Liberals launched their counterattack. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine rebutted it; Paul Krugman of the New York Times linked to Chait, and then all manner of liberal Web sites piled on, including Media Matters.That's simply wrong. Yes, it's true that part of the liberal response was to point out that the study's author, Charles Blahous, was more properly thought of as a Republican analyst than some as a presumably neutral "trustee for Medicare and Social Security." Looking back at the story, I think Lori Montgomery made it sufficiently clear that Blahous was a conservative policy analyst (I'm wondering whether at least one version of the story did not do so, or perhaps if the headline on the WaPo home page -- which is often completely different than the article headline -- referred to him only as a Medicare trustee). At any rate, several liberals wanted to make it clear that Blahous worked for Bush, is now at the Mercatus Center, and that the Koch brothers fund things he's done. So there was a bit of that.
If the right’s line of attack was, “See, we’re right, the president is lying about the costs of Obamacare,” then the left’s was more a guilt-by-association smear.
However. Pexton cites Chait, who spent one paragraph explaining who Blahaus is and then seven wonky paragraphs arguing why he's wrong, followed by a two-paragraph conclusion wondering why the Post ran the story. He also cites Krugman, who had the same structure: one paragraph introducing Blahaus, then a two-paragraph quote from (the policy explanation part of) Chait, and then three paragraphs expanding on the policy argument. Right or wrong, it's absolutely not the case that either of them made a guilt-by-association argument at all.
As Pexton says, there was plenty of piling on. Did it get more ad hominem? Nope. Here's Kevin Drum, who spun out a long analogy in a 650 word post which refers to Blahous only as "a Republican trustee for Medicare," and that not until the 6th paragraph. Or CBPP's Paul Van der Water, who wrote a very sober and wonky analysis which just refers to Blahaus as a "former Bush Administration official." Or Ezra Klein, speaking of wonkishness, who wrote a detailed policy critique of his own. How did Klein deal with Blahaus? He explained his partisan background (worked for Bush, worked for Judd Gregg, and further explained:
None of that undermines the quality of his work or the force of his conclusions. But it’s not the case that someone from Obama’s “team” has turned on the Affordable Care Act.That's basically the tone of all five of these posts -- and again, two are the only two cited by Pexton. They seemed to generally feel that it was important to place Blahaus in a context which, they believed, the Post had not -- but none of them put any weight at all on his background in their arguments, and the last three (all prominent, all much-linked-to I believe) didn't mention the Koch thing at all. Now, I don't know who else said what, but that's a pretty good sized slice of the mainstream liberal blogosphere, and there's just no way it can be characterized as "a guilt-by-association smear."
My other complaint about Pexton's column is that at the end, he tries to get into the policy question, and he gets that wrong, too. Early in his article, he basically gives a he said, she said, summary, which doesn't seem quite right to me (since one might think that having the non-partisan CBO on their side means that the Democrats' argument is stronger), but, well, if he doesn't want to get into it, I can understand; the basic point of his piece (which is about how a story can drive a significant flap) doesn't depend on getting the budget details right. The even worse problem is when he revisits the question at the end, and starts talking about the uncertainty inherent in every budget forecast. While that's true, and in some contexts a very important point, that's relevant to the fight here, which is about baselines, not forecasts. Which means that both sides could agree completely about what the law would do and what all the revenues and outlays will be, but still disagree strongly on what happens to the deficit. Truth is, he would have been better off just saying that he wasn't going to get into who was right and who was wrong.
But mainly, it's simply not true that either of the liberal bloggers he cited, or at least several others I noticed, participated in a "guilt-by-association smear."