From The "Duh" File

Matt Yglesias riffing off of E.J. Dionne:

Something I think it’s sometimes difficult for “sensible liberal” pragmatists of my own ilk to keep in mind is that it’s a good thing for the cause of sensible meliorationist liberal pragmatism to see some feisty folks with a more radical vision gaining some traction in the public discourse. Being sensible and pragmatic only works when there’s some people out there anchoring the debate and giving you the opportunity to be the sensible pragmatist rather than the wild-eyed radical.

Why it is difficult to keep that in mind is beyond me. I for one have been writing about the potential for the Left blogosphere to play that role for years. People like Yglesias are intent on being Very Serious People (I call them Village Bloggers for a reason.) The Left blogs needed to resist that siren call. More . .

But I also think the lines being sold by Dionne and Yglesias are disingenuous. Dionne writes of "[a] single election, a lone health care reform bill (even a big one), this civil rights bill, that labor law reform: all are steps down a road. They are not a destination." What's different from the others here? The conclusion that the "health care reform bill" is in fact a meaningful "step down a road." It is my view that it is a little bit better that the health bill will pass than if it does not pass. But that's it. It is a crappy bill, considering what it could have been. People like Dionne and Yglesias are invested in believing the health bill is more than it is. It strikes me as a pretty small step, with a lot of sideways to it.

Dionne wrote:

But as King knew, demanding that the check be honored is only a first step. And democratic politics is an ongoing commitment. A single election campaign, however exhilarating, is just the beginning of engagement. Moreover, embedded critics—their ranks include, but are not limited to, academics and intellectuals—have a necessarily ambiguous relationship to power.

Here, the differences between Lincoln, the politician, and King, the prophetic activist and critic, are clear. The politician focuses on the work that can get done and is called upon to have a realist’s sense of the limits of the possible. The critic is dogged in pointing to the work that remains unfinished, the reforms that are not adequate, the crooked places that have not yet been made smooth. “No, no,” King declared, “we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” That is, to say the least, a standard that politicians cannot live by. But it is the standard to which they must be called.

[. . .] [S]ome critics will hold out and say they are not satisfied. They will call power to account even when those in power have some sympathy for their goals. They will lay out the requirements for a future better than the present even during times of progress—perhaps especially during times of progress. [. . .] What is not an option in democratic politics is self-marginalization. Gestures are not enough. Flag burning does not cleanse a nation. The English department is not the White House. “Politics,” Weber wrote, “is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective.” This, at least, is something that most progressive intellectuals learned in the years between 2001 and 2009.

What also should not be an option is mindless cheerleading for poor political and policy performances. And that is what Democrats delivered on the health bill. E.J. Dionne is incapable of providing that critique. He is too much of The Village. The criticisms of the health bill and the Democrats' work, both political and policy-wise, goes beyond the aspirational. It is a pragmatic critique. The President, his Chief of Staff, the Senate leadership and indeed, Village Democrats, did a very poor job on the health bill.

They did not do "what was possible." they never even challenged the possible. Hell, the did what was politically harmful and piss poor on policy. This critique is not a starry eyed idealist one. It is a pragmatic one, using the measure of history to judge the political actors of the present. Today's Democratic politicians came up short. History will judge them harshly. As it will the Village chroniclers.

Speaking for me only

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  • Display: Sort:
    Obama cheerleaders love (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 09:47:11 AM EST
    them some village bloggers.  Matt is hardly as sensible as he'd like to think he is though.  Anybody who isn't pitching a giant fit about the disaster that is our economy and Timmy and Larry even having a job in this administration isn't sensible, they are senseless.

    they are not sensible, they are senseless (none / 0) (#8)
    by kindGSL on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 12:40:01 PM EST
    I agree.

    Village Bloggers say (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by kmblue on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 09:51:52 AM EST
    "Resistance is Futile!"

    They have obviously never dealt with me (none / 0) (#9)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 12:57:31 PM EST
    been my child or my spouse....they have no idea what the definitions of futile or resistance are :)  They are some of the simplest lifeforms I've discovered thusfar in this life :)  Almost single celled.  I don't know if they'll make it thru future natural selection from today's existing point of evolution.  They probably shouldn't either.

    "meliorationist" (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Radiowalla on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 10:11:27 AM EST
    I love that word!  

    I thought that too (none / 0) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 12:58:57 PM EST
    Whew....a person could flunk the Reader's Digest quiz on that one.

    Dionne (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by lilburro on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 10:12:00 AM EST
    builds up this narrative of the Right having all the ideas and being skilled at changing the discourse (see also Digby and Somerby) and then...describes how more people got involved in political activism in 2008.  OK.  But we started with the notion that the Right has all the ideas.  When did the Left begin preaching its gospel?  (It didn't...)

    As Dionne says, there is "no compelling vision on the Left."  And the Lincoln/King criticisms he points to are all rooted in moral criticism.  The Democrats have not through 2009 provided any moral vision for America, certainly not when it comes to health care.  Instead they simply kowtow to conservative obsessions about fiscal responsibility and the deficit.  

    All I'm saying is that if the Democratic Party is going to go anywhere it's not going to be because of the Village Bloggers, or even sadly President Obama, because both of them are so compromise hungry and adaptive to conservatism that they cannot present an alternative to it.

    Cha ching (none / 0) (#11)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 01:00:16 PM EST
    "no compelling vision on the Left." (none / 0) (#12)
    by kindGSL on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 01:33:08 PM EST
    I disagree, I have "compelling vision" and I am on the left; far left.

    This week I am all hot and bothered about the big fraud known as nuclear power.


    I personally think they need some glasses (none / 0) (#15)
    by cawaltz on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 06:38:28 PM EST
    There's plenty of vision from the left side of the aisle. Their lack of vision does not constitute the left's lack of vision AT ALL.

    Whenever you ask (none / 0) (#16)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jan 12, 2010 at 07:03:11 AM EST
    a big blogger though what their vision is, they have little vision they are willing to risk for outside of supporting Democratic leadership.  They attempt to affect the leadership very little.  At least Markos went on the record and said that the Senate version of the health care bill is nothing more than a POS and that it should die.  After he says something like that, that is that definite though, he has to walk off as the masses begin tearing each other up like starving hyenas.  He said something definitive about murderous mercs too once and it was the same type of situation.  Everybody freaked out that he would say something so "evil", but it is only in fully acknowledging the whole reality that we can begin to take actions needed to stand up to the legislated rip offs, the literal murderers for money (which the mercs were when he said it), and more things that are heinous than I care to list here.  The only way to change anything is by revealing the whole truth, but so many Obama worshippers can't deal with the truth and so many much read bloggers can't be that courageous...don't even want to be.

    Dionne is still stuck in the '60s (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 10:16:25 AM EST
    when the political situation was fluid and the head of steam that had been built up for progress was huge and roiling.  There was clear, almost palpable momentum then.  Civil Rights in particular did not have the massive self-interest of profit-making holding it back, only knee-jerk Neanderthal social fears.  You could accomplish Civil Rights by cracking open the door one inch at a time and be certain the opening would keep getting wider year by year, maddening as it was to have to accept that incremental change.

    Health care reform has almost no points of similarity with that simple goal, and the political system has become ossified in a way we couldn't even have dreamed in the '60s.  E.J.'s looking on the bright side with his head buried in the sand.

    Yglesias hasn't even got this excuse.

    I think it's possible to advocate (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 09:54:32 AM EST
    for progressive change as an insider and as an outsider. But it is possible (and common) to do (or pretend to do) both badly. I think it is impossible to do both at the same time.

    Exactly - I think they need to make up their minds (5.00 / 4) (#7)
    by ruffian on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 12:16:28 PM EST
    about what their personal goals are.  I think some people that started out as advocates using the internet as their platform discovered they really like writing on-line for a living.  Their goals changed from advocacy to being widely read and approved of. Sell-out is a harsh term, but in some cases it is appropriate.

    How Fricken Sad (none / 0) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 02:15:03 PM EST
    In an attempt to have something to feel good about a diary title on the Dkos rec list is 'CNN poll:  Obama Whomping Cheney on Terror Handling'.  Pffft....All Your Neoliberals Are Belong to DailyKos.

    And the Pooty and Woozles diary of course (none / 0) (#14)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 02:21:22 PM EST