FDL Late Nite: Silly Season Agonistes
(Note: The original publication of this post got lost in the database somehow. Here it is again, but the 540+ comments are gone, and all those fun haikus people did. Sorry. — Pach)
Let me preface this by saying I'm not picking on MyDD or on any site or its commenters. As for MyDD, I'm a huge fan. I read the site more than once per day. Chris and Matt in particular have been doing extremely effective, transformational work in politics now for a few years. I fully expect more great things from them in the future.
This morning I responded to a post by Matt where he has been continuing to cover the beat of the top Democratic candidates' stated positions on Iraq withdrawal. Having opened up this conversation the last few weeks, Matt has become the target of some serious partisan candidate bile. Here's what I wrote in a comment this morning:
It's amazing to me to see how many commenters are personality/candidate partisans rather than progressive value partisans, independent of candidate affiliation.
There's so much sloppy thinking, cant and misprepresentation of Matt's writing in this thread it's rather breathtaking.
Matt wants an end to the American political default position of imperial "privilege," the belief that we have some right or duty to impose our will around the world with force, rather than use force simply to defend ourselves.
Richardson has articulated a position consistent with that, so he gets props. Obama, Clinton and Edwards have not, though on a scale of 1-10, with 10 as high (anti-imperialist), Edwards is not perfect (7?) but edges out Obama (5?), whose stock is falling a little, and Clinton is near the bottom (1?).
The purpose of writing about this stuff is to make a public argument about the role of the US in foriegn policy, a discussion that is not really happening today. I happen to agree with Matt on all these fronts. This is what a progressive movement does: put pressure on the party and its high profile candidates to transform the conversation from one dominated by the Georgetown foreign policy elites.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about: a candidate biography-driven, recommended diary. It is, in my view, an intellectually dishonest silly season argument that clearly misprepresents what Matt Stoller and others are doing, inferring bad faith where there is none, and then making an allegation of bad faith in return (without mentioning any names):
Now, I believe in keeping candidates honest. I tend to see them as people — not paragons (excepting, of course, Howard Dean). They have imperfections and, of course, I never expect to see eye to eye with anybody all the time. But all this miserable sniping in the blogosphere intended to tear down these outstanding people? Sure, it makes for fun fighting. Sure, it probably ups the traffic and the stats. Sure it makes us feel important and empowered.
Digby puts it this way:
I have long had a rather simplistic belief that American political power was properly seen as a tug-of-war rather than a pendulum. For decades, the left was sort of holding on to the rope with one hand, checking out the scenery, enjoying the fruits of the New Deal and tolerant social change and forgetting that they had to put all their weight into the game or the other side would pull them completely over the center line. The 1994 Republican Revolution jerked me awake and I watched in horror for the next decade. Over that period many more liberals woke up to the fact that we were no longer standing firmly on our side of the line anymore. I realized that the "third way" stance the Democrats had taken during the late 80's had been a brief tactical success, but a long term strategic mistake. In the tug of war, you simply can't rely on the other side, particularly when its infused with revolutionary fervor, to stop pulling once you reach the "middle."
Our commenters don't really do candidate based partisanship on this site, and the sense I get at FDL is most of our readers are not so much candidate partisans as movement partisans, but there's a lot of mixture here as well as across the blogosphere. I just wanted to make the point to a wider audience, even beyond the FDL audience, that we'd do well to keep our heads about us during the silly season. No candidate is or will be Political Jesus, including Gore, y'all, who shows no real signs of running. Our job is to push the party to represent the underrepresented in the society, the DC outsiders, according to our populist liberal values. That's not tearing down candidates, but it is forcing them to articulate their positions.
We all have different ideas about how exactly to articulate progressive values (my past attempt is here), but to build and sustain a viable, durable progressive movement, we have to maintain an identity as party outsiders who collaborate with the Democratic party provisionally. We also need to commit ourselves to building and funding institutions outside of the party that propel this inside/outside movement, and I mean real money. We're getting pretty decent at giving real money to candidates, but we're not as good at giving the necessary millions to any set of effective, new generation progressive movement entities. I include the asking side of the equation in with the potential giving community in this critique.
This all reminds me of when I was being trained in psychology. Therapists have to operate as participant-observers. If a shrink gets too far on the "observer" side of that equation, s/he becomes withholding and prone to the egotistical fallacy of the therapist as "blank screen" who does not in fact exert a real influence on what happens and what is said in therapy (kind of like our establishment media elites do through their self-deceptive and dishonest myth of objectivity).
On the other hand, a shrink who gets too far on the participant side of the spectrum risks losing the ability to reflect, add new perspective or corrective emotional experiences, too caught up with and identified with the patient or the patient's problems to see or respond clearly. Boundaries disappear, and the would-be process cure becomes part of the problem.
To maintain a healthy balance, every good therapist gets supervision and help, or at least some regular peer review, to help manage this participant-observer position well. It's quite an art and discipline. Even experienced therapists, and not just trainee newbies, appreciate their own fallibility and need for accountability, and seek a helpful process of regular outside review, if they're any good. The blogosphere, with its decentralized, social network enabled structures of influence and constant feedback loops, is well designed to provide this kind of self-sustaining accountability, but not when people decide to reliquish their outside observer responsibilities. The result of that will be the re-empowerment of the authoritarian right wing, when we haven't even dismantled the current version yet. Or, as digby might say, we're a long way off from a time to ease up our pressure on that rope.
As political reformers, we've been doing a kind of therapy for the Democratic Party which had become weak, dependent and sort of masochistic in its subserviance to authoritarian right wing power. We've been performing an intervention, and we're making progress, but the party can never sustain itself as strong without outside accountability to a movement willing to challenge it. This requires members of the progressive movement to stick together, build together, work together and never forget their role in politics. Candidate partisans have their place, but to build sustainable change, we need to keep our heads about us, especially during the silly season.
As for Stoller, he's just doing his best to play the role of an umpire from his own point of view, and in this post today, The Umpire Snarks Back.