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Continued: A consumer's guide to snark

  • Article by: CASS R. SUNSTEIN , Bloomberg News
  • Last update: January 21, 2014 - 6:14 PM

Rep. Taylor argues against recent food-safety regulations, contending that they will cause serious economic damage, especially to farmers. You might object: Taylor doesn’t believe in regulation at all. He would have opposed the Clean Air Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, too.

Consumer advisory: It is a defining feature of snark (especially the lowest kind) to suggest that a narrow claim, about a particular proposal or policy, is really a much broader claim, and an absurd or alarming one. That’s unfair. If people make a narrow or a qualified claim, there is no reason to attribute the broader one to them as well.

 

Cowardice

Sen. Burns supports a fiscal deal that allows funding for programs to which he recently expressed strong opposition. You might object: Burns has no guts; he is pandering to special interests.

Consumer advisory: Burns probably believes the deal is the best he can get. In American politics, most compromises reflect a form of principled pragmatism.

 

Elitism

Sen. Young argues for increased tobacco taxes and also for educational measures to reduce childhood obesity. You might object: Young is an elitist; she doesn’t trust us to make sensible decisions.

Consumer advisory: Nothing is inherently elitist about efforts to tax products that cause harm or to educate people about risks. Maybe Young is an elitist — who knows? — but an epithet isn’t an argument.

 

Dumb priorities

Rep. Jacobs complains about discrimination on the basis of age. He says older people need to be protected, especially in the current economy. You might object: If we consider the economic challenges facing the United States today, age discrimination looks pretty minor. Doesn’t Jacobs have a nutty set of priorities?

Consumer advisory: In all likelihood, Johnson agrees that other problems are more serious and more fundamental. But he also believes that age discrimination isn’t a trivial matter and that it is feasible to address it. His beliefs may be wrong, but they should be assessed on the merits.

Those beliefs deserve a rebuttal, not contempt. That point is also the best response to the world’s many purveyors of political snark.

 

Cass R. Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, is the former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the co-author of “Nudge” and the author of “Simpler: The Future of Government.”

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  • Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” is a practitioner of high political snark.

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