12 Aug 2011
Are You So Much a Fucking Loser, You Can’t Tell When You’ve Won?
One or two of you may just recall my attempt to describe a certain – mostly useless –portion of the American Left in terms of the profoundly negative effect said sect and it’s quasi religious belief system evidences whenever it rears its head in contemporary left wing politics. Now, it was my intention to follow that post up, to explain what I was on about in greater depth. And the last week or so has certainly provided rant impetus enough for two or three such posts. But I honestly don’t and didn’t want to say any of what’s to follow angrily.
No really. I want to be clear; I want every lefty liberal progressive democrat type person who happens across 2112 and reads this thought experiment of mine to understand, to trust that it isn’t just another anti Veruca Salt Dems (aka Professional Left-er aka Firebagger aka ObamaBashBot) reactionary counter attack screed of some kind. Yes. It is true that I’m less than fond of the Greenwald’s, Vanden Heuvel’s, Green’s and Hamsher’s that haunt and plague democratic politics as if they were the gallu of ancient Assyrian myth … But even that isn’t really about them personally. And this thing here today, it is really about all of us.
So rather than take shots at Joan Walsh’s latest episode of chronic political idiocy turrettes, let’s take the occasion of Adam Serwer’s “Is Obama Toast? – The president’s chances in 2012 don’t look good” to try and unpack the basic ideological fallacy at the core of Serwer’s general thought process re the current president of the United States … though not in quite the way you might expect. Because, I’m not of a mind to take issue with a single assessment of how the political stars are aligning for our President (Jamelle Bouie already kind of did that), instead I’m gonna use the oft stated sentiments of the Professional Left to try and lay out why I’ve come to reject and why you should reject the entire premise-pose of Sewer’s view of politics-n-progressivism along with the conceptual framework that gave birth to it.
“… there is a recurring liberal fantasy that if only the President would give a stirring speech, he would sweep the country along with the sheer power of his poetry. In this view, writes Chait: Every known impediment to the legislative process – special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macroeconomic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public opinion-are but tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech … This does happen – if you’re watching the American president – but not if your actually watching what goes on in Washington.”
On the surface of it much of what Serwer (and the rest of the Pro Left) has said over the last two years makes a certain amount of sense. He’s a self described progressive journalist and that piece above was just him taking a pessimistic look at some numbers the day after a Democratic politician did something that really disappointed him. From the right step back however, it’s one more in a long line of pieces he’s penned and statements he’s made that could be used to illustrate the endemic-suicidal flaw in the left’s worldview and view of itself.
But maybe I should back up for a minute to explain that in my view “The Left” as a group has three intertwined self defeating personality traits; all of them have been on display in Serwer’s writing. We’re only gonna zoom in on one of them today, but for the record they are (in no particular order) 1) A belief that a noble though crushing defeat can be sweeter than victory and is, in fact, the only true victory (example: how Al Gore went from being indistinguishable from Bush at least re Nader to being a virtual saint) … 2) A belief that pure progressive saviors can appear out of nowhere, be found worthy and once so ordained smite the left’s enemies of with eternal flames lifted directly from John F. Kennedy’s tomb—which I suppose would look like that bit from the end of Krull; I mean if it were possible (example: the lefts general insistence that happenstance rather than careful career nurturing can and will produce top notch candidates for the court, cabinet posts and high office) … and 3) A belief that being of the left constitutes membership in a scrappy upstart rebel alliance of some kind that must, to be true, stand forever opposed to the dark imperial forces of “The Man” (examples: the odd notion that President Obama can lose as an individual and/or Serwer’s retort-statement during a Twitter conversation that it’s not the Job of “progressive journalists” to “support democrats politically” – though to be as accurate as possible it was Twitter so he probably actually wrote “prog” and “dems” – but his end point was the same).
In case you haven’t already guessed, it’s fatal flaw number three that we’re going to be throwing rocks at today. And we’re gonna start by rejecting the anthropomorphized premise of the above mentioned piece and others like it, by dealing with how Barack Obama cannot lose in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, he may not be reelected, but he can’t “lose.” In that I’d need someone to explain to me how exiling a do-gooder millionaire with unlimited earnings potential to a tropical paradise (often referred to as Hawaii) with his lovely wife and two beautiful daughters to follow in the footsteps of his Carter-Clinton predecessors by – you know: writing best sellers, having a foundation that makes the world a better place and taking time off rescue the occasional wayward hiker from North Korea – could constitute a personal loss by any rational definition. A Romney (or gods forbid Perry) presidency would certainly be a loss for Democrats, for Social Security, Medicare, Universal Healthcare, Consumer Protection, Reproductive Freedom, Civil Rights Enforcement, Green Tech, Education and for the United States in general … But individually, for Obama? Not so much.
“While The Right has learned to play the system’s levers for their goals at every level from the hyper-local to the national en masse; The Left imagines a system that can be manipulated just as effectively by the comparatively minuscule group of elected “Democrats.”"
You see, of the two major problems-issues with fatal flaw number three, the one that may be the most dangerous is how it causes even politically engaged and self-described lefties to see themselves as and worse to act as if they see themselves as disconnected from Democrats politically. While The Right has learned to play the system’s levers for their goals at every level from the hyper-local to the national en masse; we imagine that the same system can be manipulated just as effectively by a comparatively minuscule group of elected “Democrats.” In other words, The Right has actual training camps to teach people on the right how to run for County Clerk, for School Board, for City Council. The Left has Netroots Nation panels on What to Do When Your President Just Isn’t That Into You. And that’s because the left see’s “itself” and “The Democrats” (read: the group of a few hundred elected and or appointed individuals) as separate entities. As individuals the right mostly see themselves as “The Right” and that tends to leave The Left sitting on the sidelines loudly wondering why a few hundred, can’t just win the game they’re playing vs. tens of thousands—or more.
Because it encourages The Left to personalize (“anthropomorphize”) situations and interactions that are inherent mechanics of a system, it promotes a mindset from which elected Democrat’s political-policy defeats can be rather too comfortably imagined and therefore written up and acted on (to the often politically pathetic extent that they are) as if said defeats were their’s personally, rather than as what they are … political setbacks for The Left and defeats for The Left’s agenda. It promotes lines of criticism; that eagerly reduce occasionally terrifyingly complex societal-political dynamics to forces susceptible to manipulation via a deftly applied personality traits or sheer force of personal will (i.e. complaints that the imperfections of The Affordable Care Act were caused by President Obama having undersized testicles or being unwilling to “fight” rather than how far left the Gang of 15′s home state politics allowed them to go with their votes). It blurs the distinction between the weapons of personal rhetorical combat or engagement and the tools of national or local political combat or engagement (portraying the “bully pulpit” as an atomic bomb). It transforms political missteps into character flaws and instances of politicians acting in ways that are politically expedient into moral failings (i.e. complaints that Senator McCaskill took a position on unemployment benefits extension that is rightfully unacceptable to the coastal urban left because she is a bad person with insufficient backbone rather than because the state from which McCaskill was elected is, on its best/most progressive day, center-right).
In addition to the negative effect the trait has on straight criticism, it makes it nearly impossible for even a guy as smart as Serwer to work reality based suggestion solutions into their critiques. It fosters a dangerous brand of intellectual laziness. I mean, by regularly thinking things like … that Gitmo isn’t going to be closed because Barak Obama doesn’t “care enough” to try hard enough, lefty commentators have effectively excused themselves from grappelling with mechanics of how a president might go about combating-overcoming the opposition from – well – a bipartisan majority in congress. Someone like Serwer gets to just say, the president doesn’t care enough which makes him bad and wrong then move on.
Just as fatal flaw number three encourages The Left to anthropomorphize problems; it allows them to believe that every policy problem has a solution that’s character or personnel based. If the President cared enough every politician in New York State from Peter King to (pre junk-shots) Anthony Weiner would bow before the light of his power rin—I mean, will, drop their opposition to trying KSM in their state and generally do the right thing. Or if only they weren’t for a group of harridan shrew valkyrie’s intent on asserting their non-existent masculinity The White House wouldn’t have been for an intervention in Libya that basically the whole world was for. Misguided belief in personality based solutions makes it possible for good smart honest liberals to truly believe that simply barnstorming through republican states would be just the tool needed to end the Bush Tax Cuts or kill Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
That isn’t just silly, it’s maladaptive. Which is not to say that the personal plays no part in the political, it can and sometimes it does. The difference between say John Tester’s centrist positioning and Joe Lieberman’s is clearly a matter of the different personalities of the two men. Tester’s a guy trying to be a Democrat in a red state. Lieberman’s a guy who said he killed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicare Buy-in because Markos Moulitsas was too happy about it. So don’t think for a moment that I’m implying that The Liberal Left was wrong to put their chips another just as viable candidate and try and do better than Blanche Lincoln. I’m saying that if the tendency to treat every centrist move – whatever the politics are – as venality drains away the margin of victory and cost us senate seats in Montana and Missouri, it won’t be a loss for John Tester or Claire McCaskill, it’ll be a loss for The Left, our agenda and frankly (given the current GOP) our Nation. I’m saying that even though challenging Mary Landrieu in a primary wouldn’t be a bad idea, we are all better off with Landrieu in the Senate; than with the diapered David Vitter Republican who’d replace her.
“Are you so much a fucking loser, you can’t tell when you’ve won?”
– From Dusk Till Dawn
Now I’d like to finish this up by doubling back to the Quentin Tarantino penned verbiage I cribbed for the subtitle of this post and to that “It’s not the job of progressive journalists” thing Serwer said on Twitter. You see I (and I’m sure you) hear things like that a lot. We hear them because once a group that defines itself as a home for scrappy revolutionaries—one of your own becoming “The Man” become something that’s difficult to deal with at a very basic level. Reflexive attacks on and distrust of power are so common place, so accepted as the proper default position of a true lefty that any avenue of attack is acceptable and any motive for attack excusable. If Ed Schultz wants to edit a joke of Harry Reid’s into something he can rant angrily about, cool. If Glenn Greenwald wants to attack for not closing Gitmo and portray accused rapists and military guys charged with espionage as individuals who should be above the law, it’s still ok to call him motivated by rule of law concerns. Almost any attack can be rationalized and any defense is automatically suspect.
I think of that line from “From Dusk Till Dawn” a lot. Whenever a lefty blogger or prog pundit responds to criticism of criticism with an “It’s not the job of progressive journalists to support Democrats” or see a common online liberal utterance like “Democrats Ain’t Shit,” (yes, they’re essentially the same statement) and every time some lefty somewhere does or says something clearly motivated by the second problematic aspect of fatal flaw number three. I think of that line because as much as I’d like to rant some more, it really does sum up the basic logical fallacy of a self identified liberal referring to “Democrats” with any level detach or disdain. If Democrats aren’t shit, you aren’t shit, your policy agenda isn’t shit, your belief in what your country should or could be isn’t shit and if you’re a progressive pundit or journalist and you’ve honestly said supporting your own politics isn’t your job; you’ve not only answered that question in the affirmative, you’ve just failed to explain what you’re good for.
To Be Continued …