Wednesday, May 02, 2007
The White Flag
Jonathan Chait's New Republic article on the left blogosphere has not won much praise from the militant netroots . Some quotes from the above links:
* It somehow manages to be intensely irritating while still vaguely laudatory about what the online world has accomplished.
* Chait, Klein, Broder, Friedman - the whole lot of those who sniff disapprovingly at those of us who are righteously and rightfully enraged by our current empty-headed public discourse - don't get it
* I think Chait fundamentally misunderstands both the way many prominent progressive bloggers approach the world of "political ideas," and the means by which we are held accountable for our writing
* he makes no systematic case that bloggers in general, or even the activist wing centered around Daily Kos, are deliberately trying to mislead the public. He provides no evidence of systematic attempts to inject deliberately misleading information into the public consciousness on the part of left wing bloggers. He doesn’t even present any instances, beyond the Edwards blogger story, of deliberate attempts to propagandize through the blogs. Chait doesn’t make an argument, he merely insults.
* I didn't start blogging to deny reality or create another narrative out of whole cloth
* Let me clarify a bit, since some of you think that the piece is good. It's not. It's dishonorable and quite silly. Chait called the netroots prone to dishonesty and propagandizing. What he thinks is propagandizing is actually talking about stuff we think is important and want to see happen. If Chait wants to call us dishonest he ought to, oh, point to some systemically dishonest pattern in our work. Which he doesn't do. And that's not ok.
* Long clinging to his support for that war, Chait suddenly discovered those dirty fucking hippies. They were bloggers! They must be stopped! And, so, he went through his Joe Klein period, concerned about the smell of patchouli wafting through the hall of the DNC. He's come a long way from his "hey, kids, get off of my lawn" phase, though he still seems to fail to understand much.
* Let me say that it is an out-and-out lie for Jonathan "Hyde" Chait to claim that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's or Duncan Black's or Jane Hamsher's interest in "ideas and facts" is "purely instrumental," that the "netroots consider the notion of pursuing truth for its own sake nonsensical.
The piece is important, and you should read it yourself to form your own judgment. You might want to read also Ross Douthat's perceptive praise/critique.
But may I say, as an outsider to this family feud, that I think almost all the praise and almost all the criticism misses the true sociological significance of the Chait piece?
As Chait himself notes, his magazine has long been an object of special hatred on the blogging left. This is so for many reasons: the magazine's early editorial support of the Iraq war, its vocal support for Israel, and above all its 30-year long battle to rescue the Democratic party from the clutches of the PC-pacifist left.
And till now, the magazine has largely returned the loathing. Chait himself wrote this in 2003 about Howard Dean, once the hero of the blogging left:
Earlier this year I wrote a piece for TNR that defended hatred of President Bush. (I argued that hating Bush may lead to irrationality—rooting against the capture of Saddam Hussein, or, say, nominating Howard Dean—but it's not irrational in and of itself.) But recently I'm finding that Dean hatred is crowding out Bush hatred in my mental space.
Even now, Chait dislikes the rah-rah team spirit of the blogging left and its rage at writers who do not accept movement discipline. Chait, though a fierce pugilist, is also a civilized writer. The stupid obscenities, the casual abusiveness, and the sinister underlying obsession with AIPAC, Israel, and "neocons" that pervade the left blogosphere must set his teeth on edge. Plus, he can count. Even today, with all the troubles besetting the Bush administration, still twice as many Americans describe themselves as "conservatives" as describe themselves as "liberals." Running hard to the left remains a formula for suicide for any national Democratic candidate.
Yet despite all this - despite all this - Chait and his editors have presented an 8,000 word tribute to the usefulness, value, and ultimate hopefulness (from their point of view) of a phenomenon that 4 years ago they would have regarded as utterly pernicious. That's quite a concession, and the New Republic is quite a place to run it.
Despite all Chait's many and well-founded criticisms of the blogging left - despite all his magazine's no doubt abiding unhappiness with the blogging left's uglier aspects - the piece represents a peace offering from the Lieberman wing of the Democratic party to the Lamont wing. More than a peace offering: a raising of the white flag.
If "even the New Republic" finds more to praise than to blame in the left blogosphere, then the brakes are truly off the Democratic machine. For the first time since 1972, the party left will be allowed to drive the jalopey as far and as fast as it wishes to go.
05/02 05:03 PM