Thursday, January 18, 2007

Against the Deactivists

Via Chris Bowers at MyDD, I found a very silly post from some dude named Scott Winship at Democratic Strategist, in which he badmouths the “netroots” for our “lack of historical appreciation” and “lack of understanding of political imperatives”, and says that “60’s activism” alienated America and “handed the country to the Republicans for more than a generation”.  To which I say: Hogwash.

First off, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I belong in the “netroots”, though the term is so ill-defined that I’m not sure I’d know if I was.  For me, “netroots” refers more to the activism-type Atrios followers who have a more progressive agenda than I do; though I read Atrios religiously and don’t think he actually falls into this group.  Or maybe it’s Howard Dean’s followers who best exemplify this group; though again, I don’t actually put Dean into that category.  

But I’ve never really seen any other labels offered to explain my positions, and think I’m being lumped in with the “netroots” anyway.  But if I developed my own label, I’d say I’m a Digby Democrat; which I can’t define in any other way than to say that we’re strong Democrats who understand the sensitivities of the rightwing base, without falling victim to the phony demands of their leadership.  Though again, I have few doubts that Atrios and Dean would put themselves into that category too.  I could go further in defining us, but this post looks like it’s getting damn long, so I’ll just keep it short.  

The Clintonion Establishment

But one thing’s for damn certain: I’m not a “New” Democrat and I don’t like the DLC.  I think it’s all just a pathetic effort by people who have found themselves agreeing with the rightwing establishment side of things more and more as they begin to enjoy the perks of being in such an establishment.  And because they aren’t as extremist as the Republicans that invaded Washington with Bush or even Gingrich, they imagine that this somehow makes them middle-of-the-road Democrats.  

And that’s probably one reason they liked mainstreaming the extremists on the right while marginalizing those on the left.  Because that allowed them to continue to see themselves as moderate, as they slowly shifted to the right.  And now people who once saw themselves as moderates are now considered leftwing.  Glenn Greenwald has complained about that.  And I myself was once a moderate-liberal, and now find myself fully in the liberal position.  Not because America shifted, but because the Establishment shifted the labels.  It needed to incorporate the former Clintonites, though they themselves were once opposed by that very establishment.  

But as usual, the establishment didn’t compromise; they convinced the Clintonites that it was their duty to do the compromising.  Their sole task, in fact, has been to find the middle-ground between the right and left.  And to do that, it meant they had to convince their former party-mates to give-up on their activism and join them in the new middle.  

And they loved that.  Because they like seeing themselves as being above-the-fray.  And so they go about trying to convince us all to join them, when all the Establishment really cared about was incorporating these dummies into the movement to defang them.  If you can’t beat them, have them join you.  Just make sure they stop trying to fight you.  And that’s exactly what the former Clintonites have done.

Clintonian Sell-Out

Winship refers to this as “Clintonism” and while I’m sure many people blame Clinton for it, that’s really not the term that comes to mind for me.  I liked Clinton.  I understood why he did what he did.  I didn’t always approve.  But I understood.  He was the first president I ever voted for and I’ve never regretted that vote.  But I don’t understand where these guys are coming from and think they’ve terribly distorted Clinton’s actions, in order to justify their own sell-out.  Especially as Clinton’s deft maneuverings only really worked as a one-man operation, and wasn’t meant as the eternal guiding principle for the party.  

If anything, the DLC’ers have just played into the GOP’s hands, rather than maneuvering around them.  Clinton was always very careful at dancing around, never going too extreme, but always staying out of their reach.  But the DLC crowd has moved directly into their pocket and insist that we join them there.  I don’t remember Clinton ever blaming me for offending America or screwing up his plans.  I don’t think he ever insulted us at all.  Yet these people can’t seem to stop doing that.  Sure, Winship says he’ll fight with us; but he sure is worried that we’re too dumb to know when to give up the fight.

And again, I think this is just because they’ve been incorporated into the Establishment, while being convinced that they’re really only carrying Clinton’s torch further.  It’s like they saw someone on fire rolling on the ground to put out the flames and imagined it was a crazy new dance move.  Clinton didn’t do what he did because he wanted to.  He did it because he had to.  But these people have turned it into a principle, and attack anyone who isn’t doing the same.

None of this is to suggest that every one of the DLC crowd is a former Clinton worker or anything.  Some of them are just tag-alongs.  Winship, for instance, was still a silly college student during Clinton’s first term.  As a side note, he attributes to us the silliness he exhibited back then.  He writes of his five-day hunger strike regarding the establishment of an Asian-American Studies program at his university; and suggests we suffer from his former political naiveté.  I’ve never done such an embarrassingly silly thing, and if I did, I’d surely not be such a putz as to assume that other people are doing the same thing.  And I say that as a former Republican who trusted Rush Limbaugh.

And it’s quite likely that the former Clintonites were wannabe sell-outs before Clinton ever came along.  But that really doesn’t help their case any.  Somehow, it still hasn’t occurred to these people that they’d do a lot better if they tried convincing us with their arguments, rather than lecturing at us about why we should trust them.  And again, you can just guess who they copied that from.

My Theory

Anyway, long story short, Winship’s only real point seems to be the basic idea that 60’s activism over-reached and helped pave the way for a generation of conservatives.  But what a joke.  His only evidence is a brief review of presidential politics starting with Johnson.  WTF?  Is that really it?  The only way you can tell where America leans politically is based entirely on who can win the Whitehouse?  And as I commented to Winship (and repeated below), there’s a much better case that the Whitehouse winner is always the more likeable guy with the better personality.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life, but people vote for the man, not the movement.

I myself work under the assumption that liberalism started to peter-out because it won.  It enacted a groundbreaking agenda over a long period of time, which has now become ingrained into America’s fabric.  We became less necessary with every victory we achieved.  And the movement didn’t start with Civil Rights or Vietnam, but rather those were two of the last big hurdles we needed to fight.  But it goes back much further, starting with labor unions and worker rights.  And even now, it’s political suicide to even mention that you want to do away with any of these programs and rights we’ve won, which were considered totally radical a mere hundred years ago.

So we didn’t have much further to go than a little back to the right.  Not that we fixed everything, but that we were taking a breather.  It’s not good to take such important steps too far, too fast.  So America was stepping back and checking over how things had gone.  But the conservatives took things too far, and totally overreached.  And they were damn good at winning elections for too long; largely due to their ability to lie with relative impunity.

But even still, the few truly conservative ideas that have made it through from the Sixties have still never really been accepted by the population as a whole, and could only be implemented on the sly and using flim-flam.  They talk of “fixing” Social Security, and insist their environmental rollbacks are really further steps ahead.  And they even gave us a prescription drug plan, which this Congress is likely to actually turn into an acceptable program.  We haven’t seen a big rollback after the Sixties.  They were only able to stall things, and even then are fairly unpopular for doing so.  

And even still, most conservatives have taken for granted the radical victories that liberalism achieved, and only argue that the regulations are no longer necessary because everyone has taken them for granted too and nobody will try to undo them.  Today’s conservatives would be considered fairly radical by historical standards.  They don’t support child labor.  They don’t think people will ever be paid outrageously low wages.  They assume companies will obey modern environmental standards.  And they have a hard time finding government programs they’d be comfortable with cutting from the greatly expanded federal government.  In other words, it’s not that they’re conservative, per se.  They’re just terribly naïve and believe that human nature has also embraced these liberal ideas.

And now that conservatives have finally been given a chance to show us their stuff, things are finally swinging back again.  The conservatives’ abilities to fix the deck have been outdone by their inability to rule properly.  And now the adults are back in charge and America expects results.  And once the Democrats can establish a decent record of getting things done (which they’ve already made a respectable start at), America will once again embrace Democrats and liberals as the folks who actually know how to run things.  

My Comment to Winship

Here’s the comment I left at Winship’s blog:

Sorry, but I think this hardly covers the issue.  What of Congress?  Is the fact that Democrats controlled Congress for almost three whole decades after 1966 not count for anything?  Or that, even then, the GOP could only win it with smoke, mirrors, and outright lies?  Let's not pretend as if we were shut-out this whole time.

And why not focus on presidential personalities and campaigning?  Nixon ran a great campaign and greatly abused his powers to keep his Democratic opponents down.  And Reagan was a HUGELY strong personality, which helped make-up for his many other flaws.  Carter and Mondale clearly paled in comparison.  Bush Sr., on the other hand, had a fairly sucky personality that was better than Dukakis', but not nearly as strong as Clinton's.  Would you really claim that Dukakis would have won the rematch?  And Gore was roundly pounded by the chattering pundit classes; as was Kerry.  And everyone knows how great Bush would have been to have a beer with.

Does this count for nothing?  Are we really to imagine that the American people are voting for an ideology, rather than a man?  It's unfortunate that they do this, as the man isn't nearly as important as the movement they stand for; but it's a fact.  So why ignore this?  Sure, it's possible that the hippies screwed things up for generations; but it's more possible that people were just voting for the men they liked better and Republicans were just better at getting the likeable guys on the top ticket.  Personality over politics.

And let's not forget the pundit's role in all this, or are we to believe they were as fair to Clinton as they were to Reagan and Bush Jr.  And if I remember right, they hated Bush Sr., and he was a one-termer.  Again, there's a lot more to this than ideology and hippy-hatred.

BTW, why in god's name are you acting like you're part of the establishment talking to unlearned masses?  You're two years younger than me, and I'm a CPA with my own bookkeeping firm.  What a crock.

Final Notes

Oh, and as a final note, I’ll steal Digby’s material by noting how Winship’s “historical perspective” seems like nothing more than assuming that we’re reliving the sixties and nineties all over again.   And it’s true.  His post can be summarized as: It didn’t work for the hippies and it worked for Clinton, so let’s keep doing it.  

Yet he ignores the true historical perspective, that shows a movement that began a long time ago, or that the conservatives haven’t been able to undo any of the liberal victories they’ve ranted against.  He doesn’t even mention Roe v. Wade’s role in all this.  It’s all about hippy activism handing the Whitehouse to the GOP and thinks he’s scored a victory.

And again, he’s not trying to convince us that his ideas are good.  He’s just lecturing us about how we need to be more like him.  Excellent.  I’m going to follow the advice of a guy who went on a five-day hunger strike over a program at his university.  That’s his idea of activism.  

I’ve never considered myself an activist, but I’ve contributed money to a few candidates that Atrios recommended, and I had never done that before.  And I sure as hell take solace in being able to find like-minded people on the internet and am thankful for the ability it has given us to group together and finally have a voice that can reach the big stage.  And to me, that’s really what the netroots is really all about.  It’s not groupthink.  It’s teamwork.  And that’s what bugs these guys most of all.  They hate the competition.

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