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”.