Everyone’s writing about Freddie deBoer’s piece “the blindspot.” The piece names names, and calls people sellouts, so it’s easy to miss what is the actual critique. I want to recast the discussion slightly and think of it as a left-wing critique of political policy wonk blogging, a type of blogging which this blogs does often. This one will probably be a little-navel gazing; my financial markets readers might want to skip it.
Edward Banfield thought that policy wonks created problems, not solutions. These problems will naturally lead to the conclusion that the scope and nature of government should change from one of statesmanship to one of technocratic problem solving. Freddie deBoer thinks that policy wonks create solutions within the context of a neoliberal capitalism, solutions that reify the naturalness of the current economic order, and that ignore the real problems. These solutions broadly fight for scrapes that are left over from what the elites divide up, and don’t address more fundamental problems existing within our economic order.
The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere…That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention…No, the nominal left of the blogosphere is almost exclusively neoliberal….
All of this sounds merely like an indictment, but I genuinely have a great deal of sympathy for those young rising politicos and bloggers who are constitutionally disposed to be left-wing. What they find, as they rise, is a blogging establishment that delivers the message again and again that to be professionally successful, they must march ever-rightward. That’s where the money is, after all. For every Nation or FireDogLake, there is an Atlantic or Slate, buttressed by money from the ruling class whose interests are defended with gusto by the neoliberal order. I have followed more than a few eager young bloggers as they have been steadily pushed to the right by the institutional culture of Washington DC, where professional entitlement and social success come part and parcel with an acceptance that “this is a center-right nation” is God’s will.
There’s a lot more at the post. A couple of random thoughts, because I’m still thinking of what a progressive critique of policy wonk work would look like.
1. I think it is useful to consider what the strengths of wonks are. Starting a socialist overturn of the capitalist order is not one. What I’ve seen is that they are good at the beginning and at the end of a political process. They are particularly good at creating policy ideas, and the best are those ideas that have a vision of liberal governance embedded in them (the public option, the CFPB). And they are particularly good at dissecting and making arguments that frame events that are occurring over time for people who don’t follow them closely or as experts. Wonks don’t have campaign donations or voters; they create narratives. Freddie wants wonks to be agents of wide-scale change, but it isn’t clear how you get from here to there.
Glenn Greenwald has arguably been the best in terms of a strong liberal agitating the powerful, making an argument that Obama has expanded the Bush-era civil liberties violations associated with the War on Terror. Despite all of the concerted efforts to argue otherwise on behalf of Very Serious People, Greenwald’s argument is winning out, and that has major consequences for how people view the President and the national security state. (As opposed to Freddie, I’d like to see an additional dozen people do what Greenwald does, rather than discuss inequality, if I had to allocate scarce resources of wonks.)
You saw this when Obama has either joked or blown up over the progressive critiques of the health care bill and the financial reform bill – these narratives matter to the administration, and they matter because bloggers are out there making themselves relevant through explaining these actions to the public.
2. The argument of the veal pen is important and Freddie doesn’t bring it up; how should liberal groups engage with liberal politicians? Are they arms of the liberal candidates, units of messaging and co-ordination, or are they accountability mechanisms, designed to hold politicians feet to the fire? To use the organizing idea, do we support candidates or do we support ideas? This is going to become even more relevant if 2011 becomes a year of austerity and center-moving.
I don’t think Obama is focused on the long-term building of a liberal movement and instead has pushed for both compromise and a collapse of potential movement building. And I think the accountability part of this has broken down. Matt Stoller:
Obama continues this trend. It isn’t that he’s not fighting, he fights like hell for what he wants. He whipped incredibly aggressively for TARP, he has passed emergency war funding (breaking a campaign promise) several times, and nearly broke the arms of feckless liberals in the process. I mean, when Bernie Sanders did the filiBernie, Obama flirted with Bernie’s potential 2012 GOP challenger. Obama just wants policies that cement the status of a aristocratic class, with crumbs for everyone else (Republican elites disagree in that they hate anyone but elites getting crumbs). And he will fight for them.
There is simply no basis for arguing that Democratic elites are pursuing poor strategy anymore. They are achieving an enormous amount of leverage within the party. Consider the following. Despite Obama violating every core tenet of what might have been considered the Democratic Party platform, from supporting foreclosures to destroying civil liberties to torturing political dissidents to wrecking unions, Obama has no viable primary challenger. Moreover, no Senate Democratic incumbent lost a primary challenge in 2010, despite a horrible governing posture. Now THAT is a successful strategy, it minimized the losses of the Democratic elite and kept them firmly in control of the party. Thus, the political debate remains confined to what neoliberals want to talk about. It’s a good strategy, it’s just you are the one the strategy is being played on.
I’m not sure where to go in this realm, other than to provide a different set of arguments and a different narrative about what is happening and push them aggressively as I can, and think medium-term.
3. One thing I’ve noticed that separates the people Freddie disapproves of from everyone else is that the ones Freddie disapproves of are primarily journalists. Journalists of policy, of ideological movements and changes, and of institutional day-to-day fighting, but liberal people whose primary career training and arc are one of journalism. A journalistic approach to politics has its strengths and its weaknesses. Its strengths are a solid understanding of the micro elements that move things forward or backwards yard-by-yard. Its weaknesses can be a form of source capture, and a myopia on what is achievable in the short run rather than what moves things in the long run. I don’t think the professionalization of bloggers as reporters has moved them rightward, but it could be argued that it has caused them to focus on the short-term, in part because what the Democrats were trying to be bill-wise required a lot of explanation and in part because journalism requires that.
In its worse form, it becomes what Jay Rosen and others call A Church of the Savvy, where access, the art of the possible, and a healthy disdain for broader scope thinking are all privileged. This is less disdain for socialist or left-wing thinking (which is disdained by all kinds of people) but disdain for outsiders, a broader and more worrisome issue than Freddie lets on.
4. It’s important to realize that the right-wing wonks Freddie seems to respect as building a long-term vision are running under different assumptions of what to do. To them, the problem isn’t thinking of a better solution to a problem, it’s arguing why there is no problem. This comes from an explicit goal to view their project as an ideological one, one that comes out of a Banfield critique that social science is necessarily ideological. This, by definition, orientates towards long-term visions of the possible.
Freddie might want to engage with a left-modified form of the Banfield critique, one that points out when you have a wonk politics hammer every problem looks like a nail. Aaron Bady noticed this with the wonkosphere’s embrace of DIY U and other producitivity related ‘solutions’ to higher ed (also googling that made me realize I stole the title of this from Aaron, sorry!). If all you know are techniques of neoliberalism, then those are the solutions you’ll naturally gravitate towards. That’s different than where Freddie goes, which is one centered around prestige and access.
5. I’ll gladly defend Ezra and Matt on the charges Freddie throws at them. Their key points they raised early over the past two years – that the Senate would become obstructionist not just at a bill level but in a “running down the clock” manner and that would have major consequences (Ezra), that the GOP would not pay a price for their obstruction as people look at their checkbooks when they vote (both) and that the Federal Reserve is a major battlefield for the recovery and progressives/liberals aren’t ready to move, even intellectually, on how to fight for it (Matt) are all major things that happened from the past two years. Ezra in particular has covered the day-to-day amazingly well with a large quantity of work meant to be accessible to a wide range of readers (I write 2 posts every other day and feel like Charles Dickens), and if Freddie’s real critique is that liberals don’t likes unions Ezra has written a lot about how the Obama administration is overlooking them.
As for Matt’s neoliberalism stuff, I read it is coming from his engagement with land use. But to make it clear, I’m in favor of a hella robust regulatory state, but I agree with large parts of his critique. If you worry about why work associated with women is denigrated to second-class work and why women are underpaid relative to men you have to look at why dental hygenists do the same work as dentists for less pay and prestige. If you worry about the carceral state, our policy of putting the maximum number of people within the criminal disciplinary net and high recidivism and subsequent lack of mobility, you have to look at that fact that it can be illegal to hire ex-cons as low-level service employees; illegal to give licenses, and thus hire, ex-cons for things like “barbering, nail technicians, cosmetology and dead animal removal.”
6. As for long-term, I think the issue is recognizing neoliberal governance techniques can be divorced from their current distributional mechanisms and turned towards progressive policy ends. A quote from James Ferguson’s lecture, “Toward a Left Art of Government: From ‘Foucauldian Critique’ to Foucauldian Politics” (~22m in) at this conference ‘Foucault Across the Disciplines’ (mp3s at site) is what motivates a lot of my work:
For the sort of new progressive initiatives I have in mind seem to involve not just opposing the neoliberal project…but appropriating key mechanisms of neoliberal government for different ends…Let me emphasize that to say that certain political initiatives and programs borrow from the neoliberal bag of tricks doesn’t mean that these political projects are in league with the ideological project of neoliberalism, in say David Harvey’s sense. Only that they appropriate certain characteristic neoliberal moves, and I think of these discursive and programmatic moves as analogous to the moves one might make in a game. These moves are recognizable enough to look neoliberal, but they can I suggest be used for quite different purposes than that term normally applies.
In this connection one might think of statistical techniques used for calculating the probabilities of workplace injuries. These statistical techniques were originally developed in the 19th century by large employers to control costs. But they eventually became the technical basis for social insurance, and ultimately for the welfare state, which brought unprecedented gains to the working class across much of the world. Techniques that is to say can migrate across strategic camps, and devices of government that were invented to serve one purpose have often enough ended up through history’s irony been harnessed to another. Might we see similar re-appropriation of market techniques of government, which were, like workplace statistics, undoubtably conservative in their original uses, for different, more progressives, sorts of ends? Maybe not. I’m genuinely open-minded about this, but I think it’s worth considering.
As Banfield noted, postulating problems creates demands for solutions. Techniques once used for factory controls or to wage war can be used for providing a social insurance. The question for me is how to turn the current pieces on the board towards better outcomes.
“Ezra in particular has covered the day-to-day amazingly well with a large quantity of work meant to be accessible to a wide range of readers”
The problem is not the quality of his writing.
The problem is that he’s been pushing false process news.
If you read Ezra, you wouldn’t have understood that the big fights of the 111th Congress took place between the White House and the Democratic Senate Leadership.
If you read Ezra, you wouldn’t have understood that the big fights were about the structure of healthcare reform, whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and whether or not to pass additional stimulus measures beyond ARRA to deal with the 17% U-6 unemployment rate.
These fights took place in spring 2009 and fall 2009. These fights were all won by the White House over the Democratic Senate Leadership, and the White House victories resulted in federal government policy considerably to the right of the Democratic agenda and considerably to the right of what the 111th Congress had the votes to enact into law.
Ezra and Matt both relentlessly pushed false process news throughout the 111th Congress that obfuscated the actual conflicts between the White House and the Democratic Senate Leadership over use of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to use the 50 vote track in the Senate. Their false process news just happened to invariably mirror the White House spin in those conflicts.
You shouldn’t defend ’em.
This comment leads me to believe that you don’t actually read Ezra Klein’s blog. If there are four things that Ezra dedicated drilled into his reader’s heads during the last 2 years three of them were:
a) Why we need more stimulus.
b) The structure of the health care bill and how to get it passed.
c) Why extending the tax cuts for the rich is bad for the deficit and doesn’t help the economy.
The fourth is how the senate is broken, which I list for completion. There’s been so much prose expended on these issues that I’ve sometimes gotten annoyed at how repetitive it can be. Believe me, I know more now about budget reconciliation now than I ever thought there was to know thanks to Ezra Klein.
Well, to be fair to Petey, what he’s saying is that Ezra is covering-up process and policy disputes between the WH and the Democratic congressional leadership, which is something Jane Hamsher also routinely argues. Now, I don’t know where Petey is getting the specific behind-the-scenes info of how the Senate Dem Leadership somehow was going to get a public option before it was taken away by the WH… that said, I’m sure there is some back-and-forth between the opposite ends of Pennsylvania Ave. I just don’t see why this amounts to anything more than hearsay, nor do I think it’s something nefarious.
“This comment leads me to believe that you don’t actually read Ezra Klein’s blog”
Oh, but I do. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I read both Klein and Yglesias because they are faithful stenographers of the WH’s political propaganda points for the Democratic intelligentsia, which is useful to know.
“If there are four things that Ezra dedicated drilled into his reader’s heads during the last 2 years three of them were:
a) Why we need more stimulus.
b) The structure of the health care bill and how to get it passed.
c) Why extending the tax cuts for the rich is bad for the deficit and doesn’t help the economy.”
Unfortunately, Klein and Yglesias spent the 111th Congress flatly lying about the process for how the sausage got made on those items.
The Senate Democratic Leadership desperately wanted to get both further stimulus measures and Bush tax expiry measures placed on the 50 vote track in the Senate, and they had the votes to do so. The WH took the opposite position, and due to the details of the CBA of 1974, they had the power to successfully trump the Senate Democratic Leadership and get those items placed on the 60 vote track in the Senate in order to achieve the WH’s desired political goals, which dramatically conflicted with Democratic policy goals.
Healthcare was a bit more complicated, but again the Senate Democratic Leadership desperately wanted to get healthcare drafted via a dual bill 60/50 vote track, (a Baucus/Reid bill, instead of a Baucus only bill), and the WH again successfully trumped them in order to prevent that and bring about their desired political bill, which again dramatically conflicted with Democratic policy goals.
In all cases listed, the WH successfully pushed a policy agenda significantly to the right of what the Democratic Senate Leadership preferred, and significantly to the right of what the 111th Congress had the votes to make into law.
“Believe me, I know more now about budget reconciliation now than I ever thought there was to know thanks to Ezra Klein.”
Unfortunately, you now have a false understanding of the legislative process, (at least as it pertained to the way it played out during the 111th Congress), due to the deliberate efforts of Ezra Klein to mislead the Democratic intelligentsia and help the WH achieve their goals, which weren’t in concert with the goals of the Democratic Party.
We didn’t get further stimulus or a sane expiry of the Bush tax cuts for the rich solely because the WH’s Mayberry Machiavellis didn’t want those things to happen, due to their 2012 political planning. However, you’d have no clue about that if you got your “process news” from Ezra…
“I’m sure there is some back-and-forth between the opposite ends of Pennsylvania Ave. I just don’t see why this amounts to anything more than hearsay, nor do I think it’s something nefarious.”
Well, given that the sausage gets made behind closed doors, it’s all “hearsay”, in one sense. However, that “hearsay” takes the form or somewhat coded statements made by the various players on the record, and much more blunt statements made by the various players on background. You can report on that.
And there was quite a bit of actual reporting on the sausage-making process. Folks like the NYT, WaPo, more neutral Democratic outlets like TPM and the HuffPo, as well as Hamsher and FDL managed to report on the “hearsay” coming out of both the WH camp and the Democratic Senate Leadership camp during the conflict. That’s how you report “process news”.
But Klein and Yglesias only repeated the WH propaganda line on what constituted “process news” during the time period. They gave you the “hearsay” from one side only, while utterly ignoring the “hearsay” from the other side of the conflict, which happened to be the Democratic side.
That makes Klein and Yglesias nothing more than press flacks for the WH during a time when the WH was fighting a mighty battle against the Democratic Party. If your particular political persuasion is fine with that, so be it. But whatever Klein and Yglesias were doing, they sure as hell weren’t giving their readership an accurate picture of process news during the 111th Congress.
Look, Petey, I followed NYT, HuffPo, and TPM throughout the debates over health care, stimulus, etc. I don’t recall anything you’re talking about. Now, maybe I’m just misremembering, so if you have some pieces you can dig out and show to me, I’d be happy to look over them.
On health care, I do remember Schumer floating the idea of a 60-vote bill followed by a 50-vote bill, although never did any of those outlets report support for the idea from Reid. And I heard a lot of controversy over whether reconciliation could be used for the whole bill, with Schumer and Sanders for example, arguing that it could be, with Conrad, Harkin, and Reid arguing otherwise. On the stimulus, I remember Senate liberals objecting to the business tax credits and pushing for a higher total. And on expiry of the Bush tax cuts, I remember — well, lots of division within Senate Democrats and even liberals like Boxer and Murray — per TPM — arguing against a vote on the tax cuts pre-election. I also remember Schumer pushing for Dems to take a stand on a (permanent) $1 million cutoff, which is something Jane Hamsher endorsed, though I fail to see how that’s radically more progressive than a two-year extension on all the cuts.
Again, if you have some sources that show support from Reid for a 60/50 Health Care strategy, or if you have sources that show that the Senate leadership had the votes and wanted to push for radically more progressive measures but were overruled by the WH, I’d be happy to see them.
“Look, Petey, I followed NYT, HuffPo, and TPM throughout the debates over health care, stimulus, etc. I don’t recall anything you’re talking about.”
The House and Senate Leadership both wanted stimulus measures and tax policy put into the 50 vote track in the Senate via the CBA of 1974. The WH refused. The CBA of 1974 only allows items placed onto the 50 vote track in the Senate if all three parties sign off. Thus, the WH’s refusal was enough to force the items onto the 60 vote track.
This dispute received quite a bit of coverage in March and April of 2009, though you wouldn’t have heard a word of it from Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias, either back then, or later on either.
Thus, due soley to the positioning desires of the WH’s political high command, we got no additional fiscal stimulus, a continuing U-6 unemployment rate of 17%, and non-expiry of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
The facts of the matter on these really aren’t in dispute in the reality-based world.
“Again, if you have some sources that show support from Reid for a 60/50 Health Care strategy”
Again, the healthcare process was a bit more complicated than stimulus and tax policy, but there are a cornucopia of sources for what you are looking for. Of course, if you are heavily invested on the Klein/WH “storyline” of process, none will prove dispositive to you. As is usual on such matters, most of the useful sources are on background, though when the NYT and WaPo news pages identify them as representing Senate Leadership, a smart news consumer tends to generally trust their characterization. But on healthcare, Reid himself let slip some remarkably unguarded on the record comments on the positions of the various camps to Jon Ralston in the summer of 2010.
But the Klein/WH storyline obviously has vaguely “plausible deniability” given how the high-level players normally speak through the media. In other words, if we were in court, I could easily prove the nature of the conflict between the WH and Democratic Leadership on healthcare under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, but I’d have quite a bit more trouble under a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
So, at the end of the day, what matters is whether you are interested in finding the truth of the matter, or just defending the WH (or Klein). If the former, all the news sources have free archives for the time period in question, and it’s like searching for hay in a haystack…
Look, again, I’m not talking about Klein’s or Yglesias’ blogs. I followed TPM entirely through that process, I followed HuffPo, I followed the NYT. I don’t recall ANY story about budget reconciliation being considered for the stimulus in early 2009. I have searched the TPM archives looking for something on that, and found nothing. I’ve Google’d the issue and cannot find anything. If you have a source for that, by all means, I’d be happy to read it.
“I don’t recall ANY story about budget reconciliation being considered for the stimulus in early 2009”
The paper trail begins in January 2009 when the WH sends out the letter promising not to include stimulus in the budget resolution. (This letter is part of the reason why Krugman takes his “only one bite at the apple” position on ARRA.) You can follow on your own to the late April passage of the resolution. In short:
As the bad economic numbers continue to predictably roll in, Reid and Pelosi tentatively assemble majorities to pass a budget resolution to Kabuki-like “force” the WH to go back on that promise and include stimulus in the resolution, since the Democratic Congress is all up for re-election in 2010. The WH says no, and issues their budget proposal without stimulus. Even after the President’s budget seems to close off the prospect, as the endgame approaches and the bad number continue to roll in, the Hill leadership goes once more to the WH to them they can assemble majorities for stimulus, and is flatly told that the WH won’t play ball, which, given the structure of the CBA of 1974, ends the game.
If you want an easy to read, properly footnoted legislative history of the 111th Congress, you’ll have to wait for someone to write it. But you can follow the narrative right now, if you do a bit of your own research…
If Jane Hamsher is a leftist, count me out. The “left” you define has carried over all of the hysterical sectarianism and doctrinal rigidity of the old factional Left wing parties, but has a political platform that seems limited to ludicrous macho posturing, resentment at not being listened to and incoherent latching on to whatever elite policy sounds “tough” at the moment.
“If Jane Hamsher is a leftist, count me out.”
Of course, the issue at stake isn’t primarily Hamsher’s ideology.
The issue is that Hamsher told the truth about process during the 111th Congress, while folks like Klein and Yglesias merely regurgitated White House spin about process during the 111th Congress.
There were big fights during the 111th Congress between the White House and the Democratic Senate Leadership. If you read Klein and Yglesias, you’d have been unaware of them. If you read Hamsher, you’d be aware of them.
Klein and Yglesias put their thumbs on the scale in favor of the White House and against the Democratic Party in their coverage. Some cheered them on. Policy oriented Democrats were appalled.
But, of course, if you are opposed to anything to the left of the center-right, I can fully understand your antipathy to Hamsher. Her reporting was sorta inconvenient for your ideological viewpoint…
Hamsher’s coverage was riddled with false. For example, consider the story she and then Dayen told about the supposed legal requirement Pelosi imposed for the House to vote up and down on the results of the Deficit Commission. Or her amplification of a bad NYT summary of Dick Durbin’s remarks to the Deficit Commission into a straight up lie. If shrieking was accuracy, FDL would have been a great source of data.
“If shrieking was accuracy, FDL would have been a great source of data.”
Huh. Hamsher’s range of tone seems quite similar to Klein, both on television and in print.
Is it just the woman thing that makes Hamsher “shrieking”?
But again, the biggest conflict in the 111th Congress was between the White House and the Democratic Senate Leadership. The two clashed mightily in both spring and fall of 2009 over the structure of the healthcare bill, the response to the expiry of the Bush, and stimulus measures beyond ARRA.
Klein pretty much totally ignored the conflict, which was the WH’s preferred narrative, and when he did weigh in, he weighed in only from the WH’s talking points.
Hamsher and her cohort actually covered the conflict in some detail on the ground.
Considering that the Democratic Senate Leadership’s position was actually a pretty good proxy for the policy wishes of the bulk of the Democratic Party, it is easy to understand the propaganda value for the WH of having folks like Klein and Yglesias intentionally misrepresent the process news to their Democratic intelligentsia audience…
I note you didn’t respond to either of the factual points where Hamsher’s accuracy was called into question.
As for debates between the Senate Leadership and the WH, reported via rumor and ouija board, I don’t care. If that’s the core concern of “the left” it merely gives me another reason to stop paying attention to them.
“As for debates between the Senate Leadership and the WH, reported via rumor and ouija board, I don’t care.”
You didn’t need a ouija board. The story got reported on extensively in the NYT, WaPo, and some more neutral Democratic outlets like TPM and the HuffPo, as well as by Hamsher and FDL. The only thing that stood out about Hamsher and FDL is that they understood the story’s importance, and “flooded the zone” in news-speak.
But you didn’t hear anything true about the story through Klein or Yglesias. They exclusively played stenographers for the WH political line on what constituted “policy news” during the period that the story played out.
As to why you don’t care about the story, I’d suggest that’s either because you don’t really care about policy, or else you prefer a rightward leaning policy.
If the WH had not successfully stymied the Democratic Senate Leadership, we could’ve had a much better healthcare bill, a much better result on expiry of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and actual stimulus measures beyond ARRA, such as extended state transfer aid. The 111th Congress had the power to do a lot of good policy on big ticket matters.
But if you don’t care about the Democratic policy agenda, then I can understand why you wouldn’t care about the story.
Really? Obama has been “torturing political dissidents” and “wrecking unions”? As far as I remember, had it not been for Obama, GM and Chrysler would be out of business and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of union members would be out of a job, and the UAW would, for all intents and purposes, be on its way out of existence. Not to mention that he put his political future on the line to guarantee the uninsured access to health insurance. Matt Stoller is a hysterical nonsense-monger, and the fact that you’re citing him positively is profoundly disappointing.
I’d also add that that Ezra piece you link to here — the one that supposedly shows how the Obama administration is overlooking unions — had as its chief piece of evidence for Obama’s neglect the fact that the administration didn’t make a recess appointment of Craig Becker (whose pro-labor credentials no one can question) to the NLRB. The only problem is that just after that post was published, the administration recess appointed, yes, Craig Becker to the NLRB (along with Mark Pearce). They’ll be there until December 2011, and have already made a material difference on the board. Again, Matt Stoller doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and you shouldn’t link to him as if he does. Labor has lots of problems. Supposed hostility from the White House is not one of them.
What we have now is a “left” that really has nothing to do with labor or even civil rights (note how much notice the Holder justice department revival of the Civil Rights bureau has received from e.g. Stoller) or environment but is almost totally focused on regulation of financial enterprises in a very strange way.
Rootless_e, K. Williams:
The point I’m trying to make with #2 is that a valid left-wing criticism of the functional role of policy wonks (or DC political bloggers, if you will), one that Freddie did not get at, is an active contest over whether or not they are arms of the administration/Democratic leadership, coordinating messaging and roll-out, or if they are an independent liberal jury holding the administration accountable on promises. Do they support candidates, or do they support ideas? If they support/carry water for candidates for when they do things they like, what are their obligations for when they do things they don’t like?
This is less about Obama good-versus-bad, and more about how we want liberal intellectuals and the professionalized blogosphere to act vis-a-vie the Democratic Party establishment. And I think it’s important for the post-Obama liberal coalition.
But the point at least I am trying to make is that the criticism from the people you cite as Left Wing does not seem to be “left wing” in any substantive sense unless hostility to the Administration is “left wing” in and of itself. I don’t see independent advocacy of policies that are actually more left wing than ones pushed by the Administration. Second, the idea that “left wing” pundits should be an “independent liberal jury” strikes me as foreign to the traditional idea of engaged left-wing intellectuals. If you had asked Bayard Rustin, who really was a left-wing intellectual, whether his job was to act as an impartial jury, he would have laughed at you. Same with IF Stone. Those people saw themselves as participants in the struggle, not critics. Finally, whether the stream of rather virulent criticism from Stoller and Co. constitutes “holding the administration accountable” is no more evident than the first two claims.
Right, but Bayard Rustin primary career focus wasn’t becoming a columnist for the national newspaper or securing a writing fellowship with a foundation – it was organization and activism. The critique is about DC-focused political bloggers specifically, and what kind of work they do. Freddie thinks they form a theater of mimicking a left-wing. I don’t think that’s right or even that useful, but I do think there’s a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the role they play in the public sphere. (The activist community has, as far as I can see, a really rocky relationship with the Obama administration, but that’s a different topic.)
As for the substantive sense that is stronger than the administration you have PCCC and the netroots with the public option. Myself and others have pushed for a stronger approach on financial reform and foreclosures, butting heads with the administration. The environmentalists are mad that Obama gave away the bargaining chips for cap-and-trade. The Krugman-Delong-Thoma wing of economists are pissed about unemployment and the adminstrations see-no-evil approach to it. Greenwald on civil rights. There’s a ton more. You can think these are good ideas or bad ideas, ideas that could have moved or pie-in-the-sky fantasies, but they form a consistent flank.
These are all liberal in Freddie’s sense, which I happily concede, but I’m not a Freddie style left-winger. But I think they are considered left-wing by normal DC establishment standards (outside the realm of the political blogs), which is where I wanted to pick up Freddie’s arguments.
The public option as a matter of left-wing principle is pretty silly. I didn’t realize Jake Hacker was an avatar of the far left.
Also, to me, the administration’s economic policy is WAY to the left of what the Krugman-Thoma wing propose. Bog standard neoclassicism with a liberal flavor is not particularly radical.
@rootless_e: Interesting perspective. What’s the argument that the administration’s economic policy is to the left of Krugman, Thoma, or DeLong?
re: Andrew said, on January 18, 2011 at 7:45 pm
The UAW/GM/Chrysler rescue + DOE energy investments + etc. all amount to a much more activist industrial policy than e.g. those people have proposed. The health reform is a major attack on wealth inequality – something that the critics never discuss because they are finance obsessed. The tax changes to e.g. favor solar/wind over oil , the EPA is part of this policy of favoring green energy etc are all part of a regorm economics that FIRE focused economists can’t see. Obviously, the administration is far more focused on industrial policy than its critics. That idiot Robert Reich even objected to the GM bailout. Most of the criticisms of that group is actually not even economics, it is political or legislative strategy. If Christine Romer and Rahm Emanuel say that the ARRA size was limited by what they thought could get through the Senate, as they do, presenting a complaint that it should have been larger as an economics argument is just stupid.
You do not focus on the most threatening problem, which is globalization and outsourcing, and the death of the Great American Jobs Machine.
Yglesias has explicitly and frequently said that he is a supporter of outsourcing and globalization because exporting American jobs to the 3rd World is a better tool to end poverty than any other. Also, the poverty ended there is more extreme than the poverty that results here.
This position is incompatible with the goals of an American left, particularly at a time with stubbornly high unemployment and underemployment. We’ve reached a crisis point of deindustrialization and abandonment of the American worker. The decay of the middle class is starting to be a source of instability. This can only increase. Our unemployment problems are systemic and flow from globalized capital. Only a left analysis can capture this reality. The nifty side effect of lifting millions of Chinese into slavery style manufacturing jobs does not fix the problems of the abandoned American worker.
This position is incompatible with the goals of an American left
Wait, what? What happened to workers of the world uniting? You’re all but explicitly advocating “Workers of America, screw everyone not lucky enough to be born here!”. I don’t know what that is, but left it ain’t.
I’d be happier if Ezra Klein threw at the batter’s head once in a while too (We have Atrios for that). It doesn’t take 3700 words to get that across.
Freddie’s been complaining about the neoliberal left for a while now, but in all the blogging and commenting he’s done over the last couple of years I haven’t seen anything resembling the hint of a political vision. It seems that he wants a vigorous hard left but he wants somebody else to work out what feasible socialism is. I want it too but I can hardly complain if I can’t figure it out myself (Since 1990 I’ve been trying to imagine a concrete political agenda that matches the emotional force of Billy Bragg’s first two albums and I’ve got next to nothing. I think I’m going to settle on making everybody get off their fat asses and ride bikes).
But I kind of see where Freddie’s coming from. I dropped Matt Yglesias from my rss reader a couple of days ago. I read pretty much every word the guy wrote from 2004-2010, including his book, but he’s actually pretty boring, and I’m tired of his dialogues with libertarianism (With Ezra Klein and him it’s not so much neoliberalism as it is Tyler Cowanism). I even agree with most of his zoning stuff but he’s only about an inch deep with it. It’s not great.
Freddie has it exactly backwards. We don’t need fewer wonks and more utopian reveries. We need harder wonks and a lot more of them. (Maybe then somebody could tell me if the MMT crowd are cranks or not.) Matt’s problem is that he’s soft-serve. Even EK should step up his game. There are better wonks around now and these guys are getting left behind.
Pingback: Links 1/18/11 « naked capitalism
“If they support/carry water for candidates for when they do things they like, what are their obligations for when they do things they don’t like?”
Their obligation is to say that they don’t like those things. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that, as rootless says, the criticism of Obama from left-wing writers often seems unhinged from reality (and, frankly, just unhinged). That’s why citing Matt Stoller approvingly, as you do in this post, is so disappointing. Obama has not been “wrecking unions.” On the contrary, he’s been the most pro-labor president we’ve had since LBJ, and his concrete actions (saving GM and Chrysler, appointing Becker and Pearce to the NLRB) have been enormously beneficial to organized labor. The fact that Stoller still treats him as a union-busting enemy tells you that Stoller isn’t acting like the member of an “independent liberal jury,” but rather blindly lashing out at anyone who doesn’t fit his imaginary model of political correctness.
Exactly. The supposed “left wing” comes off as, if not unhinged, just resentful and basically irrational. The enormous gulf between someone like Barbara Lee and people like Stoller/Hamsher makes the claims of the latter to be representing the principled left-wing sector of the Democratic party unsupportable.
Wow. Does this lead anywhere? The driving policy question, whether it’s admitted or even consciously recognized, is, “How to equitably divide a shrinking economic pie?” We’re not in a recession but a phase transformation from growth to contraction because the world has reached the limits to the physical growth of the economy, and that is epochal. Peak oil closes off a return to growth as the solution to debt, conventional ways of dealing with unemployment and the future of the financial sector, for example. We need a new paradigm of thought, beyond left and right, to create a sustainable world.
This debate is fracturing into so many different offshoots of Freddie’s argument, and there’s a lot to say. But I want to engage with what I see as the core of it, and start with Mike’s “As for Matt’s neoliberalism stuff, I read it is coming from his engagement with land use.”
This is the nicest possible read, and may even be right. But the problem with Yglesias isn’t that he’s zombie Ayn Rand come to eat the regulatory state’s brains, or something. The problem is that when he declares himself a neoliberal without understanding fully what it means, he demonstrates that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t respect the leftist critique of his position, that he pretends it doesn’t exist, that he has a blind spot where it lives . This was Freddie’s main and most cogent point (and one which much of the blogosphere has completely ignored): the argument was more subtle than that these people are “not left enough” because they are neoliberals; the argument was that these people don’t understand or show awareness of the arguments of people to their left, specifically on matters economic. Which is a different argument than the “MSM is conservative” cri de coeur that Freddie‘s piece is fast being rendered into; he was talking about the cognitive limitations of this class of liberal thinkers, their inability to take seriously arguments to their left. They disagree with people to their left and to their right. That’s fine; we all disagree with people who don’t share our ideology. But Freddie’s criticism — which seems dead on to me — is that while they understand and respect the people they disagree with to their right, they ignore and are oblivious to the people they disagree with to their left.
After all, Yglesias doesn’t have to agree with David Harvey, Wendy Brown, et al, though I, like Freddie, wish he would. It’s his willingness to call himself a “neoliberal” without seeming to even be aware of what it means to them that demonstrates that if he’s ever read people like that, he didn’t understand them very well, or didn‘t try. He disagrees with them without feeling the need to explain why. Which is the larger reason I’ve mostly stopped reading him: he’s a very smart guy, but one who — like many smart people — never seems to learn from people’s criticisms of his positions (at least not the leftists).
For example, this sentence, from his post responding to Freddie, argues that:
“while I’ll cop to being a “neoliberal” I don’t acknowledge that I have critics to the “left” of me.”
This is borderline stupid, and nicely both demonstrates exactly what Freddie was saying, and Yglesias’ obliviousness to what Freddie was saying (which was what Freddie was saying). To be neoliberal in the way Yglesias is neoliberal is not to literally turn into an AEI zombie; there are legitimate arguments to be made about privatization and deregulation, or at least very debatable problems with assuming that “liberals” must always be against any form of market thinking. An awful lot of liberals have been pretty comfortable with capitalism. But to be neoliberal is to take up a position to the right of a whole hell of a lot of liberals on these issues; it makes him well to the right of the mainstream of American liberalism pre-Reagan. And that’s fine; he can have that position and he can defend it with arguments and data. But for Yglesias to not understand that he has critics to his left — to explicitly argue that they do not exist, well, isn’t that exactly what Freddie was saying was the problem with people like him?
Yglesias is just following the “progressive-left” in their use of “neoliberal” to mean “anyone who sometimes defends the Obama administration.” The entire discussion is borderline self-parodic because all the words have been redefined. In reality, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, the boosters of “free trade” and NAFTA are closer to the original definition of “neoliberal” than the people drawing these lines want to believe.
This is very helpful. It might be even better to take it away from economics and towards something else like the Iraq War buildup. I wasn’t reading the political blogs in 2002-2003, so I didn’t see in real-time how they built their arguments (I tried to be active on in the upper-Midwest marches, and, like Freddie’s written elsewhere, the media/Democratic hostile and ruthless responses to the anti-Iraq War protestors caused me to really think that the whole system in this country was rotten).
I was going to write this under the source capture part. The impression I get from now reading some of these writers’ opinions back then was that they had a “the sources I trusted – Democratic opinion leaders – told me it was a good idea, so I thought it was a good idea.” That kind of source capture happens all the time with journalists, but journalists usually write about a narrow focus usually so they can blend a variety of sources, and they aren’t expected to give explicitly political opinion.
I also think that, Michael Walzer style (which put me off reading Walzer ever until those Davies posts), there was a serious need for them to be “To the extent that I’m against the War, I’m not like *those people* who are against the war.” Which gets to the Church of the Savvy stuff. That seems to mirror what you are getting at here.
you should read a bit of my’s warbloggery some time. for someone who’s been reading him since say the atlantic post the stuff can be quite defamiliarising. he went cuckoo.
“It might be even better to take it away from economics and towards something else like the Iraq War buildup”
But once you take it away from economics, then Aaron’s recommendation — that Matt, et.al. — pay attention to the critics to their left — becomes easier and sensible to implement. On Iraq, there were plenty of reasonable liberals — like, say, Barack Obama — who were against the war. Saying Matt should have taken them seriously is very different from saying, as Aaron does, that he should engage with David Harvey on economics. I just don’t see how that would be useful. David Harvey is a communist. I don’t mean that as an insult. I mean that literally — he thinks capitalism is a rotten system and that it should be destroyed and replaced with one in which the means of production are not primarily in private hands, and in which the market is not used as the chief means of allocating resources. That assumption, and that goal, necessarily inform everything he writes, and shape his analytical work. Given that, and given the fact that Matt, like 99% of Americans, thinks that communism is a dead end, what’s the point of endlessly explaining why he disagrees with David Harvey (which is what Aaron wants him to do)? Is he just supposed to add a tag line at the end of every post saying “of course, communists think that the market is an socially inefficient and unjust way of allocating resources, but I disagree with them”? If you’re a communist or socialist, then you want to demolish the current system. If you’re a liberal, you want to work within it. Is it really surprising that the latter don’t engage all that much with the former?
David Harvey is not even very interesting as a Communist. Giovanni Arrighi was a more interesting commentator on trade and development from the Marxist point of view.
The theory that Hamsher/Stoller are advocating a further left economics than Obama is one that lacks support.
“That assumption, and that goal, necessarily inform everything he writes, and shape his analytical work.”
is one which would only ever be applied to an ideology that is too left to be taken seriously. This is the very definition of what Freddie is talking about: because of what Harvey *is* (or is presumed to be), nothing he says can ever be legible to We Serious People. And yet, Kleinglesidrum (who I picture as a kind of Voltron creature) are endlessly explaining at great and careful length why they disagree with people whose belief systems are totally structured by a pro-capitalist free market mindset. And they should! But they only do it to people on their right, not because those ideas are better or more right but because they are more respectable and conventional. That’s understandable, but not particularly defensible; it makes sense only for people more interested in the boundaries of what is popular and respected than in what is right. I’m not saying Kleinglesidrum always do this; I don’t read them regularly enough to have an judgment, but as a general indictment of media commentary, it certainly is valid. And anyway, no one here is asking for “endlessly explaining why he disagrees” with Harvey; my point was that Yglesias not only doesn’t seem to understand the difference between liberalism and neoliberalism, but he explicilty argues that there *is* no difference. If he wants to call himself a neoliberal, he should learn what the word means, or say — openly — how and why the people to his left are wrong when they use the word the way they do.
So why don’t the supposed “left” pundits know about or discuss David Harvey’s theories?
“But they only do it to people on their right, not because those ideas are better or more right but because they are more respectable and conventional. That’s understandable, but not particularly defensible; it makes sense only for people more interested in the boundaries of what is popular and respected than in what is right”
I really think you’re misunderstanding what’s happening here. Matt, et.al., don’t engage for the most part with anticapitalists because anticapitalism is a dead ideology in the US — it has essentially no public support. They do engage (to the extent they do) with quasi-libertarians (like the folks at Reason) because watered-down libertarianism does matter in American politics and is appealing, in a bastardized form, to a significant number of people. It’s not a question of not being interested in what’s right –anticapitalists and libertarians are both wrong.
Now, one response would be to say that anticapitalism is a dead ideology in part because people like KleinYglesias don’t engage with it, and that it’s precisely this kindof marginalization that Freddie was inveighing against. But this isn’t a serious position — anticapitalists are marginalized because of their dismal track record in running economies and the political impossibility (and undesirability) of abandoning a market economy. If someone like David Harvey wants his critique of the US economy to be taken seriously, writing pieces called “Is An Alternative Communism Possible?” is not the way to do it.
As for the difference between liberalism and neoliberalism that Yglesias doesn’t understand, it’s pretty clear that he understands that there are people who think their methods will accomplish more in terms of improving living standards and social opportunity than his will. He just thinks they’re wrong. And in any case, the origins of the word “neoliberal” in the US date back to the 1970s — the neoliberals were Democratic advocates of using market means to achieve traditionally liberal ends. That sounds quite a bit like Matt Y. to me.
Good grief. And then there’s the commenters, also seeking to keep everyone in line irregardless of what the facts suggest.
Despite bailing out GM and the midwest along with the banks–with dramatically different conditions attached!– there’s very little evidence that Obama is “pro-union,” for example.
We can stop there. There’s no arguing with a bot until it exits the cult of its own accord.
Classic down to the witless “bot” line.
“President Obama showed again today that fighting for U.S. workers and their jobs is his top priority. He’s backed up his commitment to a clean energy future by making it crystal clear that that future is going to benefit all Americans. – USW.
I am grateful to President Obama for facing up to a great amount of pressure and negative public opinion and deciding that he was going to bet on American companies and American workers even when so many others were unwilling to do so and were more than happy to have our U.S. companies liquidate and have our jobs shipped outside of the United States.
President Obama made the right bet and all of us and really the whole United States won! Easily over a million jobs were saved. And now with the financial turnaround of these companies, tens and tens of billions of dollars are being invested in the United States of America, tens and tens of thousands of good paying, community supporting jobs are being created and maintained, and work long outsourced from the USA is coming back to the USA! – UAW
s fitting we celebrate Cesar Chavez Day with the daughter of immigrant Union Workers at the helm of the Department of Labor – Secretary Hilda Solis.
Secretary Solis, I want to thank you for truly being the new sheriff in town and bringing the change the Department of Labor so urgently needed.
Working People have a Department of Labor that talks tough AND acts tough on enforcement, workplace safety, wage and hour violations and so many other vital issues. – Trumka
WAAAA! WAAA! BOTS
“Despite bailing out GM and the midwest along with the banks–with dramatically different conditions attached!– there’s very little evidence that Obama is “pro-union,” for example”
Right. Very little evidence. Except for the fact that he, against enormous Congressional and public opposition, saved hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs (most of them union) by keeping GM and Chrysler in business. Except for the fact that he appointed Craig Becker, labor’s favorite son, to the NLRB, which now has a 3-1 Democratic majority. Except for the fact that the guy he brought in to manage the restructuring of the auto industry, Ron Bloom, was the former personal adviser to the head of the United Steelworkers. Except for the fact that the head of the UAW said just yesterday, ““There has not been a president, Democrat or Republican, that has been as open and accessible to labor as President Obama.”
Pingback: Freddie deBoer and Left-Wing Epistemic Closure « The Innocent Smith Journal
Pingback: Around The Dial – Jan. 18
We at the People’s Front of Judea demand that we not be lumped with the Judean People’s Front.
I’m a black union government employee and I can’t stand reading half the shit I see on sites like Firedoglake or OpenLeft etc. etc.
I mean, I’m about as base as you get as far as left wing politics in america and I just can’t relate to the Hamsher’s and Sirota’s of the world. Imploding over things like the public option. It’s things like SCHIP and the medicaid expansions that were the most progressive part of what we’re doing on healthcare. It’s the unemployment benefits extension that mattered in the tax cut deal. And don’t get me started on the union issues. Try taking a labor dispute to a Republican administration and see what happens. Ask my union (NATCA) if Obama and Bush are the same on labor issues.
These people aren’t really that populist. They’re policy wonks in their own right, they just try to put a mask of “i’m a real liberal” on it. I think that’s what annoys me the most. It’s also why I loved the term professional left.
In focusing so much upon the MSM’s incorporation of first generation, blogging pioneers such as Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, or Kevin Drum – I think Freddie misses the point about what still remains so promising about blogging platforms vis-a-vis conventional journalistic outlets and their financially compromised interests : i.e. reduced barriers of entry when it comes to the publication of heterodox ideas, and an incipient moderation / reordering of extant hierarchies of authorial expertise.
Nor does Freddie take into account how the need for real-time content by MSM outlets has opened up opportunities for publishing by lefty journalists such as Nir Rosen, who’s about as left as left can be idealism wise – and who has showed little evidence of being financially compromised in his freelance work for the WaPo’s Foreign Policy or Time Magazine.
Or we could also take, for instance, the resiliency of Matt Taibbi’s vampire squid meme re: Goldman Sachs – whose phenomenal success / stickiness is hard to imagine in the absence of a econo-finance blogosphere that virally first propagated it.
When Glenn Greenwald calls out Obama for ratifying disturbing seizures of executive privilege initiated by the Bush administration, or Aaron Bady points out what mainstream media fails to grasp about Julian Assange’s theory of power, or Juan Cole exposes the insanities of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the Iraq war, or Shahien Nasiripour brings to light which Democrats are plotting against Liz Warren’s CFPA nomination, or Felix Salmon reveals what sort of journo-lib schadenfreude animates opportunistic critiques of Matt Taibbi style polemicism – I’m actually quite heartened about the future prospects and possibilities of political policy wonk blogging.
Nor should we discount as ineffectual or hopelessly compromised those efforts waged by Yves Smith and Steve Waldman in their holding the economic proffessoriate to account for its epistemic blindspots / normative deficiencies, or of Mike Konczal and the Baseline crew in their drawing a much needed spotlight upon U.S. Treasury Orwellian doublespeak re: Geithner’s equivocations regarding financial reform.
And that Robert Gibbs was vexed enough to coin the moniker of a ‘professional left’ so as to dismiss protestations emanating from the blogosphere, I think is proof enough that Obama and his administration are at least compelled now to tactically strategize around / respond to such criticisms generated by this alternative manifestation of the fourth estate.
To be sure, such examples might be dismissed as too incrementalist for some. And the forms of accountability it promises are no doubt of a qualitatively different sort than the electoral / participatory forms more commonly invoked by Leftist organizers and activists. But when considering, especially, the tightly coupled world of neoliberal globalism we now live in – where numerous political or financial states of exception have brought into being a vast expansion of executive authority and discretionary power wielded by this transnational elite – accountability of this more Brandeisian, disinfecting sort is something we’d all benefit from greatly I would suggest.
Heterophilous is exactly right; focusing on blog “stars” categorically precludes recognizing the NON giant-writer-star-writing-for-theAtlantic model of writing that the internet — at its best — makes possible.
But I really came back to this thread to post a link to this piece, which struck me, on reading it, as the sort of writing that a policy wonk would never write in that capacity, for better and worse:
this line from a chinese sociologist describing the ‘hukou’ system of labor repression strikes me as rather apropos regarding the predicament of foxconn workers: “plucking the young and the able from the countryside and dumping the old and the sick back”.
come on man! who puts Ai Weiwei with iPads and global economics at the Atlantic? That was a pretty good stab for 45 minutes work between department meetings and the like.
Pingback: First We Kill All the Policy Wonks | Kevin R. Kosar
“After the last depressing news from the Middle East I think we have to start asking just how inhumane it would be for Israel to just expel the Palestinians from the occupied terroritories. The result would probably be out-and-out war with the neighboring Arab states, but Israel could win that.
All forced population transfers are humanitarian disasters, of course, but so is the current situation. It’s not like there’s not any room in the whole Arab world for all these Palestinian Arabs to go live in, it’s just that the other Arab leaders don’t want to cooperate.”
Sam Rosenfeld on Yglesias:
“And for the record (don’t post this), Yglesias as an individual has a great, self-aware sense of humor and is much more starkly honest (if also unapologetic) about his own elitism than most liberals. Take him out for a beer and I think you’d find that.”
“you have to either live in the countryside or live in the city and be really rich to say that rubber tomatoes suck. For those humans who live in the city and are not really rich, rubber tomatoes provide a welcome and tasty and affordable simulacrum of the tomato-eating experience.”
“Mike Konczal, a former financial engineer,”
Financial Engineer That’s a phrase to unpack.
What does it mean that finance is now referred to as an “industry”?
Will Wilkinson’s books that have influenced him the most. #5; The Bell Curve.
And he refers to himself as a “public intellectual.” And all his friends agree so it must be true.
A bunch of spoiled white American rich kids talking to each other about the problems of the world. How wide ranging can we expect the discussion to be?
Pingback: Faculty Blog | The Left Has a Lot to Answer For
Pingback: Club Troppo » ‘Neoliberalism’ – The ideology of pragmatism