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Goodbye, Hilzoy

This is the last day that Hilzoy will be blogging at Obsidian Wings and Washington Monthly. I don’t think everyone yet realizes what we as her readers are losing. As I wrote to Matt after we heard the news, “she wasn’t the most famous political blogger; she was just the best.”

A philosopher by training, she was compelled to blog in 2002 by what she saw as the craziness of the country then – not just the bad policies of the government, but brutal invective against anyone who doubted or wanted to debate them. Now, it’s calmer. As she wrote in her farewell post:

There are lots of people I disagree with, and lots of things I really care about, and even some people who seem to me to have misplaced their sanity, but the country as a whole does not seem to me to be crazy any more. Also, it has been nearly five years since I started. And so it seems to me that it’s time for me to turn back into a pumpkin and twelve white mice.

One of the things that’s sad for me, though, is that while Hilzoy was particularly fierce, patient, and logical in her approach to Big Issues In Politics, she was also attentive to things that typically draw much less attention. For example, her post on the unseriousness of Sarah Palin’s resignation pivots from smart but general things (government is serious business, a lame-duck governor can actually usually do more to affect policy than one who needs to secure re-election) to a very specific policy issue, with data to back it up:

As of 2007 (the most recent data I could find), Alaska was the fourth worst of 45 states reporting when it came to keeping kids from being abused in their foster homes — the homes they’re given to keep them safe from abuse and neglect. Alaska’s child protective services were the fifth worst in the nation at keeping kids from undergoing repeat abuse, the third worst in response time, and the sixth worst in terms of the time from an initial report of child abuse to receipt of services…

Foster care is one of those issues that liberals and conservatives ought to agree on. Kids are not responsible for being abused or neglected. They can’t just take care of themselves. And someone like Sarah Palin, who is forever talking about fighting for our children, might be expected to work at this. If she was looking for a way to spend her time other than taking junkets at taxpayer expense, it might have occurred to her to fix Alaska’s foster care system so that it really took care of Alaska’s kids.

If I had to put a label on Hilzoy’s best virtue as a blogger, it was this insistence on moral seriousness. Some of this was rooted in a basic respect for due diligence in policy decisions – see her blistering comments on the origins of the enhanced interrogation program. After all, she was a professional philosopher, who took reasoning and evidence seriously. One of my favorite posts of hers in this vein was her takedown of EO Wilson’s Atlantic Monthly article on biology and morality. She just knew her stuff cold.

But I think it was also rooted in her deep empathy for people who were abused, powerless, without recourse technical arguments as a means to solve their problems. She was also unafraid to interject her own experiences into the discussion. See her rebuttal to David Brooks’s complaint when a politician had grabbed his leg, which Brooks read as a signal that the code of dignity governing interactions had slipped away.

News flash: This has been happening to people forever, at least if you count women as people. Back when George Washington was writing out his “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”, which Brooks cites as an example of the Dignity Code, Thomas Jefferson was hitting on Sally Hemings. A professor whose class I was enrolled in once grabbed my breasts at a party. Every woman I know has stories like this. Maybe being groped in a public setting is a novel experience for straight guys; not being a straight guy, I wouldn’t know. But if it is, that isn’t because no one ever groped anyone in a public setting before.

What can I say: nobody knows if hilzoy’s retirement will be like Jay-Z’s. I doubt it will be like Brett Favre’s, because she’s too deliberate to mess around with a decision like this. I do hope that we’ll be seeing her writing on politics and morality in some popular forum – because she is the real thing. And we need that.

One comment

Dan says…

Tangentially: I began my on-again, off-again love affair with the Atlantic Monthly because of Wilson’s article from one month earlier, in which the Atlantic published an article derived from Wilson’s _Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge_. Wilson’s ambitions (to explain all knowledge with the tools of biology) appealed to me at the time. (I was a pretty big fan of the Enlightenment.) They now do a pretty good job of eliciting revulsion.

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