Comments: Glenn Greenwald vs. Glenn Greenwald

To be fair, one could argue that he wasn't criticizing ALL of his critics to his left, but just the ones who were "reflexive" and "blind." There ARE left wing critics of Obama who are "reflexive" and "blind."

I'm the most lucid thinker, though, so perhaps I've misread.

Posted by Don Fernando at August 24, 2009 02:02 PM

Even Socrates had his foibles. Let us not bearers of hemlock be.

BTW, anyone seen Lewis Lapham's film 'The American Ruling Class?' Somewhat weird. In the end the "good character," who wanted to be a writer, gets coopted by Goldman Sachs. All the shots of the Mighty Wurlitzer and nods to our being "governed by a commercial oligarchy" don't dispel the awful sense of frustration that arises from watching it.

Posted by Oarwell at August 24, 2009 02:30 PM

Glenn Greenwald is a smart fellow, and he certainly wouldn't have any trouble responding to this post. That being said, though Greenwald has good insight in what's wrong with the media,I wouldn't call him deeply experience or learned in how the government works, especially the bureaucracy. He's just better than this.

Posted by N E at August 24, 2009 02:51 PM

Oarwell, I'll definitely check that out, since I like Lapham's derision and disgust and the cast looks like quite a trip. I think I have some acquired immunity to frustration now.

My own recommendation is District 9.

Posted by N E at August 24, 2009 03:02 PM

The bad Glenn Greenwald makes a very occasional appearance, but not very often, and I think less and less often. Besides, I saw that post (the bad one) when it came out and I pretty much took it like Don Fernando did--it's a defensible statement, even though there's probably also a bit of "I'm respectable, not like those DFH's to my left" also in there.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 24, 2009 03:20 PM

I'd say you're giving Greenwald too much benefit of the doubt, Don Fernando. He's not just bashing some raving lunatic somewhere carrying a sandwich board and screaming that Obama is "intrinsically Evil"—he's talking about the kind of people who read ATR (and the Chomsky-influenced left in general). The quotes I offered weren't outliers, but were representative of the straw men he frequently deploys against the left-beyond-himself. Here's another example:

Or (in the view of a small group on the Left), America is hated not because of what we have done in the last six years, but because America has been a bullying force of Evil in the world for the last several decades (at least) and our behavior under Bush is nothing new for America; it is but a natural extension of the country's foundational or long-embraced values (a portion of that argument, though not its entirety, was made by Chris Floyd here).

I'm guessing we'd agree that the analysis of Chris Floyd and others like him isn't based on the notion that the U.S. is nothing but a "force of Evil" (note the sarcasm caps, by the way), but rather careful observation of the facts, attention to the lessons of history, a strong grounding in institutional analysis, and a willingness to follow conclusions wherever they might lead. And this is just one example of many (in fact I didn't even quote all the examples from the two articles of his I cited in the original posting). Greenwald makes a regular practice of caricaturing the left-beyond-himself as those whose criticisms of Obama should be dismissed by serious people because they're "grounded in Manichean caricatures". So railing against that exact same kind of dismissal when it's directed at him is painfully ironic, to say the least.

Posted by John Caruso at August 24, 2009 03:35 PM

Glenn Greenwald is Bob Somerby Jr. I'm grateful to them both most of the time, but they both get under my skin some days like no one else can.

Posted by Mark Gisleson at August 24, 2009 03:39 PM

There's no doubt that left-wing critics are marginialized both in the mainstream corporate media and in the liberal blogosphere. While many of these critics aren't "blind" and "reflexive," some are and it's ok for people to point that out. What's frustrating, though, isn't the fact that "blind" and "reflexive" critics are called out, but that those whose arguments aren't "blind" and "reflexive" are never acknowledged or even argued against. While Greenwald is very good, his behavior sometimes perpetuates this phenomenon. I can't count the number of times he linked to pompous Andrew Sullivan (and others). Would Greenwald ever think of linking to Chomsky as often as he would Sullivan? Surely Chomsky is more insightful, so one would think he would be linked to more. To be fair, Greenwald HAS mentioned Chomsky positively, but I still sense fear on his part to mention him too much for fear of offending readers. I'm guessing at his motives, so I could be wrong. But there is still something rotten about it. (Just to be clear, I'm just using Chomsky as a prominent example of a serious left critic who is ignored, but it's not about him per se.)

Posted by Don Fernando at August 24, 2009 03:43 PM

John,

My last post was written before I read your response.

I think you are probably right, but I can't think clearly at the moment for certain reasons.

Posted by Don Fernando at August 24, 2009 03:50 PM

My last post was written before I read your response.

Ditto. To be clear, by the way, I think Greenwald writes a lot of very useful and informative stuff, and I have a lot of respect for him. This is pretty much the glaring exception. But having written about this foible of his before, I couldn't let such near-perfect hypocrisy go unremarked.

Also, one point for anyone who wants to say that Greenwald deserves a break because there are a few of these Manichean leftists out there: isn't Ambinder also correct that there are anti-Bush liberals who were right about the politicization of terror alerts (or the Iraq war, or anything else), but for the wrong reasons? I'd certainly say so. But the reason Ambinder deserves to be criticized is because he's painting that argument in very broad strokes in order to dismiss an entire group of people to his left—which is just what Greenwald regularly does. If it's wrong when Ambinder (et al) does it, it's wrong when Greenwald does it too.

Posted by John Caruso at August 24, 2009 04:09 PM

John

Thanks for the clarification. I agree with everything you wrote.

Posted by Don Fernando at August 24, 2009 04:23 PM

John

Thanks for the clarification. I agree with everything you wrote.

Posted by Don Fernando at August 24, 2009 04:23 PM

John Caruso:

First, as far as I know Greenwald doesn't claim to be part of "the left". I agree with what I take to be your view that he's not particularly insightful or learned in his understanding of political and economic history, and I agree that the view of the left that he presented in that quote was a straw man. I am no big fan of Greenwald, but I do think he is worth reading and considering, not just mocking.

Second, I don't think Greenwald is dismissive of "the kind of people who read ATR." I don't even think one "kind" of person reads ATR, based on the commenters. He is probably disdainful of your views, because he comes at problems from a whole different angle. I do too, as to him as well as you, and I think there are more than a few ATR readers who present yet other points of view. That's more good than bad, even with squabbling.

Third, I don't think people on the "left" have more cause to think of themselves as unusually willing to follow conclusions wherever they might lead. Criticizing US foreign policy, especially on moralistic grounds, doesn't take guts--that is entirely permissible and permitted. Sometimes I think it's even encouraged because it's so unpersuasive and off-putting to so many people. When your conclusions lead you to question what you believe about yourself and what you value most, then you can talk about being willing to follow those conclusions anywhere.

Posted by N E at August 24, 2009 04:40 PM

I'm not real interested in this sort of analysis. Someone said something mean about leftists! To the barricades!

All I will say is that when I read Greenwald's words "Those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does ...", my first read was that he was talking about die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters, as opposed to leftists. But, as I said, this type of analysis and argument isn't my thing, so I will leave it at that.

Posted by laym at August 24, 2009 04:59 PM

I'm a big fan of ATR, and of Glenn Greenwold. I'm not sure I have the same read of these remarks. Greenwald has two beefs. First, he's annoyed that the MSM treats as unworthy of serious debate contentions by the left that turn out to be true. Second, he contends that Obama supporters should judge him by his acts and not his deeds -- that is, he urges that some skepticism about the president is in order. This arose out of Obama's reversals on FISA and other issues. So, that's a great, entertaining post, byut I'm not sure it's quite on the mark.

Posted by CDT at August 24, 2009 05:14 PM

MY bet is on Glenn Greenwald to win. UNLIKE Chomsky or Marx, I've actually read some of his stuff. I dare say he is WELL able to meet the challenge!

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 24, 2009 05:19 PM

My unscientific impression is that Glenn was more apt to left-bash a couple of years ago. I had an email clash with him a couple of years ago where I said Bush wasn't really all that far out of the US mainstream. (To be fair, he made some good points in reply, but I won't go into it.) I doubt the same thing would happen today, because I don't think he writes much today that would elicit the criticism I made of him then.

But he probably has his bad days still.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 24, 2009 05:47 PM

As for Obama, WHAT would one expect? This is AMERICA, they'll be no Axexander the Great or Caesar. ANY ambition like that was doomed by 3rd grade the talent having been bred out of US. Obama is ALREADY become a mediocre general in the winning the "Hearts&Minds" War. He HAS Kissinger to "advise" him so he'll be ANOTHER LBJ. STILL he's Black AND that's progress. 2008 election gave the choice of war A or War B most likely both. Remember the wedding parties--Karma.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 24, 2009 05:48 PM

Glenn Greenwald has his place, but I was very sorry it was next to Amy Goodman on Bill Moyer's Journal. He seemed comfortable monopolizing most of the discussion, usually answering first, and at least once taking up all of the allotted time to answer a question posed to both. I found it rude and disrespectful, frankly.

In any event, I view him as a specialist within his field, and not particularly authoritative otherwise.

Posted by JR Boyd at August 24, 2009 06:38 PM

If you look at the first quotes as if people criticizing Bush based on raw emotion was kewl, then there's a contradiction.

But he was talking about people criticizing Bush based on experience & evidence, and critiquing the autopilot defenders.

In any event, Obama is hardly his ox. Based on experience & evidence, Greenwald's become a fairly fierce critic of Obamas actions.

As long as you do your homework, and don't torture children, Greenwald is more or less civil. Since the Bush gang failed on both, politeness became complicity.

Posted by Downpuppy at August 24, 2009 06:50 PM

John -

I have had my share of disagreements with things Glenn Greenwald has said - in fact, even about the very column you cite about his "odious argument" - but even in that light I have to say that rarely have I seen someone work so hard to produce so little as you have here.

The key can be found in the very next sentence after your first quote, where Greenwald says:

"Ambinder's belief that there is nothing other than blind "Bush hatred" that could have justified such a belief ... is patently false."

Ambinder was saying, according to Greenwald, that "blind 'Bush hatred'" was the only reason anyone could think terror alerts were manipulated for political ends and, therefore conversely, anyone who thought so was doing it out of blind Bush hatred and so did not deserve to be taken seriously, even after they were proven right.

Beyond that, "Beltway wisdom," is not that only "the childish, petulant ideological Left" opposed the war, torture, etc., but rather than by opposing those you became "the childish, petulant ideological Left." That opposition was the definition of the term - and so opponents did not and still do not deserve serious regard.

That is markedly different from the other cases you cite. In those Greenwald does slam those he charges "reflexively criticize every Obama action" because they want to be "vindicated" in a belief that he's just like Bush or that he is "intrinsically Evil." But he doesn't say that criticizing Obama makes you fit either description, he doesn't say it describes everyone to his left, he doesn't even say that such critics can't be taken seriously even when they're proven right - in fact, as you note on your own blog (but not here), he's backed off the stand which that first "odious" quote provoked.

Over the top? Absolutely. Even unfair? Certainly. Overstated in what I expect was the heat of the moment? Unquestionably. "Near-perfect hypocrisy?" Bull.

You say "Greenwald is irked that Serious People won't give him the respect he deserves." Seems to me, especially in light of your claim that "he's talking about the kind of people who read ATR," this is more a matter of you being irked that he's not giving you the respect you think you deserve.

Posted by LarryE at August 24, 2009 07:03 PM

I have followed Glenn Greenwald off and on from the time well before his move to Salon. To my mind, I have seen a steady progression in his thinking towards a more radical analysis of political and societal realities. He has always attempted in his thinking to remain skeptical of claims coming not only from from authoritarian conservatives and libertarian conservatives, but also from the varying strands of thought on the left. This seems to be intrinsic to his nature, and frankly I think that it serves him well. His derision for either the uncritical adoration or categorical deprecation of Obama coming from the left derives from his oft-articulated view that - surprise - Obama is a politician, and as such influencible for good or for ill. He did not descend on a cloud, but neither did he come equipped with a pitchfork as a minion of Satan. Obama is clearly beholden to the powers that be who helped bring him to power, to be sure. Greenwald's comprehension of the ineluctable power of the status quo and its mighty defenders has tangibly deepened from his earliest days. He began as a man profoundly interested in the defense of civil liberties, and that has not changed. What has changed, however, has been his understanding of the substrate of American Exceptionalism within which our freedoms live or die. The man is willing to take Chris Floyd seriously, for Christ's sake, and that probably excludes 99% of most Americans. But it certainly is Greenwald's sense that were he to uncritically associate himself with what so many think of as "tinfoil hat" beliefs, he would be pilloried, and any ability that he has to discomfort the smugly comfortable will be vitiated. And greatly to his credit, he has expended a great amount of effort discomforting the gatekeepers of "acceptable discourse" in the media and in the blogosphere. This has been a radical exercise in the best sense of the word, and it is drawing blood. He has also assisted in efforts to identify and ELECT candidates who can change the dynamic in New Rome. In case you've been asleep, good policy initiatives go precisely nowhere in the face of legislative resistance. Mr. Greenwald seems to be more realistic than some of you seem to credit.

DISCLAIMER: I did not vote for Obama; I voted Green, as I thought that he would soon sell us lefties down the river. He has in many ways, but if we can convince enough Donks that their hold on power may lie in the hands of the dreaded liberals amongst the voters, some things may yet be salvaged from the ravening maw of authoritarian corporatism. Maybe. Not optimistic. They might get their campaigns funded by the dark powers, but the politicos still need our votes to get elected. They love power, and this is our sole influence, evidently. Keep 'em guessing.

Posted by JerseyJeffersonian at August 24, 2009 07:07 PM

J.C.: the reason Ambinder deserves to be criticized is because he's painting that argument in very broad strokes in order to dismiss an entire group of people to his left—which is just what Greenwald regularly does. If it's wrong when Ambinder (et al) does it, it's wrong when Greenwald does it too.

I'm wondering if this is a frightened rear-guard action on GG's part-- claiming his territory as it were-- because it's HIS job to criticize Obama from the left. (Even though, generally, he also wants to disavow being somebody on the left.(?)

The rest of us, I guess, are uppity ne'er do wells who haven't been published and don't have law degrees. Harrumph.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at August 24, 2009 07:29 PM

What JerseyJeffersonian said. Just what I would have said, I think, if I could have said it that well.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 24, 2009 07:30 PM

JerseyJeffersonian:

Based on what you've said, and I agree with Donald Johnson that you said it very well, I'll have to look more closely at Greenwald. I may not have been doing him justice.

Posted by N E at August 24, 2009 08:29 PM

At his core GG is an establishment figure, like all establishment figures he doesn't look too hard at Americas actions in the world. That said he seems to be growing a conscience or at least acting like he is. I wonder what he feels about Chris Floyds views now.

Posted by O'vlannery at August 24, 2009 08:34 PM

Hey. Give Glenn a break. I mean, jeez, he writes a lengthy column every day. Being Shrill has its challenges.

Remember, the Left has the genetic flaw which drives them to dennounce their own with unbridled enthusiam (Marx v. Bakunin; Lenin v. everybody; Stalin v. Trotsky....Hilzoy v. Bill Ayers).

It is a cross we must bear.

Posted by bobbyp at August 24, 2009 08:37 PM

I've read him on and off since his old site and he's definately moved to the left but I think that's part of the problem. I think he hates the idea that the DFHs were right after all and hates even more being associated with them so he has to take stabs at anyone to his left to prove he isn't one of them.

Even more than the usual linear firing squad ("always spit on those to your left") that characterises US politics.

Back in the day he banned me from his old site over a bizarrely weird argument where I said the Iraq war was illegal and he (paraphrasing Nixon) said anything Congress does is legal just because Congress does it. Of course his argument was just a little more sophisticated than Nixon's since the legislature is actually supposed to legislate, but in the end he ended up more or less stating that in signing on to Bush's war congress implicitly left the United Nations by overriding unilaterally the UN charter. They just hadn't bothered to mention it in the bill.

At this stage I rather hope he wouldn't make the same argument.

Now this essay of his the other week where he accused Obama of deceiving the base by pretending to want bipartisanship as a mere cover for passing right wing legislation while stringing along the progressives was a pretty sharp lurch to the left I thought.

I think he might be trying to forget he wrote that. I mean its just what an Obama hating lefty would have said.

Posted by DavidByron at August 24, 2009 08:45 PM

LarryE: Ambinder was saying, according to Greenwald, that "blind 'Bush hatred'" was the only reason anyone could think terror alerts were manipulated for political ends and, therefore conversely, anyone who thought so was doing it out of blind Bush hatred and so did not deserve to be taken seriously, even after they were proven right.

Nope, not at all. Ambinder specifically limited his criticism to "anti-Bush liberal...activists", just as Greenwald limited his criticism to "those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does (based on the immovable, all-consuming conviction that he is intrinsically Evil)." And Greenwald threw out a veritable dictionary's worth of words that Ambinder didn't write, by the way (starting with the title of his article—Ambinder never mentioned "fringe leftist losers").

That said, I agree with Greenwald that that was probably Ambinder's underlying premise—but if you're going to grant such broad unspoken premises when Greenwald asserts them about Ambinder, you should do the same thing when looking at what Greenwald said himself.

...by opposing those you became "the childish, petulant ideological Left." That opposition was the definition of the term...

No, this is entirely untrue. There've been opponents of the war from the very beginning who weren't transformed into "childish, petulant ideological Leftists" by their opposition (e.g. Brent Scowcroft or Anthony Zinni), and their number has only increased over time. The ones who've been dismissed in this way are mainly "anti-war activists", meaning mainly those on the left.

You say "Greenwald is irked that Serious People won't give him the respect he deserves." Seems to me, especially in light of your claim that "he's talking about the kind of people who read ATR," this is more a matter of you being irked that he's not giving you the respect you think you deserve.

What you're missing is that I agree 100% with Greenwald's criticisms of Marc Ambinder, Joe Klein, and the rest of the establishment media in terms of their dismissal of left analysis. He's absolutely right to be irked—not because this is some personal slight to him, but because the systematic denigration of left analysis is crucial to deligitimizing it and thereby keeping it out of mainstream discourse. That is why it's worth criticizing.

And that's also why it's harmful when Glenn Greenwald does it, and why I think it's important to call him on it.

Posted by John Caruso at August 24, 2009 08:51 PM

J.V.: I'm wondering if this is a frightened rear-guard action on GG's part-- claiming his territory as it were-- because it's HIS job to criticize Obama from the left.

I don't think it's quite that. As I said in one of the older postings I linked to, there's an unfortunate tendency on the left to say "this far and no further", meaning that my opinions are at the limit of reasonable criticism, and if you venture beyond them you're not only wrong but your motivations are in question. The purpose is to show that you occupy the reasonable center between the loons on your left and the loons on your right. So I think Greenwald's tarring of the "reflexive", "blind" critics to his left is just another illustration of the role that ritual denunciation of heretics plays in trying to establish one's credibility.

Posted by John Caruso at August 24, 2009 09:06 PM

What, Mike Meyer, you haven't read any Chomsky?!? You need to get on that shit right now. You can pick up pretty much anything - Towards a New Cold War and Year 501 are good ones. I started with "The Chomsky Reader", a collection of his essays that gives a broad feel for the guy. "What Uncle Sam Really Wants" is a nice short one. You really ought to have read him - he's one of the clearest and smartest political thinkers of our time.

Posted by saurabh at August 24, 2009 11:36 PM

By the way, LarryE:

...he doesn't even say that such critics can't be taken seriously even when they're proven right...

No, actually that's exactly his message. In the first article he mentions four groups that have "a very compelling interest in claiming that the Obama administration is preserving and continuing the most extreme Bush 'counter-terrorism' policies, regardless of whether or not it's true." Group 2 is "people who have long argued that there is no difference between the parties, that 'the system' is irrevocably corrupted, and that Obama will change nothing, who are eager to claim that their 'no-difference' worldview has already been vindicated by the 11-day old administration."

He proceeds to say that "it's possible that the group I referenced in item (2) above may turn out to be right"—and then goes on to smear them anyway as "those who reflexively criticize every Obama action because they predicted long ago that he would be the same as Bush and want that prediction to be vindicated." The clear message being that even if those people end up being right, they'll have been right for the wrong reason, and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Generally speaking, those of you who disagree with my interpretations of what Greenwald said should make sure you've read both of the articles of his that I reference, because the quotes I cited are just the tip of the iceberg and there's no doubt at all about who he was slagging.

Posted by John Caruso at August 25, 2009 12:17 AM

bobbyp said:

Hey. Give Glenn a break. I mean, jeez, he writes a lengthy column every day.

Too lengthy, in my opinion. The man wouldn't know brevity if it hit him with a stick.

Update: Really.

Update 2: I'm serious here.

Update 3: OK, maybe I should give him a break.

Update 4: No wait, I was right the first time.

Posted by Dayv at August 25, 2009 04:30 AM

rarely have I seen someone work so hard to produce so little as you have here.

I think this post is an example of what blogs - and this blog in particular - should be for: holding public figures accountable for their past statements (and actions). Just think about how difficult it would have been to do this sort of thing before the internet: you'd need filing cabinets full of yellowed clippings of every column anyone had ever written, and then, assuming you could find the right clipping in your "Greenwald" file, what would you do with it? Write a letter to the editor?

Today, anything any public figure has ever said is instantly recallable and instantly publishable (although maybe not to as big an audience as we'd like). When I think of all the forces in our society that are pushing us toward having the memory and attention span of a fruit fly, I'm glad to see this one force pushing in the opposite direction.

Milan Kundera once wrote, "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting" (a quote I quickly recalled using Google, of course) Not that Greenwald is a tyrant, but I'm so happy to see our collective memory being exercised that I don't mind seeing it exercised against someone I like, like Glenn Greenwald.

Posted by SteveB at August 25, 2009 07:37 AM

An interesting discussion, in which numerous people (particularly JerseyJeffersonian) have thoroughly made most of the points I'd be inclined to raise, so let me just add two additional ones:

(1) The criticisms of mine which you’re claiming are inconsistent and an attempt to demonize the Left (i.e., those perceived to be further to the Left than I am) are nothing of the sort. My criticisms there are analytical, not ideological. I think most people – including most politicians -- are complex, influenced by conflicting factors, and operate with mixed motives. I dislike cartoon images of people that posit they’re either pure good or pure evil and thus incapable of deviating from their normal course. Just as a matter of empiricism, I think an action ought to be assessed based on what it is, not subjected to some all-consuming, pre-existing, one-stop-shopping Manichean view of the person.

I obviously think that Obama’s actions are largely worthy of condemnation. That’s why I spend most of my time condemning them. But that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of a good or praiseworthy act. As JerseyJeffersonian said, he engages in bad acts because he chooses to follow incentives and influences which push him in that direction – not because he’s Satan, intrinsically devoted to an unyielding mission of Pure Evil. Like everyone, he’s capable of choosing differently in every situation. At times – rarely -- he does choose differently. When that happens, there are those who insist that any praise of him is intellectually or morally suspect: after all, it’s already been proven that he’s an Evil man in an Evil system and it’s therefore impossible that he can undertake a good act.

That’s the mentality to which I’m objecting. I don’t see that as an ideological flaw but as analytical one. It has little, if anything, to do with how far to the Left someone is (relatedly, you'll notice that most of those objections came from the first couple months of Obama's presidency; my point was, again as a matter of rational analysis: he should be allowd to do bad things before being condemend as a force of Evil).


(2) If, as John suggests, I’m so eager to demonize those perceived to be further to the Left than I am, there should be examples of my doing that specifically. Where are those examples? Who on the “Far Left” have I demonized in order to demonstrate my mainstream Seriousness?

I see here only two specific names of people perceived to be further Left than I am: Chris Floyd and Noam Chomsky.

Chris is someone whose work I have repeatedly cited, linked to, recommended, and lavishly praised for years. I’m a huge fan of Chris’ and have said so often. He’s been in my blogroll for as long as I can remember. The last time I went on vacation, I chose him to guest-blog at Salon, and he wrote in my space for the entire week, picking up new fans and readers, as I knew would happen.

I can recall only one – maybe two – instances where I’ve disagreed publicly with Chris over the years, and in each case, the disagreements were narrow and mutually respectful. As a result of all of that, we have a very collegial relationship and have periodically had long email discussions on various topics. Ask him if I’ve been anything other than enthusiastically supportive of his work.

As for Chomsky, he was one of the very first people I interviewed after Salon created my podcast show (though due to technical difficulties, the interview was not usable, which I wrote about and lamented). I’ve linked to him, cited to him and recommended various interviews and speeches – always approvingly. I’m quite sure I’ve never uttered a single negative word about him – an odd thing to do if I’m interested in demonizing “the Far Left” since that’s usually the favored way of doing that.

Most of all, I’m currently under contract to write two books, one of which is a comprehensive examination of Chomsky’s life as a public intellectual as a means of understanding how America’s dominant media controls and narrows political debates. In the course of working on that, I’ve spoken with him many times, emailed him, met with him in Boston, and read a huge bulk of what he’s written. An attack on the media’s stigmatizing and marginalizing Noam Chomsky is a strange cause for me to take up in a book if I’m eager to demonize the Left in order to make myself appear more Serious and Respectable.

I’ll grant that there’s some superficial rhetorical tension betwen these passages you’ve selected -- when they’re torn from their context. It’s true that I’m criticizing Todd/Ambinder/friends for mocking a certain class of people as Unserious while doing the same thing myself. But not all criticisms are equal or motivated by the same things. The fact that X criticizes Y for being Unserious doesn’t mean that X can’t object when Z criticizes X for being Unserious – one criticism might be valid and the other might not be. Whatever else is true, the suggestion that I’m motivated by a desire to build up my own respectability by attacking “the Left” is quite plainly false. Knowing my motives, I know that to be false, and I think my conducts demonstrates that rather clearly.

Posted by Glenn Greenwald at August 25, 2009 07:37 AM

Glenn,

I appreciate you showing up and I appreciate your work in general. Being a prominent political commentator you have all sorts of unfair smears and petty hair-splitting criticisms thrown your way (I'm not referring to John here). Some even mentioned in this thread. Your integrity is obvious to me, if not to some others (again not talking about John). The idea that you are "establishment" or attempt to seek credibility by demonizing the left is nuts in my opinion. One can disagree with you on certain matters and still recognize that. Although, as I stated above, I'm mystified as to why you link to Andrew Sullivan and a few others who don't seem worthy, in my opinion. However, because of a medical condition, I have brain fog which makes parsing the argument between you and John very hard to do. In any case, I recuse myself.

By the way, regarding the research you've done for your Chomsky book, have you looked at the old Znet Chomsky forums? He answered thousands of questions. I'm not sure if those forums are stil around somewhere. The new Chomsky forums on Znet don't contain anywhere near the amount that the old Chomsky forums did. And the sample forum archives are just a fraction of his responses. Reading his responses years ago, I found them illuminating and often better than his regular interviews and it would be a pity if they are erased. You might want to see if they exist somewhere if you already haven't.

Also, are you familiar with Medialens, The UK based media critics who analyze the news using Chomsky and Herman's propaganda model? They do amazing work and it's a shame that they aren't more widely recognized in the US.

Posted by Don Fernando at August 25, 2009 08:08 AM

Sorry, Glenn, but I think you've completely missed the point. You wrote:

[Obama] engages in bad acts because he chooses to follow incentives and influences which push him in that direction – not because he’s Satan, intrinsically devoted to an unyielding mission of Pure Evil.

But who - other than right-wing crazies - has ever claimed that Obama was "Satan", "Pure Evil", or even just plain evil? I've read lots of criticism of Obama coming from the left, and I've never seen anyone make the claims you mention, or even imply them. Lots of us have said that Obama is beholden to powerful corporate interests, that he's a "cruise missile liberal", and the like, but always based on evidence from his past behavior and his statements as a candidate. People start with suspicion of Obama because he's a Democrat, and we know the murderous history of that party, but that's just a starting point, and it's just suspicion, now amply backed up by Obama's public statements and actions.

What you've done is constructed a strawman (people who, for no apparent reason, claim Obama is Pure Evil) just as Marc Ambinder has done.

Posted by SteveB at August 25, 2009 08:27 AM

I don't see why this is so difficult for people. Glenn wrote, and reiterated, something perfectly sensible: right or left, we should judge people by their deeds and not their innate qualities. That's true whether the politician being judged is George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Now, I happen to like Obama a heckuva lot better than Bush -- I'd even rather have a beer with Obama, you might say -- and clearly Obama has superior intellect and instincts. That doesn't mean that Obama shouldn't be faulted, rather than blindly supported, whenever he does something worthy of criticism. The point people are missing, I believe, is that Glenn is not attacking those "further to his left" for their positions on policy issues. He's arguing -- quite correctly -- that both the left and the right should be faulted for lack of critical thinking when they blindly support their own guy or blindly attack the other side's guy without regard to the actual policies. Glenn was among the first to complain about Obama's reverals or doemstic spying, torture, and executive transparency, and properly so. He was also among the first to argue -- and again, properly so -- that we Obama supporters were foolish to assume that substantively objectionable policies adopted by Obama were somehow rendered acceptable merely because of the qualities of the man himself. What's wrong with Glenn demanding that we be a nation of laws?

Posted by CDT at August 25, 2009 08:51 AM

Is it just me or did Glenn just justify the entire criticism against him there in attempting to answer it?

Posted by DavidByron at August 25, 2009 10:30 AM

I had to look through all the comments and the original diaries by GG again to be sure about it but, yeah, he kind of just did the same thing he was criticised of in defending himself. In defending himself GG says he dislikes "cartoon images of people". That may be true of individuals but GG immediately characterises the DFHs, "the left", as a group, in a cartoonish way with his "Manichean" strawman. He says if there are no examples of specific individuals he's attacked like that then he can't be doing it to the group. Ambinder could no doubt argue the same way and it's not true.

They are both doing the exact same thing; dismissing political opinion to their left by characterising it, in the abstract, as caused by irrational means. They both avoid talking about any specific individual or any specific argument or opinion and certainly do not consider the evidence for the opinions they reject. In fact that's part of the problem; they deny such evidence exists implicitly, by saying that the opinion has irrational causes. If they talked about specific people that would be harder to do.

Certainly this is not limited to these two guys; spitting to the left characterises US politics.

But why are we so defensive about this? An attack is the best defence. The truth is that a lot of people do hold their opinions irrationally and that it happens far more often on the right. There's scientific research saying this now. In my opinion one of the best indicators of how far left you are is how little crap you are willing to put up with and how immune you are to the social cost of having to disagree all the time with the conventional wisdom; in short the more rational the further left.

N.E. said,
I don't think people on the "left" have more cause to think of themselves as unusually willing to follow conclusions wherever they might lead

That statement is wrong I would say. Unfortunately the left also tends to be less willing to strut than the right so we have this faux modesty thing going on some times.

As for GG I am sure if he keeps considering the evidence he will continue to drift to the left even if he hates being associated with DFHs. Most of what he says has been said before by people who would be dismissed (even by GG) and that's part of why he is useful of course. He's a good educator I think, as he himself learns.

Posted by DavidByron at August 25, 2009 12:08 PM

ok, Greenwald apparently visits this thread and writes--

"...When that happens, there are those who insist that any praise of him is intellectually or morally suspect: after all, it’s already been proven that he’s an Evil man in an Evil system and it’s therefore impossible that he can undertake a good act. That’s the mentality to which I’m objecting. I don’t see that as an ideological flaw but as analytical one."

Maybe DavidByron and I have the same sinking suspicion- is GG saying that Obama needs to be consistently given credit for goodwill(he's not an Evil man in an Evil system), and any time he says anything that sounds positive, he needs to be given credit?

Example: not too long ago Obama said he wants the world's great powers to scrap all our nuclear warheads. To me, in my ideological and crochety way of approaching Obama, he's just said that puppies are awesome. It's fucking meaningless.

I say, let Obama publicly warn Israel to stop threatening Iran, or better yet, let him halt US airstrikes in Afghanistan, then I'll listen to his tales of how much he loves puppies and hates nuclear weapons and related bullshit.

But I guess, if I'm interpreting Greenwald correctly, I'm responding reflexively and dogmatically.

Posted by grimmy at August 25, 2009 12:12 PM

@grimmy: I think you're reading GG incorrectly, and he actually agrees with you. One of his main points is that Obama supporters need to ignore the happy talk and look what he's doing on issues like torture, accountability, etc. It's great that Obama says a lot of the right things, but as you point out it's meaningless if his policies largely track Bush's. GG's point is that we on the left should object when Obama pursues the same authoritarian policies implemented by Bush, and not excuse them on the basis that Obama himself seems to be superior to Bush as a person. In that context, he frequently faults those on the left who ignore or excuse Obama when he pursues lamentable policies. It's an objection to tribalism, left or right, not an attempt to cast certain views as too far left to be within the mainstream. I'm a disnechanted Obama supporter, and the biggest reason for my disenchantment is Obama's veer to the right.

Posted by CDT at August 25, 2009 01:23 PM

Glenn: Thanks for the response. In case you missed it upthread, I'll say again that I find your work very helpful and informative, and also that I have a great deal of respect for you (and especially for your willingness to engage with people like Chomsky, Dennis Perrin, or Chris Floyd). This is, in fact, the major glaring exception, and I genuinely hope it's something you'll take to heart.

Getting to your argument, SteveB and DavidByron have already zeroed in on the critical point (which was the point of my posting as well), namely: who, outside of the clinically insane, has ever claimed that Obama is "Satan, intrinsically devoted to an unyielding mission of Pure Evil"? Or anything like it? Where are these legions of reflexive, blind critics driven by nothing but a desire to "vindicate" the mindless, knee-jerk criticisms that flow from their "all-consuming conviction that [Obama] is intrinsically Evil"?

I can show you literally thousands of reasoned left critiques of Obama, but I have yet to find people who "reflexively and blindly criticize" Obama because they think he's a "bloodthirsty and war-craving" "intrinsically Evil" being, as you say. Your specific example was Obama's potential continuation of Bush's rendition policies, so if you can show us people who've reflexively, blindly, mindlessly attacked Obama's rendition policy based solely on their conviction that he's "devoted to an unyielding mission of Pure Evil", please share them with us. I've never seen any.

Even if you do manage to hunt down an example (and I wish you good luck on that), do you think it's fair to pair these unicorn people with reflexive, adoring Obama supporters, whose numbers were so great at the time you wrote those articles that the government was looking at culling the herds? The point being that there was parity of criticism on your part of those two groups, but there's no parity at all regarding their actual existence in actual reality. That's what makes it a straw man.

I’ll grant that there’s some superficial rhetorical tension betwen these passages you’ve selected -- when they’re torn from their context.

No, that's just false. In fact I provided the additional context in my 12:17 AM comment above, and it makes it clear that you were doing exactly the same thing as Ambinder.

And in that comment I also quote your further description of this group of people who think Obama is "intrinsically Evil", namely: "people who have long argued that there is no difference between the parties, that 'the system' is irrevocably corrupted, and that Obama will change nothing." Are you saying that that was not intended to encompass the great mass of the Nader-voting left (for want of a better phrase)? Because it's a verbatim copy of the language critics use to describe those people. If you had some other group in mind, please tell us who it was.

Whatever else is true, the suggestion that I’m motivated by a desire to build up my own respectability by attacking “the Left” is quite plainly false.

I'll accept that, and I apologize if that suggestion of a motive gave offense (though to be clear, such motivations are typically subconscious, and I wasn't suggesting that you were acting on a conscious desire—any more than I imagine you think Ambinder was). But in that case, why have you made a point on multiple occasions of pairing all-but-nonexistent critics who mindlessly attack Obama because they think he's Evil incarnate with giant hoards of actually-existing people who adore and reflexively defend him?

Finally: although the original posting may have felt harsh when you were in the crosshairs, all I was doing was reinforcing the exact same point you yourself had already made (even using your own words), because I agree wholeheartedly with you that it's important. You were absolutely right to take Ambinder et al to task for this. When you confronted Ambinder with his overly-broad and denigrating generalizations (in similarly provocative fashion), he stepped back from them—to his credit. I think you should consider doing the same.

Posted by John Caruso at August 25, 2009 03:03 PM

@CTD earlier in the year GG had a list of things he would paste in that proved that we, the kook left, were wrong to say Obama was satan. Now these accomplishments of Obama included happy talk. For example he included Obama's claim that Guantanamo would be closed in a year (itself a breach of his promise to close it right away and since then backtracked by Obama's people). Another example GG used was Obama's statement that "America does not torture". The exact same phrase Bush used. GG still included it as evidence came out that Obama was continuing to torture. Recently, he's been defending Obama less, but he certainly did take mere statements of intent by Obama (ie "happy talk") to be evidence of stuff Obama was actually doing.

And though I didn't mean to say it I do agree with grimmy that it's silly for GG to insist that you should always find something positive to say about people (apart from the kook left of course) or else you are "Manichean". This isn't couples' counselling. The fact is the head of an empire that kills foreigners by the hundreds of thousand is pretty capital 'E' Evil if that word has meaning. This "Manichean" nonsense is an example of GG still being unable to face simple facts about America. He's unwilling to get sucked down that rabbit hole as yet. So he just ignores it and once he's managed that trick, attacks those who haven't ignored it. In short scratch an issue where GG rabidly attacks the left and you find his own shortcomings. But that hardly makes him special.

And I do emphasise that last sentence. The only reason Greenwald is a good person to pick on for this conversation is his tendency to write fifty words where two would do. Makes for some juicy quotes.

And once again I like the guy (even if he does hate me); for a "progressive" he's really progressing. That's so rare.

Posted by DavidByron at August 25, 2009 03:43 PM

DavidByron: They are both doing the exact same thing; dismissing political opinion to their left by characterising it, in the abstract, as caused by irrational means. They both avoid talking about any specific individual or any specific argument or opinion and certainly do not consider the evidence for the opinions they reject. In fact that's part of the problem; they deny such evidence exists implicitly, by saying that the opinion has irrational causes.

Amen, brother. Nicely said.

Regarding "do not consider the evidence for the opinions they reject", notice one group Glenn conspicuously omitted in that first article: those who criticized Obama based on careful attention to his record (including his numerous well-publicized reversals during the campaign, his tacit consent for Israel's assault on Gaza, the policies he outlined on his own campaign web site, the articles he'd written for Foreign Policy and other outlets, the history of other Democratic politicians for whom the same indicators have presaged the same conclusions, etc, etc). Obama wasn't some tabula rasa when he assumed office; we already had ample reason to be highly skeptical of anything he said, even setting aside the clear lessons of history. But Glenn acted as though opposition must be based on a belief that Obama is "intrinsically Evil".

Notice also that in the instance Glenn was addressing, those critics were not coming to their conclusions out of the clear blue sky (as he implied); they were responding to an L.A. Times article that said that Obama planned to continue Bush's renditions program in largely-unchanged fashion (an account which was dead on). Glenn and many others immediately attacked the Times for that article, which showed a dismaying lack of skepticism and willingness to give Obama the benefit of the doubt (which he's reiterated here).

And by pre-dismissing the people who were absolutely right to take that account seriously and to be highly skeptical about Obama more generally, Glenn has done the exact same thing that Ambinder et all did to opponents of the Iraq war—disregarding them as being "wrong even when they're right."

Posted by John Caruso at August 25, 2009 03:48 PM

Internecine squabbling. This is starting to remind me of theological arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or Soviet-era sniffing for Troksyist tendencies in a colleague.

As Glenn pointed out, his guest blogger while on vacation was Chris Floyd. Chris Floyd! Now, if you were to try to pick a blogger more associated with the radicalized left, who would YOU pick? Arthur Silber? Michael Parenti? Howard Zinn? I mean, c'mon. Cut the guy some slack.

To me, the fact that someone as courageous and open-minded as GG, someone who is clearly willing to speak truth to power, and, I'm sure, make powerful enemies in the process, the fact that someone like that is writing such a high-profile and, let's say it, feared column is truly remarkable. As an amateur student of propaganda, I find Greenwald's laser-beam skewering of our lapdog media invaluable. During the dark Bush days, and on into this current manifestion of Our Imperial Nightmare, writers like GG and CF on the "left" and Justin Raimondo and Paul Craig Roberts on the "right," were treasured for being rare voices of sanity.

Posted by Oarwell at August 25, 2009 04:20 PM

So, this is my understanding of the debate; someone correct me if I’m wrong.

GG: “Ambinder claims criticism of Bush was driven by personal hatred, but it’s possible to be a critic of actions on rational policy grounds, and in fact the rational critics of Bush were proved correct. Similarly we need to judge Obama’s actions for what they are (some of which can be good policy and some bad policy), not as a single good-evil judgement on the man. Some (but not all) of Obamas criticism and support from the left appears to be partially driven by ideology or emotion, and we need to be careful to base either on rational policy grounds; anyone who says Obama is incapable of a good action (or incapable of a bad one) is clearly not rationally evaluating policy.”

ATR: “Well, sure, we agree Ambinder is wrong, and that critiques should be based on rational grounds. But I don’t oppose Obama because I think he is an evil minion of Satan intent on doing making the world worse. I merely think that he, like any President, is a (possibly genuinely well-intentioned) minion of conservative forces who is powerless to make the world better in any way.”

GG: “Really? No chance at all to do good? Isn’t that the same as calling him evil?”

ATR: “No. I contend that study of U.S. History has given me rational grounds for rejecting the possibility of positive change.”

GG: “I disagree with your factual conclusion, and think that the political system does respond to pressure, if imperfectly, and given what’s at stake we must continue to intelligently critique policies, praising the good ones and criticizing the bad ones. Anything else seems to me to be merely calling Obama good/evil in other terms.”

ATR: “You’re wasting your time and the time and energy of others who could be radically changing the system.”

This is the only way I can see a real disagreement going here: between those who see the institutional constraints on the POTUS as too great to overcome with any kind of in-the-system political involvement, and those who see a possibility of political pressure creating positive (if not perfect) results. Now, this is right at the line where a theoretically impartial evaluation of facts turns into ideology, but in theory it’s something that can be discussed and respectfully disagreed with, right?

Am I missing something about the objections to GG?

Posted by Quercus at August 25, 2009 04:27 PM

Reading the post in isolation CDT's argument wins.

Caruso's made his point IMO but it should have been made in the post - where the quotes are not at all in opposition unless given more context - and not in comments.

Linking to the actual Greenwald columns instead of to more criticisms of the columns might have been helpful.

Posted by Substance McGravitas at August 25, 2009 04:45 PM

We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table

"Sexy Sadie", The Beatles

I think the desire for a pundit or journalist to sit at Sexy Sadie's table (Meet The Press or some other big time Sunday talk show) must be very powerful. Obviously, Greenwald isn't willing to "give everything he owns" to get there but it does appear he is willing to reach a little in that direction.

Posted by cemmcs at August 25, 2009 05:01 PM

Hi John,

No, I don't see what you mean. What you seem to imply (that Greenwald is inconsistent and/or hypocritical), based on the quotes you offer, amounts to non sequitur.

1. Many Beltway journalists are now attempting to blame their own colossal failures to report the numerous lies and misconduct of the Bush Administration on the traditional Beltway boogyman the("The Left"), apparently arguing that since the Left instinctively hated Bush, mainstream media pundits were therefore justified in performing stenography rather than doing their real job. (I trust that you appreciate how, in sympathy with your penchant for innuendo, I merely *imply* that the real job of journalists is to dig out and report the truth, rather than actually coming out and stating my opinion on the matter.)

2. Greenwald refused to formulate an opinion on Obama early in the Obama Administration, saying more time was needed before forming an opinion in that regard, disagreeing with those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does."

Greenwald seems right on the money to me. Your attempt to find hypocrisy or inconsistency fails, at least in the quotes you have offered in this post.

Better luck next time.

Posted by ongho at August 25, 2009 05:03 PM

Well, from reading Greenwald consistently over the last few years, I think his premise was that people should give Obama a chance to prove that he's like any other politician versus assuming so. Base your opinion on his actions.

But the characterization of the left as reflexive, irrational, and blind are simply wrong. There's a ample historical evidence that Democrats are every bit as bad as Republicans, evidence which warrants skepticism of Obama.

This skepticism that has now proved well founded. Obama is the new Clinton, and soon a Newt Gingrich Jr. will arrive to focus the angry backlash back at Obama.

Posted by jj at August 25, 2009 05:09 PM

Greenwald refused to formulate an opinion on Obama early in the Obama Administration, saying more time was needed before forming an opinion...

Gee, I hope he was equally fair to McCain: "Well, the guy did joke about bombing Iran, but we should really wait until he's been president for a few months before we form an opinion of him..."

Concluding that Barack Obama wanted to escalate the war in Afghanistan because that's what he said he would do during the campaign is not "reflexive criticism." Nor is it "reflexive" to question Obama's commitment to civil liberties after you've seen him vote for legal immunity for lawbreaking telecoms.

The argument, made by many liberals, that we needed to "wait and see" about Obama reminds me of the argument (also made by many liberals, come to think of it) that we shouldn't "reflexively" jump to opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Wouldn't it be more "reasonable" to wait for Colin Powell's presentation before the U.N., and then carefully weigh all the evidence to decide whether the President is lying about those Iraqi WMD's? Of course, while you're carefully weighing the "evidence", the machinery of war is being moved into place. Similarly, while you were "waiting and seeing" about Obama, hundreds of Pakistani and Afghan civilians were being killed by U.S. drone attacks that he authorized. As Howard Zinn once said, you can't be neutral on a moving train.

Posted by SteveB at August 25, 2009 06:03 PM

"And that's also why it's harmful when Glenn Greenwald does it, and why I think it's important to call him on it."

My goodness, now it's actually "important" to call Glenn Greenwald on his supposedly harmful supposed hypocrisy.

This thread has become quite a trip.

Posted by N E at August 25, 2009 06:38 PM

Hey, cool, I win. :)
With benefit of additional thread, it seems to me that GG's critics are essentially saying two things. One is that GG is late to the party in recognizing Obama as a phony liberal (my term), and criticizing him for it. The second is that, some months ago, GG wrongly dismissed their policy objections to Obama as mere reflexive negativity. That may or may not be true, but right now GG is also warning Obama supporters who still have stardust in their eyes that they need to focus on what he's actually doing. Isn't that a valuable contribution, even if GG himself was arguably slow to do that himself? Compared to semi-MSM voices, GG was among the first to start pointing out the inconsistency between Obama's promises and rhetoric and his substantive policies. Maybe that puts him behind the ATR bunch, but it's still valuable and, unfortunately, uncommon.

Posted by CDT at August 25, 2009 06:52 PM

Greenwald certainly did reflexively jump to "Manichean" conclusions about Obama early on. And too he attacked people he disagreed with calling them irrational without considering the evidence.

Take the issue of torture.

As with most progressives Greenwald just assumed that the US didn't torture. Why? Because Obama said so. Greenwald was claiming this suspension of torture by Obama on the basis of Obama making the exact same "America doesn't torture" statement that Bush had made.

The evidence against was always there; America's long history of torture (eg School of the Americas), the secret "black" sites all over the place which Obama didn't even say he would shut down, and in particular Baghram air base. The refusal to release the political prisoners held at Guantanamo (their incarceration without charges already a form of torture). The way Obama kept in power key actors from the Bush administration linked to torture policies.

Obama didn't even say "America used to torture, and I apologise for that but now we don't." He just said exactly what Bush said.

Greenwald's position was reflexive and "Manichean". He simply couldn't think about America in those bleak terms so he basically ignored all the evidence and all the history and went with the happy talk.

Nor did Greenwald say he would reserve his judgment until we knew more. On the contrary from practically day one of Obama's term Greenwald was assuring people that Obama had done away with torture -- and how that proved how crazy the kook left was that had suggested Obama was little different from McCain (whom he assumed presumably would have continued torture). He continued to say this for a while as evidence of torture under Obama accumulated. Though I don't think he's said it recently, neither has he reversed himself or simply said that he no longer considers the issue clear cut.

By its very nature it's hard to find any positive evidence for the absence of something secretive and criminal like torture. I accept that evidence might have been hard to find for Greenwald's view, especially early on in Obama's reign. But that hardly excuses him.

Like I say, just an example issue.

Posted by DavidByron at August 25, 2009 07:12 PM

JJ:

"There's a ample historical evidence that Democrats are every bit as bad as Republicans, evidence which warrants skepticism of Obama.

This skepticism that has now proved well founded. Obama is the new Clinton, and soon a Newt Gingrich Jr. will arrive to focus the angry backlash back at Obama."


Hmmm, I guess the worst Dems are as bad as the best Republicans, but the difference between the most Dems and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney seems rather striking. Even Chomsky came to see that. Certainly Paul Wellstone wasn't too much like Dick Cheney, but I grant you he was far better than most Dems.

Anyway, you're on to something with your observation that Obama is ending up looking too much like Clinton, for many of the same reasons (though I don't think he is a triangulator like Clinton). And you're right that the angry backlash has begun. It will intensify too. And possibly it will succeed while everyone discusses whether Glenn Greenwald is a hypocrite and Obama is any better than John McCain or Dick Cheney.

There is an awfully familiar dynamic too this. People can be moved in herds just like cattle, and they can be stampeded too. Oarwell (I think)is always dropping references to the Mighty Wurlitzer, which is good. It's still playing, with great effectiveness, though not the same old tunes. When Sean Hannity or Limbaugh or Weiner/Savage give the signal, the herd immediately starts to move. It's easy to see when it happens to the Right.

The thing is, it happens to the rest of us too, just with different cues. So when DavidBryon comments on the "faux modesty" of the Left being its real problem and thinks the Left really does follow conclusions wherever they lead, I'm wholly unconvinced. I'd even say that is self-flattery. There is the mandatory genuflecting on the Left too, even if it is to someone as thoughtful and admirable as Chomsky, or better yet, to someone as thoughtful and admirable as Oneself.

When people have the sense that they see the truth more clearly than others and can't be fooled, they become predictable and threfore can actually become easy to fool. Since during its history in the United States the Left has consistently been fooled, this seems obvious. Not being fooled is a lot of work for anyone, even a Leftie, once you recognize that there are a lot of ways to fooled, including by high-minded talk that leads nowhere better than "important" discussions about whether well-intentioned, smart, and even admirable people are hypocrites.

There are more pressing concerns.


Posted by N E at August 25, 2009 07:14 PM

NE:
Dems aren't really as bad as the Repubs, I'll grant you that.

Hmmm... seems my disillusionment with Obama and our institutions has made me blindly, reflexively irrational. GG was right!

Posted by jj at August 25, 2009 08:00 PM

Wait, what am I saying! I'll see your Cheney and raise you a Holy Joe Lieberman. Palpatine trumps Darth Cheney any day of the year.

Posted by jj at August 25, 2009 08:19 PM

Jumpin' Jehosafat--Lieberman is an INDEPENDENT! It's Arlen Specter who is the Democrat, along with Ben Nelson, Max Baucas, Mary Landrieu, etc!

But none of them eat the still-beating hearts of infants as appetizers, as far as I know, unlike . . .

Posted by N E at August 25, 2009 08:42 PM

Quercus: This is the only way I can see a real disagreement going here...

The real disagreement is whether or not Glenn was doing the same thing he accuses Ambinder of doing. I think that's pretty obvious; just compare "[anti-Bush liberal activists] based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence" with "those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does (based on the immovable, all-consuming conviction that he is intrinsically Evil)."

Ambinder has at least backed off of his statement, but Glenn has only added even more stuffing to his straw man ("Satan, intrinsically devoted to an unyielding mission of Pure Evil"? I really want to know where these people are, because that's got to be one damn entertaining blog). I respect him a lot, for all the reasons I and others here have mentioned, but that's why I'm sorry to see him deploying the very "cartoon images of people" he says he dislikes.

And to be clear, I definitely don't speak for anyone at ATR but myself.

Posted by John Caruso at August 25, 2009 08:44 PM

He was a Democrat, and he still has his chairmanship and seniority, Obama and Co. backed him to the hilt over Lamont, but you're right, he's an Independent...

... that looks like Emperor Palpatine.

Posted by jj at August 25, 2009 09:18 PM
When that happens, there are those who insist that any praise of him is intellectually or morally suspect: after all, it’s already been proven that he’s an Evil man in an Evil system and it’s therefore impossible that he can undertake a good act. . .I don’t see that as an ideological flaw but as analytical one. It has little, if anything, to do with how far to the Left someone is (relatedly, you'll notice that most of those objections came from the first couple months of Obama's presidency; my point was, again as a matter of rational analysis: he should be allowd to do bad things before being condemend as a force of Evil).

The problem is that many people successfuly anticipated Obama’s present behavior based on his past behavior and criticized him based on that expectation. A good example of this was health care. The insurance companies’ adoration of Obama was more than sufficient evidence of duplicity on his part; more specifically, Paul Krugman noted the severe deficiencies and public harm (and private gain) of his plan while he was on the campaign trail. As Molly Ivins was fond of saying, “you dance with them whut brung you.” Nevertheless, Obama’s defenders fiercely claimed that such analysis was invalid simply because Obama wasn’t in office yet -- as if human behavioral patterns established over the last-odd 150,000 years suddenly altered once he ran for office.

Greenwald’s generalized attack implicitly scoops up those who employed such analysis, imo, because they aren’t anticipated in his screed. There simply isn’t anyone outside of the rightwing who things Obama is “pure Evil” -- whatever the fuck that means -- so there isn’t anyone else on earth to conclude that Greenwald is talking about. Thus, he simply ends up bashing people who were more clever than he when it came to Obama’s behavior and claims they lacked the very virtue they employed: analytical ability.

That being said, there is absolutely, positively, without a doubt nothing wrong with excessive verbosity.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 25, 2009 10:02 PM
Posted by: Quercus at August 25, 2009 04:27 PM This is the only way I can see a real disagreement going here: between those who see the institutional constraints on the POTUS as too great to overcome with any kind of in-the-system political involvement, and those who see a possibility of political pressure creating positive (if not perfect) results. . . Am I missing something about the objections to GG?

You’re ignoring a more obvious point: Obama’s doing bad things because he’s a bad person. Further, the system one would change is malign precisely because it selects for the worst of our population and actively attacks the best of us when we run for office. The idea that Obama, or any other president, does evil due to “pressure” is a canard.

Posted by No One of Consequence at August 25, 2009 10:06 PM

"Satan, intrinsically devoted to an unyielding mission of Pure Evil"? I really want to know where these people are, because that's got to be one damn entertaining blog)

No Quarter?

Posted by Substance McGravitas at August 26, 2009 12:00 AM

Oarwell: You're right that this could be called internecine squabbling, but what you're missing is that the whole purpose of my posting was to point out GG's internecine attacks, in the hope that he'll see that it's no better when he does this kind of thing than it is when Ambinder and others do it.

Posted by John Caruso at August 26, 2009 02:17 AM

John -

Okay, I will concede one thing: Ambinder directed his criticism to those on the left, not everyone. I can concede that because it doesn't affect my argument since it's the left, not everyone, that was and is still being dismissed. The refined point remains that Ambinder argued that anyone on the left who raised questions did it strictly out of "blind 'Bush hatred.'"

Which means it also remains true that asserting that "anti-Bush liberal...activists" and "those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does (based on the immovable, all-consuming conviction that he is intrinsically Evil)" are equally-narrow categories on the grounds that they are both about opposition - which you have essentially done - simply will not fly. It'd be like equating the reach of "men over 40" with that of "left-handed women teachers in Detroit, Michigan" on the grounds that both are about people.

you became "the childish, petulant ideological Left." That opposition was the definition of the term

No, this is entirely untrue.

Again, I will concede that it was true only of the left. That is, if you opposed the war from the left you became by that reason "childish, petulant [and] ideological." Again, I can concede that because it doesn't affect the argument.

What you're missing is that I agree 100% with Greenwald's criticisms of Marc Ambinder, Joe Klein, and the rest of the establishment media

I didn't miss that at all. But it's irrelevant to the question of if your accusation of "near-perfect hypocrisy" stands up. And I still say it does not.

actually that's exactly his message

I think you've been reading way too many tea leaves. It seems to me his message was not some read-between-the-lines intent to trash those to his left but was out in the open: Don't trash Obama as irredeemably bad, he said, at least until he does something bad.

Now, by my lights Obama already by then had done more than enough bad stuff to justify sharp criticism (in fact I slammed the "wait until he actually does something" logic as expressed by some, including GG, before Obama was even inaugurated) but I don't see where Greenwald was saying "even if you're proven right we must ignore you" - rather, he was leaving open the possibility they might prove to be correct (something I don't believe Ambinder ever did for those "anti-Bush liberal...activists"), which would require a shift in his position.

Ultimately, I think you're reading into those statements a lot of things that weren't there and turning what was as most some over-the-top petulance into an ideological stance.

Finally,

those of you who disagree with my interpretations of what Greenwald said should make sure you've read both of the articles of his that I reference

I saw them when they first came out (I read both GG and ATR) and I re-read them before commenting. And I remain convinced that my basic point is on solid ground: Your charge of "near-perfect hypocrisy" is false.

And with that, I'm done with this, as this whole thing is turning into one of those intra-family squabbles that needs to be shut off before it winds up in slammed doors, screaming, and muttered (or not) obscenities.

Posted by LarryE at August 26, 2009 03:28 AM

Arrgh! No, I can't make that my last because I just re-read it and realized I left out something! Damn!

Okay, this is my last even if I do forget something else. Which I probably will.

A basic point is that in order to equate what Greenwald said about Ambinder and others with what he said about "those who reflexively and blindly criticize whatever Obama does," you must - you must - be claiming that Greenwald is accusing everyone who criticizes Obama from the left of being convinced that Obama is "intrinsically Evil." Otherwise, what Greenwald is saying about those Obama opponents is not the same as what Ambinder said about war opponents and the two are not comparable in the way you have done.

Since I can't imagine you would say that (or do you?) I think the argument doesn't work.

I'll wrap up by saying that maybe if instead of two isolated dismissive remarks from five and six months ago you had something more recent, something that could demonstrate a pattern, you'd have a better argument. Until such time, I remain wholly unconvinced.

Posted by LarryE at August 26, 2009 04:15 AM

@LarryE Your excuses for GG could equally apply to Ambinder. Or if not equally the only thing GG brings extra is his redundancy of insults. Here's the thing: to make these sort of statements legitimate they would have to be describing only a subset of those on the left who had attacked the president(s). So firstly, where do either one of them make such a distinction? GG's words don't describe a genuine subset of the president's critics. They are simply insults. As John points out it's a strawman because no actual people exist that fit GG's description.

But there's a second reason your argument fails: had it been GG's intention to talk about only a subset of critics of the president based on their motivations, not their arguments or conclusions, then that would be an ad hominem and subject to the logical error of any ad hominem, namely that it generally doesn't matter what the critic's motivation is to a consideration of their argument.

By saying that SOME of Obama's critics' arguments must be flawed (without botheringn to address them) because of their poor motivations GG achieves nothing. He still has to explain why all the non-Stanic reflexive and "Manichean" critics of Obama managed to reach the same conclusion. Unless his argument is implicitly that EVERYONE that is a critic of Obama fell into that category what's the point in even mentioning the motivations of this subset of his opponents in the debate?

Clearly both meant to characterise every one of their opponents as irrational.

And yes, he's just flaming everyone to his left. It's that simple. You really find that hard to believe? It is very common in US politics. To believe that he is not just insulting people you'd have to think that Glen Greenwald literally believes that there are large numbers of lefties that think Obama is "intrinsically evil" and all the rest of that crap. Come on. It's just an insult. It's just a way to dismiss opponents without addressing their argument.

And as for something more recent what about his remarks in this comment thread? As John points out Ambinder backed away from his sweeping and dismissive insults. Greenwald did not. He backed them up! Is "yesterday and right here" not recent enough for you? Just go and ask GG if he still feels the same way on his blog then.

Posted by DavidByron at August 26, 2009 10:29 AM

Glenn Greenwald is extremely naive about many things, save one:

imitating Randy Andy Sullivan.

Greenwald saw the path trod by Randy Andy -- ping-pong changes of stance from issue to issue, depending on his audience and what the moment's winds of change were doing. And to Greenwald, it was good. Very good. So good, in fact, that it landed him a job at Salon, where -- for a rank idiot on politics -- he gets a lot of publicity and the ego-salving his brutalized sense of self-worth needs.

Whatever "wisdom" comes from Greenwald's keyboard, it is most surely borrowed wisdom, and not his own. The chap is barely lucid, intellectually speaking. What "brilliance" he shares, it is partisan noise where he is basically preaching to his choir of Glenny Fanboys. When has he dropped his fancy white gloves and duked it out, intellectually speaking, with anyone?

If the answer is other than "never," proof would be essential.

Posted by Fame Is Not Wisdom at August 26, 2009 12:36 PM

Greenwald's comprehension of the ineluctable power of the status quo and its mighty defenders has tangibly deepened from his earliest days.

Oh for cryin' out loud... such palabric fellatio is embarrassing. We're not in a gay porn theatre here.

Greenwald's a dunce. I could debate him with my brain in a jar somewhere else. And win. Doubt me? Set it up. I'll trounce the little dweeb and send him running home to his loving mommy.

Posted by Fame Is Not Wisdom at August 26, 2009 12:40 PM

I'd been wondering when we could get some distasteful homophobia around here. Thanks, Fame is Not Wisdom.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 26, 2009 12:50 PM

David, it's scary when you write stuff that looks like you're reading my mind, but since you make your points so perfectly I think I can get over it.

Posted by John Caruso at August 26, 2009 12:58 PM

Gee, U guyz are starting to make me glad I gots cows in the front yard.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 26, 2009 02:49 PM

My apologies, Mr Schwarz. Next time it will be tasteful homophilia. But to ensure that happens, the subject needs to suggest that outcome. With the likes of someone fluffing Mr Greenwald as in that quote I used above, it's not even on the screen. What purpose is served by amplifying Greenwald's supposed prescience beyond what he actually possesses? Is it not analogous to fluffing, or providing some other form of sexual gratification? If I'd used some macho cowboy hetero reference would it have passed your smell test? Or would it still smell like the opening and closing scenes of Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible"?

Posted by Fame Is Not Wisdom at August 26, 2009 11:53 PM

John and David -

I address you both since by John's acknowledgment you seem to be intellectual twins on this, so I might as well address both members of the tag team.

This is a question for you, one I have no intention of debating, it is just to satisfy my curiosity:

What if, instead of referring to people who think Obama is "Evil," GG had referred to people who insist nothing Obama does can be trusted because he's "merely a tool of the ruling classes?" Would that have altered your judgment? If so, how?

And please don't tell me that such people "don't exist" or even that you haven't come across people making that argument.

Posted by LarryE at August 27, 2009 12:46 AM

There's an implied addition to GG's comments and also Ambinder's. They are not only saying that the left thinks the president is "Evil" but that such a belief can only be irrational.

In other words GG is saying that the left just decided one day, for no reason at all, that Obama was "Evil". I do not believe that such people exist. Do you?

Your position would appear to force you to disagree that GG meant that. You would have to argue that GG actually only meant to attack people who had come to the conclusion that Obama was "Evil" after considering the evidence. I agree those people exist. As I said above (anticipating your line of thinking here), you can certainly sensibly call Obama or just about any US president "Evil" on the basis of their being the head of an empire that kills hundreds of thousands of people. Another example: Obama is certainly a major war criminal on several counts. I said that if the word "Evil" has any meaning then surely it applies to mass killings like that. Certainly people on the left exist, me included, who would argue something like that (although the word "Evil" is religious sounding and no doubt chosen by GG to sound silly). Same for "tool of the ruling classes" (also a phrase intended to sound silly?)

But here's the problem with the view that GG meant people who rationally think Obama is "Evil".

GG / Ambinder's whole point was that the president's critics on the left didn't have any evidence, didn't have any reasons, didn't have any argument worth considering. Only because the lefty critics were clearly irrational hate-filled nut-cases could their opinions be dismissed legitimately without any attempt to refute them. That all falls apart if you ever concede that someone could have excellent reasons for thinking that Obama was "Evil".

Any way you cook it both GG and Ambinder used insulting language and a right-wing stereotype of the left to dismiss the critique offered by their opponents.

Posted by DavidByron at August 27, 2009 02:21 AM

I will merely note that your supposed critique of my position starts by asserting as uncontested fact that by his "Evil" comment GG meant "the left" rather than some defined segment of it - even though that is a central point of contention - and proceeds from there without ever coming even vaguely close to even attempting to address the question I asked.

As I indicated, I will argue the point no longer as it is clearly a waste - but I am still curious to know if, how, and why that change in wording would have affected your reaction.

Posted by LarryE at August 28, 2009 05:29 AM

I have before me Greenwald's book "Great American Hypocrities," a devastating study of GOP myths and fabricated heroes that should be required reading in courses on modern political history. The only fault I have with it is the overblown, overheated language, soaked in clichés. To my mind it undermines the very impressive research that he put into it. But that's Glenn: all wound up.

Posted by LeRoy Ferguson at August 28, 2009 11:11 AM

Monsieur Byron,

How would one assume the mantle of POTUS and not immediately become a war criminal in your opinion?

Posted by Distressed at August 28, 2009 11:44 AM

Distressed: At this point in time-EXACTLY!

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 28, 2009 02:11 PM

BUT at this point, aren't WE ALL?

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 28, 2009 02:13 PM

@Distressed
How about by not committing any war crimes? I don't understand your question. It's not the law you know. Presidents don't have to be thugs. They all have a choice.

Posted by DavidByron at August 28, 2009 05:58 PM

DF:By the way, regarding the research you've done for your Chomsky book, have you looked at the old Znet Chomsky forums? He answered thousands of questions. I'm not sure if those forums are stil around somewhere. The new Chomsky forums on Znet don't contain anywhere near the amount that the old Chomsky forums did. And the sample forum archives are just a fraction of his responses. Reading his responses years ago, I found them illuminating and often better than his regular interviews and it would be a pity if they are erased. You might want to see if they exist somewhere if you already haven't.


I've been away for awhile and have missed the fun and games here at ATR!!

As per Don Fernando above, I have a bunch of these old forum exchanges with Chomsky saved...they go back to 2004...I had more but I deleted the earlier ones...Someone was putting together a comprehensive archive of all of Chomsky's responses at Z but I dont know whatever came of this...If anyone wants to see the ones i have saved just let me know and i will post them, or send them to you in private if that is possible...I dont know if this is possible since I dont think email addresses are available for one to find.-Tony

Posted by tony at August 28, 2009 08:50 PM

@Monsieur Mike Meyer

To what extent we are all culpable is a sickening thought. Pass me another beer and some snacks won'tcha?

@Monsieur David Byron

As elections come and go, the war machine keeps on keeping on. My suggestion is (as you state) that the POTUS upon receiving office would have to call for an immediate cessation to military operations that had even a whiff of criminality about them.

---

on topic:

This whole left/right thing is metaphysically bogus. It gives an impression of some sort of linear ideological continuum that very much does _not_ exist. Any sort of us/them nonsense nauseates me. I have friends now who believe that everything is hunky dorey now cuz the Dems are in power. As _if_. By way of example I found that Ron Paul arrived at the same conclusions as Mike Huckabee but from a quite different set of core values.

Posted by Distressed at August 29, 2009 07:34 AM

Mike Huckabee? ick.

Excuse me, I meant Dennis Kucinich. You'll have to forgive me - late night last night and in addition I'm from the United States of Europe ...

Posted by Distressed at August 29, 2009 07:40 AM

My suggestion is (as you state) that the POTUS upon receiving office would have to call for an immediate cessation to military operations that had even a whiff of criminality about them.

Correct. And what exactly is the problem with that? I'm not getting your point. A president could choose to do that or choose to not do that. If they choose to do it then they don't become a war criminal.

Um. If you don't want to be a criminal don't break the law?

Posted by DavidByron at August 29, 2009 02:21 PM

Exactly which US military operations since World War I did not contain a criminal component?

12 dozen Krispy Kremes for whomever gets the correct answer.

Posted by Fame Is Not Wisdom at August 29, 2009 10:07 PM

Fame Is Not Wisdom:

The military mission to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994!

Posted by N E at August 30, 2009 05:24 PM

The military mission to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994!

Didn't that one start the genocide?

Posted by DavidByron at August 30, 2009 10:50 PM