'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Liberal is a Liberal is a Liberal? 

I'd like to send warm regards to Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister for their handling of this campaign season's first pseudo-scandal -- to Marcotte, for not backing down, offhandedly mentioning Christian patriarchy in her Children of Men review well after the scandal had broken, and then resigning presumably after the Edwards people balked, and to McEwan for resigning in solidarity with Marcotte even though she probably didn't have to.

My reaction to this story is at odds with much of the blogosphere. The standard rallying cry in the comments of the big liberal blogs has been, "Damn it, why won't John Edwards stand up for his bloggers?" -- whereas mine has been, "Why don't they resign?"

I think this difference stems from how many readers of blogs view the notion of "liberalism" and "leftism". To put my thoughts bluntly, many self-professed liberals simply don't know what leftism is, call themselves liberals, are liberals to a degree, but are liberals with strong leftist tendencies -- and, further, I think this sort of liberalism is over-represented in the blogosphere and that these sorts of liberals project their worldview on to the Democratic party. The left side of the blogosphere is slightly but meaningfully to the left of the mainstream Democratic party and many blog readers and commenters don't seem to understand this. Regarding the Edwards campaign's netroots efforts, I am not too familiar with McEwan but I used to read Pandagon occasionally, and generally have enough of a sense of Marcotte's political position to have been a bit surprised that Edwards hired her.

When John Edwards said that he was "personally offended" by the contested Pandagon posts, the reaction of most commenters implied that they had been let down by Edwards' pandering, that he was pretending to care to placate the Christian right. Look, maybe Edwards really was offended. There is an unwarranted assumption in much of the commentary and analysis coming from Left Blogistan that I see over and over again -- that mainstream Democratic politicians are much more leftwing than they appear from their public statements but they must pretend to be moderates due to the demands of their jobs. The trouble with this assumption, of course, is that the true political position of these politicians -- the non-secretly non-leftwing one -- carries over from their statements to their actions.

Where does this wishful thinking come from? Perhaps the media has something to do with it: in a universe in which Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristoff, and Joe Klein are all considered liberals it isn't hard to see how people start confusing John Edwards with Noam Chomsky. Anyway, a lesson to be learned from the Marcotte scandal is that those of us on the hard left should probably do a better job as commentators at pointing out the assumption of secret-Democratic-leftism when it is relevant to political discourse.

The other factor here is the triumph of the old Republican political strategy that in the recent Nader documentary Pat Buchanan informs us was officially titled "The Northern Catholic / Southern Baptist Strategy": chipping away at the traditional Democratic base by hyping social issues and simply not mentioning economic or labor issues. This strategy has been so effective that in 2007 the label that the media applies to a commentator or politician is strictly a function of his or her positions on social issues, i.e. Thomas Friedman is a liberal because he supports abortion and gay rights.

Ironically at this point, it would be easier for me -- a socialist, a hard leftist, whatever you want to call me -- to be the campaign blogger for the John Edwards campaign than for Amanda Marcotte, a liberal, simply because I seldom write about social issues and social issues are effectively all that matter these days in the domain of political witch hunts. If you think about it, such a turn of events is quite a twist on what has been true historically, and may suggest new avenues for activism.

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