From time to time, I try to summarize and recommend blog fights that Patrol readers—maybe about three of you—might find worthwhile or diverting. The latest one I’ve been following concerns the nature of the left wing in the American political blogosphere. I read and like a lot of the bloggers in question, so I’ve absorbed it with interest, and in the process been pressed to think hard about the promises and limits of both liberalism and leftism, and where I fall on the spectrum.
The discussion opened with an epic diagnosis—others have called a “jeremiad” and a “cri de coeur“—of the blogosphere’s left wing by Freddie DeBoer, who happens to be one of my most unfailingly sympathetic commenters on The American Scene. He’s upset that the political blogosphere lacks a true, vibrant left wing. The marquee names of liberal blogging—Ezra Klein, Jonathan Chait, Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum—are all neoliberals on the payroll of corporate news organizations, he says, and their leftism is compromised by their proximity to money, power, and conventional wisdom. They accept almost without question the liberal doctrines of economic growth, globalization, and deregulation, and are weak in the defense of organized labor.
A brief excerpt:
American workers … 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 … 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.
The neoliberal blogosphere promptly defended itself, and more than a little persuasively. First, see the very long comment thread on Freddie’s original post, featuring some back-and-forth between him, Will Wilkinson, Ezra Klein and others. Some copped to Freddie’s charge that they are not really left-wingers, while others disputed his indictment and still others supplied compelling defenses of the neoliberal scheme. Chait admitted he’s not a genuine left-winger. Drum confessed to some of the charges, but defended himself as a passionate champion of labor. Marcy Wheeler wrote a great response about the failure of capitalism and the need for a coherent way to mobilize the working class as a check as Washington “doubles down” on it. Ryan Avent reviewed the good globalization has done for the third-world poor, and argued that Freddie under-appreciates the leftism of people like Matt Yglesias. Yglesias listed his own policy goals in bullet form in response, asking what’s so neoliberal about that.
Then Freddie set out, in more detail, his problems with the neoliberal platform, particularly that it is “paternalistic” (ie, it wants to reshuffle more money to help out the poor, rather than help them seize the means of production and help itself.)
I’m deeply sympathetic to Freddie, even though I would hardly qualify as a leftist by his standards. While I recognize the hallowed place labor holds in the left-wing imagination and the extraordinary gains it won for American workers, I have, as Avent argues about younger writers, often seen it standing in the way of liberal reforms I think would make people’s lives better. Just like with Christianity and abortion, I care far more about real-world outcomes than ideology. I nevertheless respect the passionate true believers, and am always sobered by their critiques even if, deep down, I think the neoliberal policy expertise of Klein and Yglesias is probably the best we can hope for.
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