 259           2010 - 211           2010 - 82

2009 - 175           2009 - 83            2009 - 63

Similarly, if you extend Silver's search for "impeachment" in the Congressional Record back a few years, you'll again see it's pretty even, with some Republican spikes, and one huge Democratic spike in December of 2010, when the House and Senate impeached and removed Clinton-appointed Judge Thomas Porteous, Jr.

But again, counting mentions is no way to contextualize the driving force behind impeachment, which has been the same as it was the day Barack Obama was inaugurated.

Everyone's familiar with the term "useful idiot" in politics, but Ezra Klein and Nate Silver are demonstrating the even more potent utility of a useful genius. It's time some of their friends start acting like friends, and say something.