The Mainstreaming of Taibbi
Whenever Matt Taibbi’s name appears on my computer screen, I pause for a moment to regret that the mainstream has apparently been moving toward him. The first time it happened was in February 2003, when Projo blogger Sheila Lennon gushed over his raw freshness. At the time, I wondered whether it wasn’t a bit unseemly for a professional journalist to be so enamored of such a street-sputterer, spewing such epithets as “corpulent Oreo,” to describe a black Republican.
Nowadays, Taibbi is apparently a writer for Rolling Stone and being afforded the opportunity to ply his shtick against the likes of Byron York. Here’s a sample, following up on York’s tempered suggestion that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were one key component of the financial meltdown:
I’m saying that you’re talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren’t going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They’re going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I’m still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I’m guessing you’ve never even heard of them.
I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn’t pay off their mortgages?
The game works — if you’re impressed with the same sort of argumentative tactics that the clever kids deployed in high school — because the speaker feigns ignorance (or backs it up with an actual, blithe lack of knowledge) in order to tap dance around arguments that are necessarily subtle. Yes, the various derivatives and swaps constituted a house of cards that, yes, ultimately relied upon the viability of risky mortgages, but yes, what made those mortgages and derivatives attractive to enough investors to make their failure catastrophic was the belief that Fannie and Freddie would mitigate the risk.
Of course, if one’s goal is to show off for peers by “proving” an opponent’s racism, well, sober assessment of blame really isn’t helpful.