They Said It Better: Freddie deBoer Edition

17 01 2011

It frustrates me as a lefty that the mainstream political left is allowed only a narrow range of moral and policy positions which all essentially confirm neoliberal, pro-capital, vaguely anti-labor theory. With only Anglo exceptions (the UK, Canada, and Australia) every major democracy–including some of our dearest economic and political allies–have straight out socialist movements and social democratic parties. Look, maybe you disagree with it, that’s not my issue; but why is it so insane to admit them to the debate? How can you have a democracy that excludes a movement that advocates from a class point of view that represents the interests of the vast majority of the workforce, even if you disagree with their approach to satisfying those interests?

Unfortunately, I suck at expressing this frustration. Fortunately, “just a dude” Freddie deBoer does the opposite of suck at expressing this frustration, in that he articulates it very well.

I depart from deBoer in a number of ways. Specifically, I am less concerned with the rhetorical tact of the “neoliberal liberal” (my just-made-up phrase) opinionsphere, particularly as the blogosphere grows. The tendency of liberals to start from a morally relativist mindset is annoying, but not, to my mind, all that significant. I’m also less concerned with the institutional nature of it–while I certainly agree that at the end of the day, it is cash from the ruling classes that supports the institutions that pay people to write from “the left,” I don’t necessarily worry about what the intellectually exclusionary nature of those networks means for a more robust left. The currently en vogue right wing survived–and grew–for years on the farm circuit, and the really big money only came to the game in the 1980s. It wasn’t Lockheed and Goldman Sachs advertising on conservative radio in the early 90s, it was diabetes instrument delivery services and home security devices. I certainly disagree with those of deBoer’s critics who seem to be coming just short of accusing him of woe-is-me-ism; there is definitely an informal Respectable Opinion gag rule that operates in the upper strata of left-wing opinion journalism, but I see less of a cognitive dissonance, Washington Consensus mantra reason for it. It’s probably just how it has always been; in other words, while neoliberalism is choking out other opinion, every era probably has a dominant school that actively chokes out other opinion. In fact, this was Marx’ view of philosophy in general.

Read for yourself.

There are many myths within the political blogosphere, but none is so deeply troubling or so highly treasured by mainstream political bloggers than this: that the political blogosphere contains within it the whole range of respectable political opinion, and that once an issue has been thoroughly debated therein, it has had a full and fair hearing. The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.

That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention. Who, exactly, represents the left extreme in the establishment blogosphere? You’d likely hear names like Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. But these examples are instructive. Is Hamsher a socialist? A revolutionary anti-capitalist? In any historical or international context– in the context of a country that once had a robust socialist left, and in a world where there are straightforwardly socialist parties in almost every other democracy– is Hamsher particularly left-wing? Not at all. It’s only because her rhetoric is rather inflamed that she is seen as particularly far to the left. This is what makes this whole discourse/extremism conversation such a failure; there is a meticulous sorting of far right-wing rhetoric from far right-wing politics, but no similar sorting on the left. Hamsher says bad words and is mean in print, so she is a far leftist. That her politics are largely mainstream American liberalism that would have been considered moderate for much of the 20th century is immaterial.

Meanwhile, consider Tim Carney and Mark Levin. Levin has outsized, ugly rhetoric. Carney is, by all impressions, a remarkably sweet and friendly guy. But Carney, in an international and historical context, is a reactionary. Those who sort various forms of extremism differentiate Levin and Carney because Levin’s extremism is marked in language, and Carney’s extremism is marked in policy. The distinction matters to bloggy taste makers. Meanwhile, Hamsher’s extremism in language is considered proof positive of extreme left-wing policy platform. No distinction matters; genuinely left-wing politics are forbidden and as such are a piece with angry vitriol.

Greenwald, meanwhile, might very well have actually left-wing domestic policy preferences. I honestly have no idea; Greenwald blogs almost exclusively about foreign policy and privacy issues. In other words, his voice is permitted into the range of the respectable (when it is permitted at all; ask Joe Klein if Greenwald belongs at the adult table) exactly to the degree that it tracks with libertarian ideology. Someone whose domestic policy might (but might not) represent a coherent left-wing policy platform has entrance into the broader conversation precisely because that domestic policy preference remains unspoken.


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