Photo by JD Lasica

(Update below – Update 1 – Update 2 – Update 3)

Matt Osborne of Osborne Ink, a blog that is part of the Banter Wire media group, has taken it upon himself to decide whether Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, deserves to enjoy the status she enjoys in progressive circles or not. In a recent post, he calls her a “ratfucker” and says there is nothing “‘left’ left of Hamsher.” A case could be made for ignoring the content of his post entirely, but I do not wish to let Osborne turn Hamsher into some sort of pariah.

Osborne writes, “She is first and foremost a self-aggrandizing publicity whore whose Accountability Now PAC has so far given $0 to progressive candidates in the first two years of its existence while spending $285,272.” (In an update, Osborne corrected what he said and mentioned Ryan Bucchianeri, who lost badly to an “establishment” Democrat, received money from the PAC.)

Left out of this diatribe was the fact that Accountability Now PAC was supported by MoveOn, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Daily Kos, ColorofChange.org, Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats, and BlogPAC. These are major liberal entities, which are responsible for the majority of Democratic Party activism. Without them, there would be even less people out there working to counteract Tea Party forces, which have successfully pulled President Obama’s agenda to the right.

Also, as Glenn Greenwald has noted, Accountability Now PAC never intended to donate to progressive candidates. He debunked criticisms with this response posted on Balloon Juice. But, those who thought something was fishy with Accountability Now PAC chose to focus on cosmetic problems with the response instead of the substance of the response (e.g. they preferred to call Greenwald a “dick” for treating readers of Balloon Juice and other blogs like it as “Obama cultists” who get angry when one criticizes “dear leader”).

Osborne calls out Hamsher for appearing on Fox News after calling for a boycott of the network. He doesn’t bother to mention why she made the appearance or what she said on the air.

“In 2000, the Republicans passed Medicare Part D, and it had no negotiation for prescription drug prices.  And then in 2006, when the Democrats took over Congress, the first thing they did was say “hey, we’re going to roll that back, we’re going to allow for [negotiation of] prescription drug prices to be passed.  But now that they actually have the chance, they’re not doing it.  And you’ve got people like Jeff Sessions on the floor of the Senate saying this is criminal, this deal is criminal, but he didn’t vote for it in 2000 or 2006 when he had the chance.  So we’re sort of looking at a situation where people on the right, people on the left, are looking at the Senate, and they’re saying “nobody’s there representing us.  Nobody’s representing the people.”  It’s just a matter of who’s in power and who’s taking PhRMA’s money.”

He constructs a false binary by suggesting that Hamsher cannot be against Democrats appearing on Fox News (which she has called a “partisan opinion factory”) and also go on Fox News to give opinions. But, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. There is no benefit to Democrats appearing on Fox News, as they are a GOP operation whose sole aim is to inundate the public with right wing propaganda that will make it impossible for Democrats to win elections. There is, however, a benefit to someone who has a message for a right wing audience and believes people from the left and right should unite and oppose reform packages that are essentially giveaways to corporations.

He goes after Hamsher for using a web ad company that took money from BP. Fair enough, but this seemed to be something that happened because BP purchased ads as part of their greenwashing campaign. BP effectively tried to intimidate ThinkProgress, Crooks and Liars, AmericaBlog, Eschaton and other liberal blogs relying on ad revenue from Common Sense Media. It threatened to pull ads if they were found to be appearing near posts that were “offensive” or critical of BP. Pulling the ad, of course, would mean loss of ad revenue, which is often the life’s blood for blogs. Those familiar with Firedoglake know they had a BP Oil Disaster campaign that was funded by donations. It is likely that they took a minimal amount of money if any.

It is unclear whether BP ever pulled its ads from Firedoglake because they were appearing near posts criticizing BP. But, Osborne doesn’t ask if this ever happened. His commitment to taking down Hamsher supersedes critical thinking. He just jumps to conclusions without reading between the lines.

Osborne criticizes Hamsher for making common cause with Break the Matrix, which represented the Ron Paul campaign, and singles it out because it promoted a “libertarianism that spawned the Tea Party.” Why did Hamsher do such a thing? She was concerned about the issue of telecom immunity and, as part of the “Strange Bedfellows” campaign, she joined forces with Rick Williams and Trevor Lyman, and civil liberties writer Glenn Greenwald of Salon, and leading liberal bloggers including, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake, Matt Stoller of Open Left, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Howie Klein of Down with Tyranny, Digby, Josh Nelson of The Seminal and activist Josh Koster to pressure Congress into following the Constitution and ending their complicity toward telecoms, which engaged in warrantless wiretapping under the Bush Administration. And, he criticizes Hamsher for making common cause with Grover Norquist in a campaign for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation for his role in the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Criticism of this nature toward Hamsher is purist and sanctimonious. It appears activists are not to make common cause with people they often disagree with when their views are in sync with one another. It seems forming a broad-based coalition that might frighten those in power because they aren’t facing opposition from the left or right but from the entire American population is to be frowned upon. Bipartisanship between activists is not okay, but the American people should swallow bipartisan health reform bills that force people to buy a defective product from private insurance companies and bipartisan tax cut compromises that raise taxes on those at the bottom while cutting taxes for the top 2%.

Jane Hamsher is to be celebrated for her work as a progressive. She fervently fought for the public option and spoke out when it was clear that President Obama was working behind the scenes with pharmaceutical and private insurance company interests to prevent progressive measures for health reform from making it into the health reform legislation. Through Firedoglake, she has helped produce coverage of the push for new free trade agreements like the Korean Free Trade Agreement, TSA’s invasive security procedures, foreclosure fraud, the Prop 8 Trial, and the BP Oil Disaster. She has contributed to campaigns for the legalization of marijuana and student loan reform. FDL’s weekly Book Salons are invaluable.  And, she was No. 15 on The Nation magazine’s “30 Media Heroes” list.

Hamsher has been an adamant supporter of primary challenge campaigns—finding candidates to run against Democratic incumbents. Her work contributed to Ned Lamont’s victory over Joe Lieberman (and Lamont might have defeated Sen. Lieberman if it weren’t for the fact that then-Senator Obama and “Third Way” forces gave money to Sen. Lieberman to help him defeat Lamont).

Osborne and his readers on Osborne Ink hate the fact that Hamsher pushes candidates to tug the party in a direction that is less corporate and less authoritarian. He and others would like Hamsher and her “firebaggers” to just settle for incremental reform and spend time focusing on the minimal differences between Republicans and Democrats so that Democrats can win elections. He does not want primary challenges to be mounted because they are divisive. (Of course, campaigns against slavery and for women’s rights, workers’ rights and LGBT equality were or have, in the history of America, been divisive. Unity is not going to solve the problems this country faces especially if it means making common cause with interests that are creating the systemic problems this country faces.)

It would be easy to end this lengthy response to Osborne with name-calling. Instead of doing that, I would like to attempt to ignite constructive conversation because I think Osborne’s post demonstrates there are divisions those on the left of the political spectrum must confront. So, in conclusion, Osborne and Osborne’s readers, please answer, if you can:

1)   Why are you and those who follow your blog so repulsed by criticism of Obama, criticism that can often be substantiated with facts or reason?

2)   What do you think Democrats should stand for and, if they fail to stand for those agenda items, values or principles should there be consequences?

3)   How should Democrats counteract the Tea Party? If liberals or progressives shouldn’t pull the Democrats in the opposite direction through primary challenges or third party candidates, what should be done to halt the influence of the Tea Party on the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration?

4)   What about the prospect of making common cause with those whom liberals are often opposed to in single-issue campaigns? What’s wrong with that?

5)   What do you think the liberal or progressive blogosphere’s value is to Americans? Is it supposed to be an arena that produces reporting on subjects? Is it to combat the failure of corporate media? Or is it supposed to be an environment that upholds glib and snarky posts and rarely produces reporting or interviews, which might inform and provide insight on key issues?

Update 1

I normally would not have responded to Osborne. I would have let him do his thing. But, I just finished “The Death of the Liberal Class” by Chris Hedges. The liberal establishment likes to marginalize people who should matter. That is what Osborne’s goal seemed to be with his post on Hamsher. And, I think we need to take on people who try to marginalize fighters we need in the struggle, no matter how irrelevant we think they are (and I think Osborne has enough credibility on his blog to justify responding to him).

Blogs that toe the Democratic Party line and like to stay in the “veal pen” can amplify and create an echo that devastates a person. They can display more interest in “practical aims” and “material advantages” (as Hedges writes) and utterly disregard “unpleasant truths and morality.” They can help those at the top purge liberal institutions of individuals who “challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question reigning political passions.” They can banish people who refuse to “be practical” and bow down to presidential administrations that engage in “hippie-punching.”

Character assassinations of people who are valuable to advancing social justice should always be challenged. For example, I believe it is and always will be necessary to respond to Democrats who claim Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election with facts and reason; that’s because that version of history is not true. It’s a myth, which happens to be damaging to organizing against corporations and the two-party system in America because it forces liberals to ignore Nader’s history and success as a consumer advocate.

Update 2

Matt Osborne has put up a response to my defense of Jane Hamsher.

Update 3

I’m doing this to promote discussion and debate, which I think FDL is for. Bob Kincaid, West Virginia environmental activist and founder of the Head On Radio Network, responded to my defense of Jane Hamsher and what I call progressive politics, which operate independently and with little regard for the Democratic Party.

1) Why are you and those who follow your blog so repulsed by criticism of Obama, criticism that can often be substantiated with facts or reason?

You missed me with your broad brush. You make unfounded assumptions in your apologium. I am a frequent and vociferous critic of Obama. What I am NOT, however, is a member of the “I-Want-A-Pony” crowd. I am politically savvy enough to recognize that most politics move glacially and not fluidly. The stridency of mercenaries like Hamsher simply rings hollow with me. She sets up unaccomplishable goals and then cogratulates herself when she gets nothing done.

Your first question fails by assuming facts not in evidence.

2) What do you think Democrats should stand for and, if they fail to stand for those agenda items, values or principles should there be consequences?

In the real world, Democrats will stand for what their constituents want, i.e. an Alabama Democrat is a very different critter from a New York Democrat. You might recall, for instance, that some “liberal” Republicans helped carry the day when southern dems defected during the Civil Rights struggle. The overlay of corporate $$$ cannot be overlooked, but that’s a function of our campaign culture, and a separate issue.

To expand, however, let me suggest that politicians don’t change cultures. Cultures change politicians. As such, if you want to make people less blue-doggy, you have to change the minds of the electorate. I see little of that coming from the FireBaggers. More heat than light, as it were.

Me, I’d like for Democrats to uniformly stand for the things I stand for: human rights, as they encompass every aspect of any given “liberal” issue.

3) How should Democrats counteract the Tea Party? If liberals or progressives shouldn’t pull the Democrats in the opposite direction through primary challenges or third party candidates, what should be done to halt the influence of the Tea Party on the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration?

Generally speaking, I am a proponent of primary challenges in legislative races, but not for incumbent presidents. History is on my side in this. The fractiousness of 1968 gave us Nixon; Reagan’s challenge of Ford in ’76 gave us (mercifully) Carter; Kennedy’s challenge of Carter in ’80 gave us Raygun. While not an incumbent, the challenge of Gore by Bradley and Nader certainly helped us get DimSon. There is no empirical data to to suggest that the same would not be the case with a primary challenge to Obama. Perhaps that’s why none other than Howard Dean inveighed against such a short-sighted strategy.

Moreover, one does not help a victim of bullying to stop being bullied by calling in more bullies. That’s what I see Jane and her ilk doing.

Interestingly, Jane’s PAC, while raising significant funds, hasn’t evinced much interest in furthering the goals of those progressive primary challengers.

4) What about the prospect of making common cause with those whom liberals are often opposed to in single-issue campaigns? What’s wrong with that?

The “Strange Bedfellows” defense. I suppose it COULD be a defense if one’s ulikely ally was a negotiator in good faith. If not, it’s merely a self-inflicted mugging. There is NO evidence that TeaBaggers, or Republicans, generally, operate in good faith. Oddly enough, this is a lesson that both the FireBaggers AND Obama need to learn. Assuming neither will, I expect a politically horrifying right-wing pincer movement that will be a veritable Carrhae.

Ultimately, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Ron Paul and his son are both racists of some stripe, as are the majority of the TeaBaggers. One cannot make common cause with them without eing tainted in one’s own right, and that won’t play well with a lot of Obama’s base, regardless of skin tone.

5) What do you think the liberal or progressive blogosphere’s value is to Americans? Is it supposed to be an arena that produces reporting on subjects? Is it to combat the failure of corporate media? Or is it supposed to be an environment that upholds glib and snarky posts and rarely produces reporting or interviews, which might inform and provide insight on key issues?

It seems you have suggested your answer in the false choices you have presented.

Still, in good faith, I’ll suggest that my view of the largely borderless “liberal or progressive blogosphere” is that it should nurture and produce the talent with which to eventually supplant the ForProfitMedia. By supplant, I do not intend a simple overlay, with one group of gatekeepers replaced by another set. That is what I see as Jane’s goal. Here in the South, we’d say she “wants to get her back trotters in the trough along with her fronts.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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