Analysis isn't about liberals and conservatives
I don't want to seem ungrateful for the kind adjectives that Andrew Alexander, The Post's ombudsman, lavished on me over the weekend, but I found myself puzzled by the question raised in his column. There, Alexander notes that my Sunday pieces for the Business section tend to be analytical and reported rather than ideological and opinionated, but wonders whether readers should somehow be alerted to the fact that I'm "a well-established liberal." Perhaps something like, "WARNING: This column may contain liberal thinking, which has been shown to lead to universal health-care coverage in most industrialized countries."
I understand the world in which a reporter's job is to leave his opinions out of the work, much the way a psychologist might privately choose a side but never exhibit preference before the couple she's counseling. But if news reporters can be objective about the news they report -- or at least close enough to it for everyone to call it a day -- then analytical reporters can be objective about the conclusions they draw. Just as the right test for a reporter is not "liberal" or "conservative," but "honest" or "dishonest," so too is the right test for an analytical writer based on honesty and rigor rather than their assumed ideology.
The difficulty there, of course, is that conclusions are harder to test. Reported articles quote voices from both sides, and frequently leave the reader without a clear view of which is right. Analysis doesn't. That's why the test of it, I think, isn't in where the writers ends up, but how he or she gets there.I supported health-care reform, which was the "liberal" thing to do. But I didn't support it because I was a liberal. I supported it because I thought it was good policy, and I argued that proposition extensively. You could disagree with my conclusion there, but you couldn't be confused as to how I reached it. At about the same time, I was also arguing that the public option under discussion was not particularly important, which was manifestly not the liberal position at the time. But that was the right policy conclusion, at least as I read the evidence.
During financial regulation, I preferred the Zingales/Hart plan of using a market-based trigger to the Dodd/Frank plan of relying on regulatory discretion. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, agreed. I'm not sure which of us was exhibiting liberal tendencies during that debate, and I'm not sure it's a question worth trying to answer. The conclusion was based, rather, on a reading of the worth of regulators during boom times.
The point here isn't to show that I've been at odds with some liberals on some things. Rather, it's to show that like most people, I have my own, slightly idiosyncratic, take on matters. That's why my Sunday column isn't identified as liberal or conservative, and neither is this blog. Both are identified by my name and my face. And in my view, that's proper. These aren't liberal conclusions and they're not conservative conclusions. These are my conclusions, and my job is to explain how, and why, I've reached them. People will find plenty to disagree with in those conclusions, but then, they find plenty to disagree with in reported articles, too, a fact I imagine Alexander knows better than most.