The lack of an American left-wing blogosphere

Freddie DeBoer has written quite the critique of the state of the left-wing blogosphere and how it’s completely dominated by the “very serious people” of centrism and how it weakens the debate in an unacceptable manner.

I hardly even need to explain the example of Markos Moulitsas. Moulitsas is a blogging pioneer and one with a large audience. But within the establishmentarian blogosphere, the professional blogosphere of magazines, think tanks, and the DC media establishment, he amounts to an exiled figure. See how many times supposedly leftist bloggers within this establishment approvingly quote Moulitsas, compared to those who approvingly quote, say, Will Wilkinson, Ross Douthat, or John Cole. Do some of these bloggers have legitimate beef with Kos? Sure. But the fact that his blog is a no-go zone for so many publications, while bad behavior from those of different ideological persuasions is permitted, ensures that the effects of this will be asymmetrical. I believe that people have to create positive change by changing their own behavior, but I also am aware that the nominal left capitulates to demands that they know the right absolutely will not capitulate to themselves. And so the right wins, again and again.

No, the nominal left of the blogosphere is almost exclusively neoliberal. Ask for a prominent left-wing blogger and people are likely to respond with the names of Matt Yglesias, Jon Chait, Kevin Drum… Each of them, as I understand it, believe in the general paternalistic neoliberal policy platform, where labor rights are undercut everywhere for the creation of economic growth (that 21st century deity), and then, if things go to plan, wealth is redistributed from the top to those whose earnings and quality of life have been devastated by the attack on labor. That there are deep and cogent criticisms of the analytic, moral, and predictive elements of neoliberalism is an argument for another day. That those criticisms exist, and that they emanate from a genuine left-wing position, is a point I find perfectly banal but largely undiscussed in political blogs. And that’s the problem. Whatever those bloggers are, they are not left-wing, and the fact that they are the best people can generally come up with is indicative of the great imbalance.

I’m a lefty. I wish I could pretend that I have the intelligence and the perspective necessary to divide my beliefs from my appraisal of the situation, but I have neither. All I know is that I look out onto an America that seems to me to desperately require a left-wing. American workers have taken it on the chin for thirty years. They have been faced for years with stagnant wages, rising costs, and the hollowing out of the middle class. They are now confronted with that and a cratered job market, where desperate people compete to show how hard they will work in bad conditions for less compensation. Meanwhile, the neoliberal policy apparatus that brought us here refuses even to consider the possibility that it is culpable, so certain of its inherent righteousness and its place in the inevitable march of progress. And the blogosphere protects and parrots that certainty, weeding out left-wing detractors with ruthless efficiency, while around it orbits the gradual extinction of the American dream.

Some replies from Kevin Drum:

I plead guilty to some general neoliberal instincts, of course, but I plead guilty with (at least) one big exception: I am very decidedly not in favor of undercutting labor rights in order to stimulate economic growth, and I’m decidedly not in favor of relying solely on the tax code to redistribute wealth from the super rich to the rest of us. What’s more, the older I get and the more obvious the devastating effects of the demise of the American labor movement become, the less neoliberal I get. The events of the past two years, in which the massed forces of capital came within a hair’s breadth of destroying the world economy, and yet, phoenix-like, have come out richer and more powerful than before, ought to have convinced nearly everyone that business interests and the rich are now almost literally out of control. After all, if the past two years haven’t done it, what would?


But one point that I agree with here, is that while I’ll cop to being a “neoliberal” I don’t acknowledge that I have critics to the “left” of me. On economic policy, here are the main things I’m trying to accomplish:

— More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom.
— A less paternalistic welfare state that puts more money directly in the hands of the recipients of social services.
— Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment.
— Curb the regulatory privileges of incumbent landowners.
— Roll back subsidies implicit in our current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy.
— Break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled.
— Much greater equalization of opportunities in K-12 education.
— Reduction of the rents assembled by privileged intellectual property owners.
— Throughout the public sector, concerted reform aimed at ensuring public services are [I]public services [/I]and not jobs programs.
— Taxation of polluters (and resource-extractors more generally) rather than current de facto subsidization of resource extraction.

Is this a “neoliberal” program? Well, this is one of these terms that was invented by its critics so I hesitate to embrace it though I recognize that the shoe fits to a considerable extent. I’d say it’s liberalism, a view recognizably derived from the thinking of JS Mill and Pigou and Keynes and Maury “Freedom Plus Groceries” Maverick and all the rest. I recognize that many people disagree with this agenda, and that many of those who disagree with it think of themselves as “to the left” of my view. But I simply deny that there are positions that are more genuinely egalitarian than my own. I really and sincerely believe that liberalism is the best way to advance the interests of the underprivileged and to make the world a better place. I offer “further left” people the (unreturned) courtesy of not questioning the sincerity of their belief that they have some better solutions, but I think they’re mistaken.

As for me and my blog reading, I most often read Pandagon, Kevin Drum, Digby and Yglesias, and I largely agree with DeBoer; there is very little systemic critique, and that is a problem. In the wake of a huge crisis in finance and a constant drumbeat of austerity and tightening the belt of workers and the middle class, I think there is good reason to ask whether the system we have is the best for normal people; at the very least to avoid being blindsided if people start answering that question with “yes”.

I’ve been following this as well. Honestly I don’t find DeBoer’s complaint very compelling; he seems to define “left” as “socialist” and proceeds from there. Socialism doesn’t get much play because it’s pretty discredited IMO.

It’s discredited thanks to talking points rather than facts on the ground. Which is kind of his point.

I probably shouldn’t have opened that can of worms - so let me retract what I said (and save it for a more appropriate thread).

From the perspective of an anarcho-capitalist, the US political blogosphere doesn’t have any credible right-wing voices. From the perspective of a socialist, it doesn’t have any credible left-wing voices. These sorts of perspective based games are IMO not very interesting.

I understand wanting to avoid “Socialism is dead, take 53”, but at the same time, I think his point is precisely that it isn’t discussed enough, whereas the opposite side is being discussed, which gives a warped view of the playing field.

But then again, I don’t know why the article focuses on the blogosphere. There’s a lack of a left-wing in the American populace, so it makes sense that the blogosphere would reflect that.

Yeah, you’re right. US political blogosphere reflects US politics, film at 11!

As far as “the opposite side” getting discussed; I’m not sure I agree. You don’t see anyone talking about anarcho capitalism. I guess libertarian rags like Reason come the closest.

Aside from the obvious humor of a left-wing blogger suggesting that there are no left wing blogs, I’m not really sure what his point is… For instance, he seems to suggest that blogs like the Daily Kos are “left wing enough”, but they don’t count? Because other people don’t praise it enough?

The blog post itself is incredibly long, but before I go to the trouble of reading through it, is there something more than some kind of self pitying attempt to portray the author as some kind of victim?

There are tons of left wing political blogs… there are, to be clear, pretty much exactly as many as there are interested authors. It’s not like there is some kind of big machine which creates a barrier to entry for this form of pseudo journalism. Anyone can write a blog, and they can write whatever they want.

More specific criticism: His description of what he perceives as “neoliberalism,” a label he hangs on most American liberals, is pretty much BS.

There are two axes of neoliberalism. The first, substantive neoliberalism, means fidelity to the economic policy platform of globalization in the elimination of tariff walls and other impediments to the “free market,” incredible antipathy towards organized labor (and, effectively if not intentionally, towards workers in general), resistance to the regulatory apparatus that has protected workers for decades, and the general belief that the way to ameliorate the moral outrages of capitalism is to pursue more capitalism.

That doesn’t describe any liberals I know. It certainly doesn’t describe me. Well except for the part about tariffs - I am for the most part a free trade guy. But that other stuff? I think if you spent a half hour reading Drum, Yglesias, Klein, etc you’d find that they’re the exact opposite of that description.

Basically the original article is one big whiny strawman.

Just so.

Oy, I’m reading it more closely than I did the other day.

Honestly I find his critique to be mostly substanceless. There’s a lot of handwaving about what other people believe that mostly ends up being a strawman (see my previous post), a lot of claims that aren’t backed up, and then he goes ahead and prebuts what he imagines the “neoliberal” response to his post will be. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that if you find yourself writing your opponent’s response and then writing a rebuttal to that, you are not operating at anything close to your intellectual peak.

Like I said - I don’t want to get into the can of worms that is the credibility of socialism. For one I’m not nearly well versed enough to make a really good argument on that front. And naturally the following is sort of an ad-hominem but I can’t resist it: If the OP is the best sort of argument the far left can muster then it’s not a surprise they’re not taken very seriously.

It describes the politicians we end up electing on the left, though. For some reason Daily Kos is virtually the only place that has the “move everyone to the right by criticizing your own people” mission like the National Review and uh, well, every right of center blog does.

Am I correct in assuming there’s next to no union/unionization/labor focused blogs? I don’t see them linked to, that’s for sure.

Sure and that’s an interesting dynamic that’s worth examining. But it’s not at all what he’s talking about. He’s talking specifically about the liberal blogosphere, and in order to support his No True Scotsman argument he attributes to them opinions that they don’t actually hold.

I don’t agree. If we take the right wing as stuff like Cato, and we take the left wing as stuff like Drum and Yglesias, don’t we have a slight imbalance there? It’s not like liberal opinions are uncommon among the populace, and neither is strong support for a social safety net (when not bringing to mind racial issues). Yet there are the people who argue for getting rid of the social safety net, and there are those who want to keep it. Where are the people who want an expanded social safety net as a matter of course? I suppose the left-wing blogs arguing for the public option during the health care reform sort of count, but that’s rather weak.
I know that you don’t like liberal whining, jeff, and talking about what should be done in a situation where we’re faced with the problem of what can be done is of course complete anathema, but don’t we lose something by not taking that into account? What can be done now is in part decided by what people think should be done, so isn’t that, at some point, an important discussion to have? And in that situation, as I said above, we have Paul Ryan’s Very Serious Proposal vs. holding the line. I’d like to think that Social Security is untouchable, and so far it certainly seems to be, but 10% unemployment was also unthinkable ten years ago.
What does it mean to the blogosphere that the only thing that is counted as the “serious left” are a bunch of (very competent) well-meaning mainstream technocrats?

What does it mean to the blogosphere that the only thing that is counted as the “serious left” are a bunch of (very competent) well-meaning mainstream technocrats?

One reason is that the internet is statistically unrepresentative and dominated by people with white people with college degrees. The other is that no one with money will fund anything further left than that, now that unions are dead.

Addressing your bolded text specifically: I think you’re mischaracterizing the left-wing blogger position. Most left-wing blogs I’m familiar with actually argued for more than a public option. Go read Ezra’s healthcare blogging from two years ago, from a policy POV he pretty much argued that single payer or something like it is the way to go. However he also acknowledged that single payer was a nonstarter, and made the decision to support what he could get. I can confidently say that Ezra, Yglesias, Drum, etc don’t honestly believe that what we got in the healthcare bill was ideal. The “neoliberal” position was that it’s better than nothing.

I honestly think part of the dynamic you’re talking about here (which is, IMO somewhat different than what the OP is talking about) is the difference between making a stand on principle and being defeated vs. compromising to get stuff done. At the end of the day it’s a core philosophical thing that people aren’t really going to agree on; I get that folks would like to see American liberals take a more principled stand in the hopes of achieving more sweeping change. I’m sort of sympathetic to that point of view, but my (admittedly limited) reading of history and understanding of our political dynamics is that incrementalism a) works and b) is the only gig in town.

They’re probably out there, but they’re not really mainstream. Which isn’t surprising; unions are no longer mainstream. 12.3% of US workers belong to unions, and that number is heavily dominated by public sector employees (who are unionized at a higher rate).

That’s lamentable and the decline in union membership is certainly in part responsible for the rightward shift this country has taken over the past thirty or so years. But that ship has already sailed, sadly.

No, it really isn’t. I fully agree with taking what you can get. What I also want is that when you’ve done that, you ask for more. To paraphrase that post I can’t remember where I read, to win in a way that facilitates movement towards further ideological goals. It might be that the substantive step of health insurance reform does more to advance single-payer or what have you than to actually delineate what you want out of the process, but I think there is a negative effect to leaving the ideological posturing to deficit freaks.

I don’t think looking at it demographically really explains the power balances in the blogosphere. 4 percent of the population want to cut welfare as a first step to balance the budget, and 8% think that the budget deficit is the biggest problem facing the US, but to which extent do we see that reflected in the blogosphere?

I think you’re confusing economic and social liberalism. They’re not the same, just as left-wing libertarianism is anarcho-syndicalist while right-wing libertarianism is anarcho-capitalist. They may look indistinguishable from a distance, but the dynamics they believe in are rather different.

I agree that there is no real mainstream left-wing political media presence in the US. The closest you get is centrist moderates who can’t risk being associated with “discredited” ideas such as socialism, whose successful coupling with limited free-market dynamics have resulted in the wealthiest, most stable and literate societies on the planet.

Of course, that’s not really much evidence of the success of socialism per se, since culture and circumstances such as availability of natural resources carry lots of weight. The same way, capitalism cannot be seen as the primary motor of American growth and prosperity.

Ah, but the gay, bi, and lesbian population is also about 12% And that gets discussed constantly, whether the bloggers are gay or not. I really do think it’s a demographic/organization thing.