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January 17, 2007

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Dennis has some truly interesting and useful thoughts in response to an online dustup between liberal-ish bloggers and more radical types about the lessons of history.

EARLIER: Matt Stoller, then Super Max, then Steve Gilliard and then Max again, and more Max and Matthew Yglesias, plus surely many others I'm missing.

Posted at January 17, 2007 04:12 PM | TrackBack

Oh, goodie, it's not even a month into the new year (and new less-insanely-stupid congress) and already the traditional liberal circular firing squad is up and blasting away with everything they've got.

Didn't we do the "You're a bunch of hippies!" "Well, you're a bunch of sellouts!" "Druggies!" "Appeasers!" argument back in the 1970s?

I'm just so waiting for 2008, when the Evil Party manages to steal back the government and leaves the members of the CFS gaping like beached fish and wondering "what just happened here?

Posted by: David Parsons at January 17, 2007 06:16 PM
...the result is pathetic and very beside the point, like a balding hippie, or worse, a graying punk, wheezing and sweating in an effort to keep pace.

Well that's just ugly, and uncalled for. Us hippie punks are sensitive and confused, but we're a product of our environment. Gratuitously pointing out the obvious is just hurtful.

Posted by: Ted at January 17, 2007 06:34 PM

All of us have, if not hidden agendas, at least unspoken expectations or aspirations. The point being, I wonder about some of the more popular lefty bloggers-- maybe the hope of someday working as a paid staffer, or consultant, etc. for a bigshot respectable democratic politico informs their writing, consciously or otherwise.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at January 17, 2007 08:21 PM

I posted this comment on Max's site.
I wrote it fast and it's sloppy so don't nitpick. But the reason I am copying it here is that I don't see why MaxSpeak's readers should be the only ones to have to suffer my pompous, arrogant prose. But do remember that, as you read this, I WILL BE FEELING YOUR PAIN!


I think Max put his finger on something crucial that extends way beyond the particular problems of the netroots: the ideological vacuum of the left. It's a cliche to say that the left doesn't believe in anything but it is also true.

The netroots are fundamentally decent, and being decent is the full extent of their ideological agenda. No one wants to see starving children and mutilated soldiers, because that's indecent, so we all want to increase min wages a little and maybe cap the number of troops in Iraq so there's a little less mutilation. Because that's what decent people want to do.

Trouble is, no one can fight that hard for decency -- gets dull after a while-- so then one fights for power, ie putting dems back into Congress and the WH becomes the ideology itself. How often must we hear: yeah, I don't like policy A but if you don't push for it, we won't get elected.

The most important thing to remember about Marx (in fact you might as well forget all the rest) is that he is not just one important ideological inspiration for the left. He is *the only one that ever existed.* (And I am saying this as someone who has never in his life been a Marxist even for a minute.) He spawned the only philosophical current in all of history that put the notion of universal empathy at the very root of the moral foundation of a politico-philosophical system. Christian thinkers tried that (but never really pulled it off for rather mundane reasons one doesn't need to get into here. Also let me add I use empathy in its philosophical sense of moral identification with a collective body, ie, the sense of "we're all in it together" or if you're John Rawls the sense that your politics should be independent of your social status).

Why this matters is that once you get rid of Marx you're left with nothing besides, well, let's be decent to one another. And that doesn't mean we should all go back to Das Kapital. That means we should all go back to asking the philosophical question: should the left be guided by an ideology of universal empathy? (And please don't counter this with, But Marx was all about historical determinism: no room for empathy there. Forget what Marx was about; focus only on what people made him out to be.)

So far, the answer among the netroots has been a resounding NO.
Oh, they would deny that. But that hypothesis is easily tested -- and it has been tested.
People on the left are quite happy with "accidental empathy". That's Clintonomics: one must focus on wall street because if that works well then, as a side effect, poor people will get benefits that can masquerade as a by-product of empathy (when actually they are nothing of the sort).

Katrina has made it very clear that the left has no philosophical underpinning. It's all Michael Brown's fault. With a dem in charge of FEMA, great things would have happened. of course, that's complete BS and people know it. But no one wants to ask the ideological question, because there's no ideology upon which to base the question.

A great example of that was Jerome a Paris who posted a provocative rant against charity on dKos. (He was against the idea.) Everyone missed the point. He was lynched on that site, being called a Scrooge, a morally handicapped joke of a human being, etc.
The thing is, it was perfectly all right to disagree with his stand (I do), but he raised a fabulously interesting question. In essence, if people think that the poorest among us should be taken care of by private charity and that it is not the government's highest priority to do so, then there is no left. There's plenty of decency around. But many right-wingers and libertarians are very decent folks, too.

Same with people's reaction to John Edwards's emphasis on poverty. As if the poverty theme was "optional" for the left.

The netroots don't understand that one cannot build an ideological framework on decency alone. And build such a framework one must. Because the right has one.

I won't belabor the point, but I'll end with one more piece of evidence why the left has no ideological underpinning but the right does.

Every election cycle brings up the burning issue: Should taxes be cut? And everyone must have an opinion. That question is ideological and belongs to the right.
Now, if the left had an ideology, then every election cycle would bring up the following issue: Should public schools be locally funded?
But you never hear this. In fact you never hear anything besides Dems' reactions to rightwing ideological issues.

Sorry for the long post.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at January 17, 2007 09:31 PM

Having followed some of this argument I'm going to say that it's a not quite a trainwreck but utterly jumbled. That sadlyno post is pretty good.

We've got perfect test-cases for how far we've all progressed along our foreign policy analysis since 2003: haiti in 2004 and somalia right now. I'm not sure why folks are so focused on the Iraq war positions in 2002 when there's been at least two interventions since then that, for the intervened, have been major, life-disrupting adventures.

I haven't read Dennis' piece yet, but none of these other folks discuss (or discussed much of) either, with two exceptions I can readily note: Yglesias on Somalia, who has been pretty good if lacking on the glaringly obvious; and Max, who at least posted a few notes on Haiti.

And not to ignore Lebanon: politics was holding a knife to reality's throat and begging for spare change there.

Posted by: buermann at January 17, 2007 10:18 PM

I suspect America's "left" would spend a lot less time fighting "itself" if US liberals would stop pretending to be leftists and accept they're the centrists and moderate righties that we in the rest of the world recognise them as.


Posted by: yaz at January 18, 2007 12:54 AM

I notice Mathew Yglesias uses the same argument used by war mongers in H.W. Bush's Desert Storm in favor of intervention. Anyone think that there is such a thing as a good war? Or is Mathew correct that we should shoulder the mantle of being police of the world, I suppose as opposed to being the thieves of the world. I think Jonathan Versen hits the nail on the head here.

Posted by: rob payne at January 18, 2007 02:32 AM

"Quit Fucking Trolling" or "Quoted For Truth"?

Coz either would work.

Posted by: RobW at January 18, 2007 04:47 AM

You are trying to have empathy within a system that rewards selfishness and greed. Can't happen. Not now, not never.

It's not human nature, it's human nature adapting to survive to the rules of the system...

And, yes, for people outside US, except a few notable exceptions, US "leftists" look like centrists with.

If you were indeed "leftists" maybe Vietnam would've got reparations... Instead the genocidal fuck that gave a big hand in the whole business got a Nobel Peace Prize... And no one seems to mind it...

It's your culture, not human nature... Or, if you prefer, it's the nature of humans raised in a vicious dog-eat-dog system, bombarded every minute from birth with advertising and propaganda...

As for the try-me explanation above, as long as leftists are demonized and every single american has been brainwashed for the last 50 years or so with "ZOMG Communists!" to a level that spurs incredible statements of idiocy from US-ians, either 50yo ones or 15yo ones, you can't really expect anything to work...

Leftists have no platform? What the fuck? Does anyone in their right mind think that either Democrats or Republicans are ABLE and WILLING to push for left issues beyond some minor increase in public schools and such?

In US governments are bought by lobbyists from corporations not voted in.

As for "But many right-wingers and libertarians are very decent folks, too", that's a big steaming pile of bullshit. Every single one of them that I know can readily defend slavery and other shit like that. Right wing is PROFIT oriented. And as long as they put profit before people they're fucking fascists. And every single buisness proves it. They can't stop lying, bullshiting, lobbying for new ways to piss on human rights, morality, the environment and so on.

Since it's birth US ran on principles antithetical to morality and human rights. You can't expect a human-oriented left "side" to have any voice in such a system.

Posted by: Uncle Bob at January 18, 2007 06:28 AM

Kucinich for president!
for those who want a real progressive agenda but feel that change has to come from "within the system", check out Congressman Kucinich's platform (

Ten Key Issues

Universal Health Care

International Cooperation: US out of Iraq, UN in

Jobs and Withdrawal from NAFTA and WTO

Repeal of the "Patriot Act"

Guaranteed Quality Education, Pre-K Through College

Full Social Security Benefits at Age 65

Right-to-Choose, Privacy, and Civil Rights

Balance Between Workers and Corporations

Environmental Renewal and Clean Energy

Restored Rural Communities and Family Farms

Posted by: marc at January 18, 2007 09:28 AM

Don't apologize, Bernard. That was right on the target.

Posted by: Aunt Deb at January 18, 2007 10:29 AM

"the same argument used by war mongers in H.W. Bush's Desert Storm in favor of intervention"

Yeah that's one glaringly obvious bit: his fronting for that one should have him heaving at the oars for invading somalia to battle ethiopian aggression, right?

Posted by: buermann at January 18, 2007 10:55 AM

Dang, Bernard, lots of my comments are pompous, so what is it that you have that I don't?

Don't answer that. Any of you. Anyway, that was on target and you've got my blessing to go posting that everywhere. Maybe especially at Steve Gilliard's site, though I'm not sure Steve is reachable. Steve's good on some issues, but I don't think he likes to think he might be missing something important.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 18, 2007 12:18 PM

Thinking about it, Max's criticism also ties in with my observation (accurate, I think) that Jon S is cited in the larger liberal blogosphere when he bashes the right, but not when he makes points about American imperialism in general (which inconveniently enough, includes the actions of Democratic Presidents).

It's also part of this depressingly common notion in the moderate liberal blogosphere that the US had a sterling record on human rights until Bush came along and started torturing people.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 18, 2007 01:50 PM

Wanna see some liberal zen puzzling on that subject?

At least Katherine seems to have had the good sense to be embarassed by what she was attempting to do.

Posted by: Ed Marshall at January 18, 2007 09:16 PM

"Quit Fucking Trolling" or "Quoted For Truth"?

I meant Quoted For Truth :)

Didn't even know it could mean anything else.

Posted by: yaz at January 19, 2007 02:10 AM